Football is back!!! Even though it's just the spring ball version, Cal fans should have some reason to smile. With two springs in Strawberry Canyon under their collective belts, head coach Sonny Dykes and the Golden Bears started off this year's spring practice visibly more confident and more relaxed -- in a good way -- compared to the past couple years. Dare we say, optimistic?
Before we get to the nuts & bolts from Day 1, a quick news item - ICYMI:
Brennan Scarlett is no longer with the team, more details here - LINK
* * *
Now for Monday's practice notes... The team took the Memorial Stadium field in helmets and shorts, and the pace of practice was noticeably crisp. First good sign -- there wasn't a lot of standing/waiting around this afternoon, but plenty of measured energy. And the first surprise of the spring --
RBZ at SAF???
Luke Rubenzer is playing safety this spring, having -- for now -- donned a blue (defense) jersey. This is not a typo. Repeat, this is not a typo.
Rubenzer took pre-practice warm-up reps with both the QB and DB groups. Once "real" practice started though, Luke ran with the 1st team defense at free safety, while RS FR Chase Forrest took all of the 2nd team QB reps. Coach Dykes was asked about this after practice -- his response: During the [winter] offseason, Rubenzer and the staff had discussed a number of options, including redshirting this coming season. Luke said that he preferred to play, and thus asked to move to safety: "I felt that I could help on that side of the ball..."
Rubenzer looked as good as one would expect for a converted QB who'd only been playing safety (at the D1 level) for the past three weeks. He was in the right spot most of the time and made decent reads on plays, but looked tentative and understandably a step slow. Luke did play safety -- in addition to being a record-breaking QB -- in high school; but he noted after practice that "in high school defenses aren't as complex".
This is an intriguing move to say the least, but Spring practice is the ideal time to be experimenting with position switches. It also *could* mean that the backup QB spot is up for grabs. More on this a bit below...
First Day Standouts
More post-practice notes - Sonny noted several standouts today: DB D.Brown, DE D.Wilson, LB H.Nickerson, C A.Ooms, WR C.Hansen, QB C.Forrest— GoldenBlogs (@GoldenBlogs) March 10, 2015
Coach Dykes said that he was "pleasantly surprised" with the two youngest scholarship QBs on the roster -- redshirt FR Chase Forrest (who ran the 2nd unit and "picked up where he left off last fall") and true FR Ross Bowers (who took the 3rd QB reps and "showed a lot of composure for his first time out"). He also had good things to say about [projected right tackle] JR Dominic Granado, and RS FR center Addison Ooms. Ooms was the first center on the field today, and shared 1st team reps with JR Matt Cochran.
Sonny expects Ooms & Cochran to continue to compete for the starting center spot; both he and Goff praised Ooms for his smarts and toughness— GoldenBlogs (@GoldenBlogs) March 10, 2015
Coach also praised JC transfers Derron Brown and Devante Wilson for their athleticism and length. See below for where they might fit in come fall.
Five Observations from Day 1
1. Midyear enrollees Derron Brown (6'2" 190), Devante Wilson (6'5" 255), and true freshman RB Lonny Powell (5'11" 210 = Beastmode-esque size) all look the part. For one, all three are indeed big and athletic.
Brown was the most impressive DB on the field today -- he had 2 pass breakups and a near pick (off a Goff pass). He was only "beat" once -- if you can even call it that: it took an excellent catch by Bryce Treggs on a low-and-away ball despite tight coverage by Brown. If Brown continues to progress, you'd have to think he'd earn a starting spot come fall.
Wilson is similar in build to JT-era D-lineman Rulon Davis; we haven't had a DE that big and athletic since Cam Jordan. His height (6'5") and long arms are the first thing you notice on the field. If he can become comfortable with Kaufman's system by fall, expect him to at least be in the DE rotation -- possibly as a starter at one end spot.
Powell didn't quite "stand out" during his very first practice as a Bear, but he made his presence felt:
Lonny Powell just bowled over 20 ghost defenders for a TD ("he runs angry, even against air" - HT @RGBearTerritory)— GoldenBlogs (@GoldenBlogs) March 9, 2015
2. Jared Goff is still the Jared Goff we know and love. Except that he's a solid 205 pounds now -- 10 more than last year, and almost 20 more than his freshman year. He said after practice that he wants to play at least 210 this season.
Jared was throwing darts during 7-on-7s and WRvsDB drills, recording multiple TD passes from all downs & distances. He didn't have as much success in full 11s; but no need for alarm (yet), as his O-line is still a work in progress. All-in-all, Goff looked calm, cool, collected, and confident -- even moreso than last year.
