SAN FRANCISCO -- Publicity stunts aside, the California football team headed across the bay on Tuesday with one sole purpose: to figure out just exactly what kind of home field advantage they'll have.
The Bears borrowed the turf of the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park in order to get acclimated not just to the changes from grass to dirt to grass and dirt and back again -- as they did on Monday afternoon at Evans Diamond -- but to the particular kind of grass and dirt that they'll be playing five games on come the regular season.
Click Here to view this Link."We're just trying to get familiar with the setting, with the grass, the infield, get everybody used to it a little bit," said head coach Jeff TedfordClick Here to view this Link.. "This is really the only time we can be here before the first game, so I wanted to make sure that we had a chance to get a feel for the field."
Early on, some of the linebackers had trouble gaining their footing on the infield between third base and shortstop, but they soon got the hang of it.
"It's the fact that you've got to have your feet underneath you," said senior linebacker Mychal Kendricks. "You have them too far outside your body, you're going to slip. It's taking baby steps, as opposed to taking hard, fast, quick steps. Tackling, you've got to know how to roll on this stuff, or else you can really cut yourself up. Nasty burns, nasty burns. It's basically crushed brick and clay, so it'll give you a bad cut. Balls bounce a little different, you've got to be aware of where you're at."
Apart from the five home games this season, this will likely be the only time that Cal will be able to even set foot on the AT&T turf, as Tedford said that there are no full practices planned at the ballpark during the regular season. Because the Giants are returning home soon
"We've been talking about, no matter where we are, our teammates are where our strength lies," Tedford said. "If our teammates are here and we're together, then we'll be together, so it doesn't matter where we play or where we practice, we started that in the spring, practicing all over the place. They've adjusted really well. They're used to it by now. Get on a bus, go, we'd normally say it has lines on it, it's 100 yards long, 53 1/3 yards wide, that's what you play on and that's all you need. The good thing about this place is that it's going to have our fans in it, and that's very important. Any field we play on, it's about focusing on doing our business."
On the injury front, now-starting fullback Will Kapp sustained a sprained ankle on Monday, and sat out practice with a boot on his lower leg. Tailback Darren Ervin was sidelined with a quadriceps contusion suffered over the weekend.
Tight end Spencer Ladner was not in red for Tuesday's practice, but was a bit limited as he continues the rehab process on his knee.
In Ladner's stead, starting tight end Anthony Miller has shown improved hands, and with the dearth in fullbacks, converted wide receiver Spencer Hagan has excelled at the H-back position, catching several big balls from junior quarterback Zach Maynard during 7-on-7 work, including a nifty haul on a corner route.
Maynard showed better arm strength on the day, delivering two 40-yard bombs to brother Keenan Allen and senior Coleman Edmond, who continues to make noise on the outside as well as in the punt return game. Edmond showed great hands and body awareness in offensive skeleton drills.
Fellow freshman tailback Brendan Bigelow saw reps with the top unit during 7-on-7s, which was the extent of full-team work since Cal practiced just in pads. While he didn't get many carries, Bigelow did show off flashes of the speed that he had before undergoing two knee surgeries, effortlessly gliding across the turf. The way he ran was definitely distinct, but, again, there were just flashes.
"Today, he didn't really do anything," Tedford said. "He just did 7-on-7. He had a couple carries yesterday and did alright. He's getting more comfortable each day. [His speed] is starting to show. It's starting to show more. The more confidence he gets in his leg, the more you can see that."
On Wednesday, the Bears will hold a full-pads scrimmage, which should go a long way towards establishing the final depth chart.
"We're probably going to play a lot of young guys tomorrow," Tedford said of the practice, to be held back in Berkeley at Witter Rugby Field. "A lot of the starters have had most of the reps, and so we're probably going to be playing a lot of young guys tomorrow to try and get them stratified, where they may be, whether it's second, third or fourth."
One player who doesn't have to worry at all about his spot on the depth chart is Kendricks. After recording 66 tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, one interception and three fumble recoveries as an outside linebacker in 2010, the Butkus Award Watch List member slid over to the Mike position to accommodate the surplus of outside backers coming up through the system.
"It's coming along really well," Kendricks said of the position switch. "It's a process, but I'm getting used to it now. I'm pretty used to it. The transition from the outside to the inside wasn't too easy, but I'm making the adjustments and everything's going well. A little more patience is involced. You've got to be a lot smarter when it comes to the play. You can't just go out there and do what you want. You have to think before you do. Outside, it's more reaction."
