BERKELEY-Black Sabbath's Iron Man was blaring on the speakers and the crashing of big hits could be heard on the walk up the hill to Memorial Stadium this afternoon as, finally, the 2010 Cal football team got to strap on pads and play some real football during the fifth day of fall camp.
"I love it. It's great when they get to play," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "I saw some good things. Both the offense and defense were very competitive. We did some down-and-distance stuff, and it's still very early. We've got to get better in a lot of areas, but it was good for the first day.
For the young men who make their hay with hits-the linebacking corps-it was like Christmas Day.
"It's definitely good getting those first couple hits in, those real ones, where you get to take the guy to the ground," said senior linebacker Mike Mohamed.
Mohamed and the rest of the linebackers finally got to cut loose today, and they didn't disappoint. During roll-tackle drills, J.P. Hurrell and Ryan Davis were particularly tenacious and aggressive, and true freshman David Wilkerson was simply ferocious.
Throughout camp, the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder has been making strong inroads towards getting some playing time this season, despite the fact that he's had to play with a broken right hand. All the better to club you with.
"I'm just getting used to this thing," Wilkerson said, as he tapped his weaponized right hand. "I'm just getting used to it. It's different."
Even when the tape around his thumb came loose, Wilkerson didn't stop. He completed his rep and only then went to the sideline to get that-and a cut on his forehead-shored up.
"I just like to play the game, and that's just how I play," Wilkerson said. "I go 100 percent, every play. We've been hitting with just shells, so with the lower pads, I'm getting used to the cuts and everything, and it's helped me a little bit more, because you get to know a little bit more of what people do a lot and get their tendencies. I like (hitting) a lot."
Mohamed has been quite impressed by the pup linebackers-including Wilkerson and fellow freshman Nick Forbes-who are really starting to stand out.
"Him and Forbes, they have some motors going," Mohamed said. "They come up, and they're not afraid to hit people. And, they're catching onto the playbook fairly quickly, which is good. It's good to see that out of some young players."
Tedford also shared his thoughts on Wilkerson after practice.
"He's good," Tedford said. "He's really doing a nice job. He had a broken hand, and so he's playing with a club on his hand, but in drill work, in the first little while, you can tell that he has a lot of skill. He's a big-bodied guy who can run. Now, when real football comes on, now it's time to learn and get some experience and we'll see how he does."
Wilkerson, who has been a Cal fan all his life, said that getting to put on the blue and gold felt a bit surreal at first, but now that camp is in full swing, it's all about the work on the field.
"Everybody's been going balls-out, going 100 percent and pushing themselves," he said. "Everybody's doing a great job. Offense is working the defense, defense is working the offense. Everybody's pushing everybody."
Wilkerson has had to shift from inside linebacker to rushing on the outside, but says that the transition, while awkward at first, is an education in the whole defensive scheme.
"I'm getting used to the new position, because I've never played outside," Wilkerson said. "Yeah, it's a new thing, but it's just been taking the time to get used to it and shut down the run, but you've got to know when to go to the ball and when to drop into coverage and make your reads."
Mohamed-the elder statesman and captain of the defense-said that about half of Clancy Pendergast's defensive playbook is fully-installed, and there might be some new wrinkles down the road as the Bears get deeper into camp.
"Maybe a little bit more than half," Mohamed said. "We've pretty much installed everything already in spring ball, so now it's kind of like a review. There are a couple of new things coming in, but it's mostly a review and variations."
The linebackers were stout in run-support during 11-on-11 drills, a key part of the defense that has been a point of focus this fall.
"Stopping the run is huge," Mohamed said. "We feel that, if we can stop the run, we can pretty much control the tempo of the game. We did a good job of that last year, and now we've just got to work on the passing aspect. If we can improve there, we'll have a great D. That's improving, I would say. We're still trying to get our pressures down and coverages down."
Of course, run-stopping starts with the men up front: the defensive line. In late-practice situational drills, Ernest Owusu plowed the way for safety Chris Conte to sniff out a run by Isi Sofele, who was dropped for a loss.
"Right now, the starters are Cattouse and Conte," Tedford said of the safety situation. "Then, after that, it's a competition. There are a few guys there: (Alex) Logan, D.J. (Campbell), (C.J.) Moncrease-all those guys are competing there. We're looking at some of the young guys, as well. Michael Coley is in there and Tyre (Ellison) plays safety, but it's still a bit early. The two starters right now who are playing pretty solid are Conte and Cattouse."
