BERKELEY-Day Six of the Cal football team's fall camp started off to the strains of Eminem's "Lose Yourself," and Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger." Courtesy of today's DJ, linebackers coach Al Simmons.
After practice, though, it was the wide receivers providing the tunes, as Keenan Allen, Kaelin Clay, Tevin Carter, Terrance Montgomery and Marvin Jones lined up for some photo ops and a few questions. While Allen and Jones are now more than well-known for their musical inclinations off the field, one reporter asked if any of the other wideouts could belt out a tune. From the back, Clay crooned "NoOoOo." Well, so much for starting a band.
The receivers were all loose and incredibly at ease, and even the soft-spoken Allen seemed more relaxed during interviews. In fact, Allen has shown a continually increasing level of maturity throughout camp, displaying remarkable familiarity and comfort with the playbook-both things that have him on the cusp of cracking the starting wide receiver lineup.
"Those guys are going to be in the mix," Tedford said, referring to Allen and the other newcomers. "They've created a lot of depth there. As of right now, I would definitely say that those four (Allen, Edmond, Clay and Carter) are going to play. When you take Marvin and Jeremy (Ross) and Michael Calvin and Laggy (Alex Lagemann), and those four young guys, now you have eight guys right there that, if we had to play today, those eight guys would be the guys in the rotation."
One of the reasons for Allen's advanced position at this early stage is the simple fact that he has a quarterback for a brother in greyshirt Zach Maynard, who has been making regular appearances in the stands at practice to check in on his lil' bro. Before Allen got to Cal, he and his brother regularly went out and played through the Bears' playbook on their own.
"He just helped me get down the basic concepts, learn the basic routes, the formations. I just had a little, skinny playbook," smiled Allen. "I also got here a little early, so as soon as I got here, I was right in the film room, looking at all the film, looking at all the plays. I've just been after it, ever since I got here."
Of course, the playbook hasn't been the only thing that Allen has been studying. After finishing summer school, he is more than ready for the academic year to start, thanks to the hard work of the athletic department's academic support staff.
"It was hard, and we had a lot of work, papers due all the time, probably on a daily basis," Allen said of summer school. "It was a lot of work, but I got it done. I'm ready for school to start. (The academic support) has helped a lot. My tutor came in and she helped me a lot, taught me how to write a great paper. I had to take a big step on that, and she taught me everything: organizing, time management, all that stuff."
Another signal-caller in attendance on Thursday was 2011 quarterback commit Kyle Boehm and his father, who were all smiles as they took in practice in the all-too-rare sunshine.
But, the stars of the day really were Allen and his fellow frosh pass-catchers, who were on full display making several clutch adjustments and catches during 11-on-11s at the end of the practice session.
After catching two TD passes on Wednesday, Allen was at it again with the first-team offense today, cutting over the middle on a 20-yard pass from starting QB Kevin Riley to make a diving catch at the one-yard line.
"Playing in pads has really given me a good feel for where I stand," Allen said. "When it's live and when everybody's going full-speed, I think I came out and showed a great deal what I can do. I guess I'm proving myself."
Asked if there are any linebackers who he wants to avoid, Allen simply smiled.
"All of them," he laughed.
Calvin, Allen and Allen's surrogate "big bro" Marvin Jones showed some solid awareness during one-on-one drills, perfectly timing their strides and stretches to throw off defenders with their backs turned to the quarterback.
"We're real close," Allen said of Jones. "He's like a big brother to me, outside the fact that my brother is here. Whenever I need help on routes, need help on knowing what to do, anytime. He's my roommate now, up at Bowles, and he leaves early and tells me to get up. He's basically my alarm clock before the door knock comes."
Jones has also helped to keep Allen's head level, given the hype around his commitment and the general excitement among Cal fans to see him in action.
"I just try and stay away from it," Allen said. "Marv helps me with that. He's always shutting stuff out and tells me to stay away from it."
Clay too showed heads-up play in one-on-ones against defensive backs, showing advanced body awareness and positioning before the catch.
"He's learning, they're learning," Tedford said of his young wideouts. "The first couple days, they had fresh legs and everything was going good, and now, the playbook is stacking up on them."
The man often lining up on the opposite side as Allen with the No. 1 offense, Coleman Edmond also had a fine day, catching a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage, and, seeing nothing but defenders in front of him, ran east-to-west across the field and turned the corner with clear skies ahead, though the play was stopped before it could develop further.
Riley again had a solid day, hooking up with Allen several times during the team situational drills, but also in positional work. He showed superb touch on his fade routes and to the flats, though he tailed off just a bit when he was on the run.
During the final segment of practice, Tedford and the rest of the coaching staff mixed up the depth charts a bit. On one play, Riley and the first-team line went up against the No. 1 linebackers and secondary with Gabe King, Kendrick Payne and Deandre Coleman on the defensive line.
King has really made a strong push during the early goings of camp, even more remarkable considering that he's just recovered from a knee injury that sidelined him for a chunk of his senior season in high school. Though he only spent a few reps with the No. 1 d-line, he certainly looked like he belonged.
On another play, the offensive line consisted of Mitchell Schwartz at left tackle, Richard Fisher at left guard, Chris Guarnero at center, Justin Cheadle at right guard and Donovan Edwards at right tackle. Mark Brazinski also got reps at center with the second-team offense guided by Sweeney.