Kendricks, a preseason honorable mention All-American (GoDaddy.com), is on watch lists for the Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the CFPA Linebacker Trophy, the Lott IMPACT Trophy and the Rotary Lombardi Award, but was not too proud to move in order to facilitate the development of such strong outside threats as Chris McCain, David Wilkerson, Cecil Whiteside and Nick Forbes, not to mention a 2011 haul including Jason Gibson, Nathan Broussard (who's growing a Brazinskian beard, by the way) and Jalen Jefferson.
"D.J. Holt, it's funny, because D.J. Holt's been on the inside, so he's helped me with that transition," Kendricks said. "I owe a lot to D.J. Holt, because I couldn't do this without him. He's helping me out. He's helping me out with the adjustments, the calls, my alignments, he's just helping me get used to it. That allows me to help get the younger guys on the outside, like Chris McCain, Broussard, Gibson, Wilkerson, I can help them and give them tips and keys that I used to use. It's just a cycle. Having to repeat that, consciously saying it, hearing it yourself, you learn a lot that way."
Apart from the linebackers, the defensive and offensive lines have had to make adjustments to new playing surfaces. Offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik was his usual meticulous self with his charges on Tuesday, hammering home the importance of the mental aspect of the game.
"The biggest difference about dirt, I think, is just not letting it affect you," Michalczik said. "Just play the game. Coach Tedford has done a phenomenal job of getting these guys to think, 'This is what it is, just do it.' The human body naturally adjusts to the environment. You're waking on a rocky road, you walk a little different. The body will naturally adjust. It's the mind. I think coach has done a great job getting their minds right."
The line and the offense as a whole paid particular attention on Tuesday to protections for spikes and kneel-downs, spending much of the latter portions of the session ironing out kinks in those particular plays.
Defensive tackle Aaron Tipoti was back practicing in full after a set back due to a concussion.
Senior wide receiver Michael Calvin made several leaping grabs and has shown improved hands throughout camp, particularly during 7-on-7 drills on Tuesday.
On the sidelines, Bigelow carried a ball with him at all times, likely working on getting his feel for ball security back after a lengthy absence from the field following his knee injuries. No. 2 tailback Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson was in full-on teacher mode with the younger backs, helping them to get reads right during down time on the sideline with Bigelow and Daniel Lasco.
Before his exhibition after practice, senior punter Bryan Anger was out in right field punting on his own, and routinely delivered booming shots with good hang time, hitting between 50 and 60 yards regularly. When the team practiced punt returns, Anger turned to his arm to simulate low punts, and actually showed off a pretty good gun, tossing the pigskin over 40 yards with ease.
Sophomore quarterback Allan Bridgford had a very good day, completing four of five passes after overthrowing Maurice Harris on his first attempt in 7-on-7 work. He hit freshman tight end Richard Rodgers over the middle for 20, then checked down from Bryce McGovern to find Allen underneath for a short gain. With Jefferson covering Calvin over the middle, Bridgford delivered a perfectly-placed pass to the leaping senior for a gain of five. After zinging one through the hands of tight end Scott Bueno, Bridgford found Harris over the left for a gain of 15.
Senior quarterback Brock Mansion completed three of his first four passes in 7-on-7 work, finding Ross Bostock underneath for a gain of four, and then hitting Quinn Tedford for a short gain, before overthrowing Harris and hitting Quinn Tedford again for a gain of seven.
Following practice, the entire team took running leaps at the wall in left field, and of course, once every player had taken his turn, the group all but forced the coaching staff to take a bit of a Lambeau Leap. Some did it in style - defensive backs coach Ashley Ambrose did a 360 reverse dunk over the top of the wall - and others just got it out of the way, like the head man himself.
"I did, I jumped a little," Tedford smiled. "I got called out twice."
The entire bizarre scene had a purpose, though. The wall is less than a yard from the back of the end zone, so players could find themselves on the business end of the big barrier.
"It's important that they know it's padded," Tedford said. "You look at it, and you don't know how hard or how soft it is, so it takes you a couple times to understand that it's soft, and you can run into it and it's no big deal. I hope they're smart enough not to go head first."
Some players took to leaping as high as possible to pantomime robbing a home run during their second go-arounds.