BERKELEY-Today's Cal practice had a not unnoticeable sense of urgency, as the Bears (2-0) face short week heading into Friday's nationally-televised clash against Nevada (2-0). Saturday's defensive star, linebacker Jarred Price, has definitely noticed the uptick in intensity.
"Right now, everything is turned up a little bit more," said Price, who had two sacks last week. "It's a little more intense because of the way their offense is run. Throughout the whole game, you can be doing everything right, and then you jump outside your guy one time, the way their offense is, they can go 80 yards quick, just like that. The coaches right now are preaching that if you need to serve to the hip, then you need to do that; if you need to extend your gap, then do that. Don't try to do too much; just do your job. Do what you need to do and don't try to be anybody else."
With such a short week, there's little time to let any of the normal bumps and bruises rest, or to rehab any sore joints.
"The demand that it puts on your body, we're stressing a lot to go get treatment early and get heavy treatment whenever you can, whenever you've got free time, just hop in the ice tub to rejuvenate your body," Price said. "It's coming up on you quick. Next thing you know, it'll be right there, so you need to get your body prepared."
Price was the center of attention last week when he notched two of Cal's six sacks against Colorado, utilizing his size-exaggerated reports put him at 5-foot-11-to get underneath the Buffaloes' towering offensive line.
"If I can get two per game, I think I'll be alright. Anything less than that, it'd kind of hurt me," Price jokes. "If I can go against 6-8, 6-9 dudes, throughout the whole season, that's fine for me."
He laughs when it's suggested that he's the defensive version of 5-foot-8 tailback Isi Sofele.
"That's fine with me," he smiles. "I won't trip out at that. When I go against 6-4, 6-5 guys, they can kind of move around a little bit, and that's when it gets a little tough, but besides that, it is what it is."
On Friday, Price will face a Wolf Pack front five that features a lot of height on the outside, with 6-foot-5 junior left tackle Steve Haley, 6-foot-6 senior right tackle Jose Acuna, not to mention 6-foot-8, 325-pound senior left guard John Bender. 6-foot-3 center Jeff Meads and 6-foot-4 sophomore right guard Chris Barker round out the unit that has come to be known as "The Union."
"The tackles on the outside, if I'm not mistaken, are like, 6-5. The inside dudes, they got one dude that's 6-8, one dude I think is 6-7, so they got some big dudes," Price said. "But, to me, I don't think that they're that fast. They play good as a team, as a whole, but I don't think, individually, that they're that fast. If we're able to get up on them quick, then we can utilize the speed package."
Speed will not be as important as depth on Friday, as Nevada's Mackay Stadium sits at 4,610 feet of elevation.
"The coaches went over that," Price said. "They explained that, when they went outthere, not too long ago, when they played Air Force a while back, the altitude was kind of high, so they said that we will lose our breath, just for a little bit, but we'll gain it back just like that. I think there will be a lot of rotation going on, just to keep everybody fresh-legged."
Price and the rest of the Cal defense has a tall task in front of them on Friday in trying to contain versatile Wolf Pack signal-caller Colin Kaepernick. At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, the Turlock, Calif., native is as much a threat through the air as he is on the ground. In two games this year, Kaepernick has rushed 22 times for 221 yards and four scores, and has completed 47 of 66 passing attempts for 547 yards and four touchdowns. In his three years at Nevada, Kaepernick has run for 6,523 yards and passed for 7,623.
"He's always been a great runner. Where he needed to improve was his efficiency as a passer, and he worked very hard last year," said Nevada head coach Chris Ault. "His spring camp was outstanding, his fall camp was outstanding and I really think he's taken that part of his game up quite a bit. So, that adds to the dimension, and we're throwing the ball more this year than we have in the past, and we think we've got a decent receiver corps, and of course, Kaepernick. I think he just continues to get better in the passing part of the game."
The Bears will try to attack Kaepernick with a variety of defensive personnel packages and formations, with Price providing a speed rush on the edge and linebacker Keith Browner taking the point on stopping the running attack.
"We have decent team speed on defense, but they do such a nice job of getting (Kaepernick) in the open field," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "It's like a three-way option with what they do, and so you have to be really disciplined, and when you get one-on-one in the open field, you have to make sure that you can tackle. With the triple-option, you have to have every phase of it taken care of, and really, that's what it is."