Of course, the safeties aren't the only ones benefitting from a stout line with tremendous depth. Pre-camp starters Trevor Guyton, Derrick Hill and Cameron Jordan have seen just as much time with one another as they have with backups Deandre Coleman, Kendrick Payne and Owusu, as all six have subbed in and out of the No. 1 defense. With so many big bodies plowing the way, the linebackers have been able to shoot through and do some damage in the backfield.
"It's huge," Mohamed said. "I see these guys, and they're picking up double teams and there were a couple times where the linemen were trying to get up, but the d-line will come and just grab them. It just opens up holes and lets the backers run free, and they're doing a good job."
Owusu did a nice job to flush a right-rolling Beau Sweeney from the pocket in late-practice team drills at the five-yard line, and later on, Wilkerson was able to chase down No. 3 QB Brock Mansion in the same situation.
But Mansion did do his fair share in winning a few red-zone stands for the offense. On one of the later series, Mansion dropped back, did his check down, then received a sack-saving block from running back Trajuan Briggs, allowing the junior signal-caller to improvise. Seeing no options open, Mansion darted right and ran un-touched into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
"There were some plays that were good and some that were not so good," Tedford said of his defense. "There were some big runs in there, as well. Down on the goal-line, we did a good job, I thought. They were pretty stiff down there."
The back-and-forth between the offense and the defense ended up to be quite even. As many times as the defense was able to sniff out a run, the offense was able to convert.
"Both sides of the ball had success today," Tedford said. "Again, we just need to continue to get better. Today it was pretty even."
Of course, going up against the run defense were the bevy of backs competing for the No. 2 spot behind still-sidelined starter Shane Vereen. That competition has started to become a bit clearer, especially with the addition of pads.
"Well, I think Isi is starting to separate himself a little bit," Tedford said. "Dasarte Yarnway is also doing a nice job. Right now, if we had to pick, those will be the guys that would be right there with Shane. They're really doing everything pretty well. They need to continue to get better, of course, but Isi made some real nice runs today and made some guys miss in the open field, made some second-effort runs. Dasarte is a power runner, getting his pads down. He's really improved on his pass protection. Both of them are learning and getting better every day."
• Practice may have started with Black Sabbath, but it ended with the Rolling Stones. Tedford said that one coach a day gets to be the DJ, and that it's a game with the players to guess who that may be. Today, though, even the head coach was in the dark.
"I forgot to ask the team who it was today," Tedford chuckled. "I forgot to ask. I had more important things to talk about. I'm guessing (Steve) Marshall."
Just as Tedford said that, a group of players walked by on their way up the stadium steps to the locker rooms. After Tedford offered the question to the group, and a few seconds of silence, someone piped up, confirming the offensive line coach as the man behind the music.
• During team scrimmage drills, Cal employed some referees to make the situations a bit more real, and to enforce a bit of discipline. One of those refs was the ever-affable assistant recruiting coordinator Kevin Parker.
"It's always nice to be able to see who's offsides and what's going on, and to hold people accountable," Tedford said.
• Freshman Jed Barnett was punting neck-and-neck with starter Bryan Anger distance-wise during early drills, though Anger's punts had more hang time, spin and accuracy. Anger was kicking 60-yard rainmakers with remarkable consistency.
• A new addition to the return team was Dash Oliver, who practiced fielding kickoffs.
• Vereen spent most of the early part of practice riding the exercise bike on the sideline, but later played a bit of catch with Tedford while still pedaling away. After that, he was seen doing some light ball-security drills on a pad on the south end of the east sideline.
• During sideline catch drills for wide receivers Michael Calvin made a tough, turn-around grab and kept his toes in-bounds. He has really made some great strides with his pass-catching this offseason.
• During one-on-one outside shoulder drills with quarterbacks and wide receivers, true freshman Austin Hinder threw some of the most consistent balls outside of starter Kevin Riley and showed some remarkable touch and accuracy. Mansion produced a solid stream of well-thrown balls, but he had a bit of trouble consistently hitting his receivers on long passes.
• Receiver Marvin Jones made a juggling finger-tip catch on a rare overthrow by Hinder in the end zone during one-on-ones.