The camera crew got the day off, so there was no official post practice video for Friday.
Still, there are notes and observations from the team's final practice of camp, and after that, I've included some thoughts on the overall state of the team as we head into the season, based on what I've seen up to this point.
- Trey Cheek was helmeted and participating in the walkthrough - up til this point, his involvement in practice has been largely cardio work. It does not mean he will play Saturday - or perhaps even this season - but it is a sure sign of progress.
- Another sure sign of progress came from Avery Sebastian, who participated in the walkthrough as the second team safety, and on some special teams. Coach Dykes was cautious and emphasized that he would only suit up if he cleared all tests before Saturday, although he has cleared every one up to this point.
- Freshman Chad Whitener was confirmed to be a starter on the team's special team's units. Outside of the freshmen who have already been slated to play - Ragin, Muhammad, Hunter, Goff, and now Whitener - Dykes said one other freshman who might play was Chris Borrayo, but the team has no plans to play anyone else besides them, barring injuries or unforeseen circumstances.
- Hardy Nickerson practiced at middle linebacker for the first team. Nick Forbes did not participate.
- Among the highlights of the helmetless walkthrough: several made field goals by D'Amato to go along with a touchback, one long touchdown pass to a wide-open Chris Harper, two "fumble recoveries" by Viliami Moala, and one by Tony Franklin. Yes, you read that correctly.
- The team voted on its captains tonight, and they will be: Stefan McClure, Freddie Tagaloa, Deandre Coleman and Jackson Bouza. Mark Brazinski will be a game captain for Northwestern.
- Walk-ons James Grisom and Isaac Lapite have earned full scholarships.
- D'Amato closed practice with a game-winning field goal, making the Bears victorious over their invisible opponents.
Now that we're at the end of camp...
I've attended or seen some portion of every - yes, every, a fact of which I'm actually very proud - practice this offseason, but even with that, I'm not exactly sure of how successful the team will be come fall. There are a few variables that will only come into play during the season, and an incredibly difficult schedule that will make any win-loss prediction difficult.
As far as I can tell, though, and remembering that this is just my opinion, I see Cal winning anywhere between 5 and 7 games in 2013. I'm settling on a prediction of 6-6, myself - but before anyone starts freaking out, let's remember that a 6-6 season, especially one with a team this young, would not be a failure. The schedule just makes it very difficult to project anything more than that.
Still, I believe this team is vastly improved over last season, and I've jotted down some brief thoughts as to why.
Units that are definitely better:
- Offensive line - I'll lead with this - the right side pairing of Matt Cochran and Steven Moore has been improving through the last week, and they seem to be holding up much better in pass protection as of late. Still, they're the question marks on this unit so far, since they've only taken first string reps relatively recently, whereas Tagaloa-Rigsbee-Adcock have practiced together all camp. Snaps have been much better from Chris Adcock than they were under Brian Schwenke, and the left side of the line - while not exactly Alabama roadgrader level or anything - has been more than serviceable, especially with Freddie Tagaloa out there. Expect a leap in production up front, due to an improvement in talent, an offensive system that prizes getting the ball out quickly, and, of course, a quarterback that can actually do that. They won't be worldbeaters for another year or two, but they definitely won't be at the bottom of the country in sacks allowed.
- Running backs - While there was never anything really wrong with C.J. Anderson or Isi Sofele, they never struck fear into any defense, and weren't exactly big play threats. So far, Bigelow and Lasco have shown the same toughness needed to run inside - a trait Anderson and Sofele had in spades - then added a much needed explosiveness to the mix. They are, quite frankly, much better athletes than Sofele and Anderson ever were, and they now play in a system designed to take advantage of that.
- Wide receiver - Though they don't have a receiver as good as Keenan - yet - the Bears do have plenty of capable pass catchers, and this unit is much deeper than last year's. A rejuvenated and now slimmed down Richard Rodgers will be a large part of that, as will the pair of sophomores outside in Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper. Outside of those three starters, Kenny Lawler and James Grisom both seem well positioned to contribute among the second stringers.
- Quarterback - I'm not sure how much better Jared Goff is than Zach Maynard yet, seeing as Goff has never played a single college snap...but let's just say I feel pretty good about it. The main question here is how he'll fare against such tough competition off the bat - he'll have had only two games before the likes of Adolphus Washington and Ohio State await him, and a trip to Eugene immediately after. Cal could be in for some growing pains due to the level of competition, more than anything.
- Linebacker - Not as much depth as anticipated now that guys have been moved around, but another year has helped Jalen Jefferson and Michael Barton tremendously. Keep an eye on Johnny Ragin - he's not on the two deep for Northwestern, but I expect that he'll make an impact this season. Sooner or later. He's too athletic not to.
Units that are a wash, or might even be worse:
- Cornerback - Stefan McClure and Kam Jackson look to be about as good as Steve Williams and Marc Anthony were. Kam still does have a tendency for overaggression though, which could bite him once the season starts. If one of those two guys goes down though, downgrade this unit to worse. Like, a lot worse. The team has basically no corners ready to go behind Jackson and McClure - which is part of why Joel Willis switched positions earlier this week. The hope was that one of the freshmen could play, and Trey Cheek probably had the best chance of that before pulling his hamstring pretty badly.
- Safety - The starting unit here hasn't played together for that long, so I can't say for sure, plus there are some questions that remain in how they will handle some of the more athletic slot receivers in the conference. Depth is also a concern, because Jason Gibson is not game ready at safety, and Alex Logan is still coming along after his foot injury. One plus is the lack of breakdowns in the secondary so far, at least in camp. For the most part, no horrendously blown coverages. So, there's that.
- Defensive line - Pressure has ranged from fantastic to inconsistent at times, although that may have a bit to do with the fact that Brennan Scarlett has yet to practice at all. We'll know more from these guys when the season starts, since there's only a limited amount we can tell from them going against their teammates. Not really sure what to make of them at this point, to be honest. This could be a promising group, especially if Moala is ready to contribute - but as of now, it's not really clear.