Helping to replicate Kaepernick's elusiveness, size and speed is third-string quarterback Brock Mansion, who, at 6-foot-6 and 237 pounds, just about matches Nevada's signal-caller.
"(Kaepernick)'s really lanky and has long strides. When he gets in the open field, he has great speed," Tedford said. "That's why we put Brock as the (scout) guy today, because he can simulate that. What they do on offense is a little bit unconventional, so it's really important that we simulate the speed at which it happens, and actually, Brock is a lot like him. He throws the ball hard, he's tall and he can run with long strides."
Mansion will continue to work with the second-team in a scouting capacity all week, Tedford said, while No. 2 QB Beau Sweeney will make up for that loss of reps by taking snaps with the first team along with senior starter Kevin Riley.
Of course, Kaepernick isn't the only weapon in the Wolf Pack's arsenal. 5-foot-10, 220-pound senior halfback Vai Taua, who ran for over 1,000 yards for the second straight year last season, is Nevada's main weapon out of the backfield.
"They had three 1,000-yard rushers and led the country in rushing last year. They really do a nice job with what they do. They have a great running back. No. 34, (Taua), looks a lot like Shane. He's very fast and powerful up the middle. He breaks arm tackles. They're a tough, tough offense to deal with."
Speaking of Cal's starting tailback, Shane Vereen was given most of the day off on Monday to get a chance to rest up after taking a pounding up front on Saturday.
"We rested Shane a little bit today, just to let him heal up," Tedford said. "It's good for those other backs to get some reps."
The other backs getting the majority of the first-team snaps were Sofele and Dasarte Yarnway, at least in the early goings.
Those backs will try to make some headway on Friday against a Wolf Pack defensive line spearheaded by three-technique tackle Willie Faataualofa, nicknamed "Big Willie" by his teammates.
"They have some pretty good guys up front, but if we just stay true to our game and play hard, we'll be fine," said right guard Justin Cheadle. "He's a great player, but we have a lot of quality guys. We'll be just fine."
Cheadle and right tackle Donovan Edwards will be the first to engage Faataualofa and try to plow the road for the tailbacks a bit better than they have in the previous two games.
"There are still a couple things that we've really got to clean up here and there," Cheadle said. "But, I think we're doing a real good job. We just really need to play every down, 110 percent. We have to make sure that we're picking up, making the right blocks, know exactly who we're going to."
Matt Summers-Gavin could provide some much-needed depth on the outside of the line, and saw most snaps at second-team right tackle during team periods on Monday morning.
Faataualofa is a proven weapon and the Nevada defense has notched five sacks in the first two contests. However, the Wolf Pack is ranked No. 70 in total defense in the early goings, after defeating FCS opponent Eastern Washington and hapless Colorado State by a combined score of 100-30. Nevada has given up an average of 352 yards per game.
"The first game, I was not comfortable with the way we played. I just didn't think that we gave the effort that you've got to give when your defense is that inexperienced, as we are," Ault said. "You've got some great competition going, and that competition should create competition on the field, but there was marked improvement over the week and I think our players got the message. They've got to play a lot harder, because we aren't that talented, and for those guys who are playing harder, that will create that competition. We certainly need to continue developing depth."
Helping that depth will be a pair of sophomore safeties in Duke Williams-who sat out the first game-and Marlon Johnson.
"I think getting Duke back really helps. He was the one with some experience last year-not a great deal, but enough to say he was in ballgames-and I think that helped us out quite a bit," Ault said. "We're settling in, there. Every game has been a learning situation for what we can do with our safeties, and I think that's the key component: us putting in things, defensively, that guys can execute."
On the topic of defensive backs, Cal's speedy corner, redshirt freshman Steve Williams was held out of practice today due to a thumb injury.
"Steve actually has a thumb issue that he's going to get operated on tomorrow," Tedford said. "He may be ready for the game, he may not. It's a ligament in his thumb right there, so that's going to get reattached and then he'll have something put around it, and it'll be up to him, with the pain, that's the issue with that. It's nothing that, if he played, he could hurt it anymore. He hurt it in the game."
Also sitting out practice with mild dings were senior linebacker Mike Mohamed and true freshman rush backer David Wilkerson.
"Mike's just resting a foot. Wilkerson, same thing," Tedford said. "Mike just has a little bit of an ankle tweak, but it's so close to the game that we're just letting him rest it until tomorrow."
Both linebackers should be back in action tomorrow.