I'm not connected to the Cal football program, and I'm not a big donor, and I'm not media. Like you, I'm just Joe Average Cal Fan, except that I got to step into the rejuvenated California Memorial Stadium a whole week before you, and it was magnificent. And, I got to watch a closed practice, one of the very few held in CMS so far. As such, I felt the long reach of The Man immediately. As I entered the North Tunnel, I started taking video. But before I even reached the end of the tunnel, I was already told to put the camera away. So I put it away and didn't bring it back out until the end of practice.
Short video, practice notes, and pics after "the jump."
Here's a short video going through the tunnel, and then suddenly it's the end of practice:
So I was amazed at how good the turf looked. From just a few feet away it looked real to me. From vague memory I thought it felt similar to the old turf, with a little spring provided by the rubber pellets. Aside from the field, the rest of the site is still considered a construction zone, so we couldn't even go into the stands, so we watched practice from the sidelines. We stood near the north end zone where the 1st and 2nd team offense practiced. I have a few impressions from a fan point-of-view.
1. All the QBs looked good. All threw with zip and accuracy. Just like in the Spring game, it feels like we are in much better shape than when Mansion and Sweeney were the backups. Bridgford has a weird release but delivered the ball as well as any of the others. Hinder looks a lot more sturdy than before. I have to disagree, though, with those who think Kline is already the next Aaron Rodgers. If you watch Rodgers in the 2003 games, he was already throwing with more authority than almost any college QB I've ever seen. Kline may get there, but I just don't think he has quite shown it yet. During the 11-on-11s, both Maynard and Bridgford looked good. I think I only once saw a miscommunication between QB and receiver.
2. It seems to me that CJ and Bigelow are going to see the field a LOT this year, and it looks like they have a lot of plays with two of the tailbacks in at the same time. For example, Isi in the backfield and CJ or Bigelow lined up wide. In particular, Bigelow looked really fast and I think they want to get him open in space.
3. The receivers and TEs generally showed good hands, although there were a few drops. It would take a more technical eye to evaluate them more deeply than that. Oh, and Rodgers is a beast. Big, beefy, and fast. I hope they get the ball to him a lot.
4. Miscellaneous: From the sidelines at field level, it's impossible to tell how the OL is playing. IMO, the OL play is the key to the season, but I was unable to gain any additional insight on that. The freshman punter Leininger looked good, I don't think there's anything to worry about there. D'Amato looks like he's got a strong leg. Oh, also I don't remember any horrible shotgun snaps like we saw last year, although I think someone mentioned that there were a lot of low snaps.
Well I don't know if that was helpful at all. I was just excited to be in the stadium and on the field watching practice.
A last note about construction: The only work I saw being done in the bowl was putting up signage. Big Bank of the West lettering was already installed above the North scoreboard; they had the scaffolding up on the South scoreboard while they installed the same lettering above it. Also, on the underside of the press box, above the Stadium Club windows, there's a narrow strip where they were installing corporate logos. Outside, Goldman Plaza was closed off, but it looked like they were just doing clean-up. Earlier, I talked to a worker who said he worked on glass; he said it was his last day, and he was headed back to LA. So it seems to me it's in great shape with a week to go.
That's me in the baggy pants, stoked to be in the rejuvenated CMS.
From an aesthetic point-of-view, I think the ramps really detract from the North Tunnel design and its prominence as the portal for the team's entrance.