The forecast called for heavy rain, with a chance of thunderstorms. At noon, there were even worries that practice might be canceled. And yet, at the end of Monday's practice, there was the clear sight of sun, shining down on the turf of Memorial Stadium.
If the weather was supposed to foreshadow the 2014 season, then Sonny Dykes will certainly take it, now that next year is officially under way. It's already rained enough.
With the team mostly in a kind of "feeling out" sort of day and it being far too soon to draw any serious conclusions, here are a smattering of notes and observations from the first of their six open practices.
I would also like to apologize in advance for the cover photo to this article, which is clearly not taken from Monday's practice. I only have so many hands.
- Coach Dykes mentioned Sunday that everything about the program had been examined and re-evaluated, and there certainly were changes. The stretching exercises were new, as were some of the drills, the order the day was structured in, and even the fact that music was played during practice was new. As mentioned before, we'll see how effective all of this is later, but they cannot be accused of idling.
- I was not kidding about it being a feeling out sort of day. There were more than a handful of errors on the roster the team handed out -- jerseys mislabeled, that kind of thing. That made it very hard to identify all the personnel on the field at times, and I suspect that some of this may have even been done intentionally. Guessing they don't owe it to anyone to have that information correct.
- The defense particularly felt like it was experimenting with things. One example: Michael Lowe and Damariay Drew took only a few reps going second, while David Garner and an unidentified player wearing #35 saw much more time at safety. [I don't want to say that there's a second team yet, since there's nothing resembling a two deep, especially under a new DC. What I'm trying to say is that we can't read too much into who played and how much on day one. Subsequent practice reports will be much more informative in this regard, however.]
- Brennan Scarlett is BACK. Photographic evidence now exists of him in a normal, cleared for contact jersey. These are not rumors, and this is no longer a drill. There were only limited opportunities to see him pass-rush with it being an unpadded practice, but he did manage to get in and deflect a Jared Goff pass at one point. That's a start. Scarlett also spoke after practice in an interview:
- It wasn't a particularly sharp afternoon for either of Jared Goff or Austin Hinder -- Hinder looked like he got more reps in order to rest Goff's arm, but threw the only picks that I noticed on the afternoon, and sometimes sailed balls wildly off-target. Even a good majority of the screens he threw forced the receiver to reach too far in one direction or another. Goff wasn't much better, with his accuracy suffering mostly from what looked like rust. His throwing speed seemed fine.
- If there is one conclusion I'm willing to make after Monday, it's got to be about the receiving corps. The Bears regularly trotted out Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper, Kenny Lawler, and Trevor Davis together, but that's neither new nor noteworthy. No, what is interesting lies in what Goff demonstrated with them; he tossed more than a couple of deep shots at Lawler, and although they didn't all connect, they showed a level of vertical aggressiveness that was lacking last season.
- Trevor Davis had some outstanding grabs himself, including one where he fully extended himself on a dive in the final practice period. And so I'll quote Bryce Treggs again: "Trevor Davis is a baller."
- More on the receivers: this unit could already be the best in the Pac-12, and at worst, should be the strength of the team. No worries about Treggs, either -- in his first day at the slot, he put a particularly wicked juke on Cameron Walker at the line to leave him chasing dust. That was the first of two touchdowns I saw him grab -- the other was just on a well run corner route. Much less fancy, no less effective.
- Special teams saw two lengthy periods, filled with open field tackling drills. It would be fair to expect some improvement here, I think -- especially with older, more physically mature players returning, rather than freshmen forced into service.
- Nothing to really say about the offensive line until pads/full contact is allowed. It's very easy to see defenses dominate early on in practice for this reason. I plan on watching the defense and the line much more in upcoming practices, as the offense is very nearly already set.
- According to Ryan Gorcey's count, there were eight red no contact jerseys yesterday, seven of which were on defense. Those that I was able to identify: Chris Harper, Avery Sebastian, Stefan McClure, Austin Clark, and Devante Downs.
- Harper did take reps, and worked on the inside at times. It is my guess that Harper will be flexed around this season, but Bryce Treggs is likely to anchor at inside receiver.
- Last year, Lucus Gingold practiced for large portions by himself, doing individual drills off to the side. At least he's no longer alone. Ray Hudson -- who has been spoken about as a potential backfield/bone guy and now wearing number 11 -- joined this group of Gingold-drill-practicers, as did Jack Moffett. This gives some clue as to how these guys might be used in the fall.
- No emerging frontrunner for the cornerback job(s?). All the guys had good moments and bad ones -- Cam Walker's couple of pass deflections were balanced by a couple torch jobs covering Bryce Treggs, Darius Allensworth's near interception of Hinder evened out a couple of touchdowns given up in drills. Didn't see too much from Trey Cheek, and Caleb Coleman got some good run. Kaufman/Burns played a lot of bodies and had them all rotating. Too early to tell anything.
- There seemed to be clear focus on blocking -- especially wide receiver blocking -- and in the screen game, as the Bears spent several drill periods reinforcing these, even calling in the defense to help. With the rise of quick game screens in all the Pac-12 offenses, the more familiarity our defensive backs get with shedding blocks and leveraging against these kinds of plays, the better.
- J.D. Hinnant looked like he was still struggling to get back into the hang of things. A couple of bad snaps in his first action.
- Trevor Kelly will end up being key to a defensive turnaround, and though I didn't keep my eye on him too much on day one, he did collapse the pocket to flush Jared Goff out during one of the full team sessions. As predicted, he did run a lot with Jacobi Hunter to start.
- It's hard to predict if this will happen, but if Daniel Lasco is healthy, I think he's the most talented back on the roster. Looks so good running the ball.
- Again, I'm staying away from reading into anything position-related for now. A depth chart should be released on April 15th, at according to Cal Rivals.
- No Chad Whitener on the roster (probably due to transfer); no Darren Ervin (medical retirement); no Jacob Wark (graduating); no Nick Forbes (medical retirement); no Isaac Lapite (personal). I believe Ervin was on the field assisting with the coaching, but I could be wrong -- I sat very high up in the bleachers.
- Davante Downs is wearing Forbes' number 1, while Trevor Kelly steps in for Deandre Coleman's 91.
- Adrian Lee is currently serving a suspension, and may yet return.
- Erik Bunte has changed his name to Myles.
- Vachel Samuels -- who did pick off Hinder -- is back on the roster, as the first of several unexpected additions. These included a couple new walk-ons and a new JUCO QB: Cole Webb, out of El Camino College.
- I'll close this report by lamenting the fact that my favorite drill -- the trash can drill, seems to be done with. For the first time that I can remember, a day of practice ended without a single bin in sight. Sigh. See you again Saturday (or I guess technically Sunday morning?)