"They rotate," Tedford said. "Coach (Steve) Marshall sticks them in there from time to time just to get a look at all of them together. I can't keep up with the rotations."
Other linemen who got in the mix with the second team were Tyler Rigsbee at left tackle, Justin Gates at left guard, Brian Schwenke at right guard and Sam DeMartinis at right tackle.
"I think Rigsbee is one of the most improved players in camp, from the spring till now," Tedford said. "He was hampered with injuries all last season, so he never really got a chance to train, and so now that he's had a chance to train throughout the end of spring and through summer, he's really improved."
Another lineman that is starting to make strides is freshman Geoffrey Gibson, the big, 325-pound right tackle.
"He's trying to get (his weight) down," Tedford said. "Today, the threes and fours didn't get many reps. It was a lot of ones and twos today, so I don't think he got any team reps today. Him and Alex (Alejandro Crosthwaite) and all those young guys are doing a great job. Tom Berry's doing a nice job at center. He's really been a pleasant surprise. Same thing with Bill Tyndall. I feel like all those guys-Crosthwaite, Chris Adcock, Gibson, Berry, Tyndall-all those guys have been impressive."
Both Isi Sofele and Dasarte Yarnway took reps with the first and second teams and are now pulling ahead of the concussed Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson in the race to be the backup to starter Shane Vereen.
"It always hurts your chances when you're not playing," Tedford said. "You give someone else an opportunity to play. Isi's been doing great. He's been solid … If people end up getting more practice time, then they end up blowing by a guy because they either know their stuff better or they have a better feel for the game."
Asked what role he sees Sofele filling when the season comes around, Tedford gave a clue as to just how the competition behind Vereen has been going.
"He might be the backup tailback, where he's spelling Shane," Tedford said. "I don't know about whether he's the No. 1 kick returner, and that depends on how the tailback thing goes, too. Some of our young guys are doing a pretty good job as far as kickoff returns go. Coleman Edmond looks pretty good on kickoffs, so we have to get those guys evaluated when we can crank it up, for real."
Vereen was in a jersey and shorts today, but did not suit up in full pads as he continues to rest his tweaked hamstring.
"I'd say that Shane is our most versatile back," Tedford said. "We know what he can do. We've seen enough of Shane over the last three years to know what he can do. But, you still have to play football. He's going to have to knock some rust off at some point. He's catching balls, he's taking balls to the ground, so he's doing a lot of those types of things that can kind of be rusty sometimes. He's getting close. Tomorrow he's going to start running."
Blocking for the tailbacks, of course, are the unsung heroes of the offense: the fullbacks. With presumptive starter Will Kapp still out nursing a concussion, the spot has been a bit of a question mark early in this fall camp, but some leaders are starting to emerge.
"Kapp hasn't practiced a down yet," Tedford said. "Right now, Stevens is doing a great job. Right now, Stevens would be our starting fullback. And, really, David Aknin's here, and Nico Dumont, those guys have done well through camp, and so those two guys have created some depth for us at fullback."
In fact, during 11-on-11 drills at the end of practice, Stevens threw a crushing block to spring Yarnway for 10-plus yards.
• Several more players were sporting red jerseys today aside from Matt Summers-Gavin, Vereen and Deboskie-Johnson, including wide receiver and budding rap sensation Alex Lagemann, a fact that Tedford attributed to the chilly conditions during the first five days of camp.
"That happened some yesterday, and some today, but nothing serious," Tedford said. "Lagemann's got a hamstring. We finally got some warm weather today. Yesterday, we had a lot of tight hamstrings because of the weather, you know, the weather's been cold and windy. Today, it's great because people can get lathered up and start hitting."
Carter also had a tweak in his hamstring, according to Tedford, but was still feeling well enough to play.
• Josh Hill saw some time at safety, and Tedford explained that he's seeing snaps all over the defense.
• Linebacker D.J. Holt is also fighting through a few injuries, but Tedford said that he is still the front-runner at the Mike linebacker position.
• Regarding freshman David Wilkerson's move from inside linebacker to the outside, Tedford said that it was a move made out of necessity.
"It was a need, a need for a Sam backer," Tedford said. "Chris Little's not here anymore, and Dave's really suited for it. He's fast, he's big, he can play over a tight end, he can do a lot of that stuff."
• During warm-up kicking drills, freshman Jed Barnett showed good leg strength on field goals.
"He's actually done a good job on kickoffs, so far," Tedford said. "We have to see, when the whistle blows and everybody lines up and a little bit of tension gets on him, we'll evaluate him through that. It's really too early to say."
The odds-on favorites for placekicking duties-Giorgio Tavecchio and Vince D'Amato-were each perfect on PATs and field goal attempts out to 37 yards.
"There hasn't been any separation (between Tavecchio and D'Amato)," Tedford said. "They really haven't kicked live yet, to really put the kickoff guy in a situation, so the field goal and kicking situations will be evaluated. It may be that the end up handling separate duties. It's not so much about distance. It's more about accuracy on field goals, and on kickoffs, it's about consistency-who's consistent and who's putting the ball where they need to put it."