3. The Rubenzer-at-Safety experiment will be interesting indeed; but as noted above, Spring is the ideal time to try these things. First, we're extremely thin at safety right now, with four guys out with injury (McClure, Piatt, Tartabull, Worstell). This leaves only three healthy guys this spring behind Brown and Rubenzer -- Walker (moved over from CB), Garner (walk-on), Nwokocha (walk-on).
Second, this *could* suggest that the staff (a) is encouraged with Forrest's development and progress in the system, and (b) wants to give Bowers "real" reps this spring to see if his play merits a spot on the QB depth chart, rather than an unequivocal redshirt year. We'll see how things play out, especially in the second half of spring ball, when Rubenzer is expected to get some reps at QB. In other words, it seems like Sonny & Mad Tony want to see what they have -- i.e. have the young guys compete -- before settling on a backup QB for 2015.
4. The WR group -- especially the top 6 guys (Davis, Treggs, Anderson, Lawler; Powe, Harris) -- looked very, very good today. The presumed starting 4 looked like they were in midseason form -- smooth routes and TD grabs all over. Pierre Ingram, Jacob Peeler, and Tony Franklin have a *good* problem on their hands -- considering the young talent (e.g. E.Brown, Austin, Hudson, Rockett, Hansen) fighting to crack the receiver rotation.
The DBs, however -- other than Brown -- looked not-so-good. Several guys got beat this afternoon, either resulting in long catches or likely penalties (holding/PI). It's still early though, and expect Greg Burns' group to trend upwards by Fall -- especially after the new 2015 DBs (6 of them) arrive on campus.
5. Team depth: The 3rd year of Dykes' program means better depth across the board -- especially at WR, RB, LB. But both lines (OL & DL) and the secondary are still question marks. Jared and Mad Tony will have plently of weapons to work with this season, but settling on a starting 5 (along with 3 backups) up front is a big priority on offense. And of course, there's still alot to prove on defense -- including developing a pass rush and finding a solid 6-8 DBs on the back end.
Depth Chart Notes
Below is a rough overview of Monday's 1st & 2nd team rotations. With today being the first day of spring ball and all, keep in mind that the depth chart will remain very fluid through spring, summer, and fall camp. Outside of a handful of entrenched starters (marked with a *), the rest of the 2-deep spots are still wide open to competition.
Davis*, Treggs*, Anderson* / Powe, Lawler* / Harris;
Farley (Moore* still recovering from injury), Borrayo*, Ooms / M.Cochran, Rigsbee*, Granado.
Forrest, Enwere / Watson;
Austin / Hansen, Powe / Rockett, Hudson, Harris / E.Brown;
V.Johnson, Bunte / Hinnant, M.Cochran / Trani, Bennett, A.Cochran
White, D.Brown, Rubenzer, Allensworth;
Nickerson, Kearney (Jefferson* out this week with a minor injury), Downs [Coleman in during nickel];
Westerfield, Jalil* / Kelly, Mekari, J.Johnson
Greathouse, Garner, Walker, Dozier;
Barton, Tongilava, Anoa'i [Coleman in during nickel];
Kragen, Looney, Kelly / Manley, Wilson
Expect Coming, We're Us...!
I miss tweeting too. Trust.— Nam Le (@AGuyNamedNam) March 10, 2015
Before wrapping up today's recap, I wanted to give Nam a quick shout [we miss you too Namster] and also include a brief programming note...
This is the remaining Spring practice schedule, with all practices open to the public:
Wednesday, March 11 (4:00 - 6:00 p.m.)
Friday, March 13 (4:00 - 6:00 p.m.)
Monday, March 16 (4:30 - 6:30 p.m.)
Wednesday, March 18 (4:00 - 6:00 p.m.)
Wednesday, April 1 (4:00 - 6:00 p.m.)
Friday, April 3 (4:00 - 6:00 p.m.)
Saturday, April 4 (10 a.m. - Noon)
Monday, April 6 (4:30 - 6:30 p.m.)
Wednesday, April 8 (4:00 - 6:00 p.m.)
Monday, April 13 (4:30 - 6:30 p.m.)
Wednesday, April 15 (4:00 - 6:00 p.m.)
Saturday, April 18 (11 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. *spring game*)
I'll be live-tweeting at @CalRivals during practice this Wednesday (3/11) and Friday (3/13). I'll be back on @goldenblogs the remaining three Mondays (3/16, 4/6, 4/13) and Wednesdays (3/18, 4/8, 4/15). Check here each Tuesday morning for a longer practice report, and a quick hitter every Thursday morning.