Notebook: Day Six of Spring Ball, Full Pads to Come
Saturday's practice, the seventh of the spring, will be the first day of full pads, with a scrimmage to come during the day. For offensive line coach Angus McClure and his charges, every practice is full pads
"As the offensive line coach, every day is full pads," McClure noted, "If we're out there in shirts and shorts, we're still executing the same fundamentals, in shells, we're still going full speed. I'll put it this way, we're wearing our knee braces every day. You have to have that attitude as an offensive lineman, you don't have time to relax, you need to execute whatever your responsibilities are and you need to do it at full speed."
A year after Cal only got through four practices prior to an NCAA mandated Covid-19 shutdown, Cal is already through six practices this spring, with the joy in the voices of coaches and players being readily apparent. They're back to the process of spring football, getting the installation in that they lacked a year ago. While they don't have starters locked in at various positions, that's a good uncertainty to have, not like the uncertainty they faced about even having a season. It's a return to being able to focus on the field, for player to earn their playing time.
"This is far from a finished product," defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon said, "I tell them, they write the news, we report it, their actions, behavior, and production will tell us eventually who's on the field."
The insight from tomorrow's scrimmage may be a bit more telling as to where the Bears are, but both Sirmon and McClure had plenty to say about their position groups Friday.
Notes and Quotes
Sirmon was once again asked about Trey Paster, who moved down to the inside linebacker spot, and is someone that could compete for reps, as the Bears look to use their inside linebacker position as a more mobile defender.
"Trey is doing a real nice job in the meeting room and on the field," Sirmon said, "We've talked about guys moving forward on the defense, things happen quite a bit faster, he's made significant improvements with his eyes just through the first six practices that we've had. He's very excited about the position change. I think it's going to fit his skills the very best, playing time will be determined by how he continues to develop, I think he'll have every opportunity to compete for significant playing time, a lot of that is determined by the willingness to learn, the good fortune of staying healthy, and some other factors that can and cannot be controlled."
He'll look to compete against two other tenured inside linebackers in Muelu Iosefa and Evan Tattersall, who should be considered the front-runners at the position with their experience over the last year.
"Mo has made significant strides," Sirmon said, "with the abbreviated camp, there wasn't the same amount of detail that we were able to get in (as opposed to previous years), lacking reps in some of the team settings due to the restrictions. He's a very instinctual player, I call him slippery, sometimes he can slip some blocks and get through some tight spaces. I'm excited about his future and what he's doing. Evan Tattersall, as the most experienced player that we have, he's still showing signs of improvement, which is great. Evan has really dedicated himself in the weight room, he's really talented athletically, and I'm really proud of him for how he has worked and applied himself."
The depth the Bears have recruited over the past few years, with Paster, Tattersall, and Iosefa chief among that group, has made Sirmon comfortable moving Kuony Deng to outside linebacker. That move may not be full time, but it will create more opportunities for those three and the rest of the youth at the position to earn reps.
"Yes, none of these decisions are made in a vaccum," Sirmon said, "we're really trying to identify what these players' abilities are and the strengths and weaknesses are at each position. If we have deficiencies, like any coach, (we look at) how do you minimize deficiencies and maximize what we want to do. I feel very comfortable with who we've recruited at the inside linebacker position, now it's up to those guys to show the development, go out there and play more meaningful time."
One of the guys they're looking for development from is Nate Rutchena at the inside linebacker spot. Sirmon noted they figured Rutchena would need some time to develop, after playing safety and outside linebacker at nearby Monte Vista.
"We knew Nate was going to be somebody that was going to develop," Sirmon said, "we watched him at Monte Vista, he had the ball in his hand a lot, he returned kicks, he played some outside linebacker, he played some safety. He hadn't had the opportunity to play close to the line of scrimmage, there's not a lot of times on film that the offense was good enough to block him. These are things he's going to have to develop as he gets closer to the line of scrimmage , the things we're excited about is that we think he's a good fit, for his personality, for learning, for the culture of being a tough guy and coming every day, having the mental toughness to be the same person every day."
The safety position is one that Cal has a bit more depth at, as Elijah Hicks appears to be sticking at the spot, with Daniel Scott and Craig Woodson playing the most next to him in 2020.
"With Elijah, Craig and Daniel, those guys have a pretty good amount of experience," Sirmon said, "especially Elijah and Daniel, who have been here for several years. Craig Woodson is a player we feel really good about, and he has an opportunity to find more playing time, even more than he did last year. The addition of Ray Woodie, it's fun to watch him get involved in things. As a transfer he's still new to us, there's a significant learning curve in the vocabulary and some of the techniques we play. Hunter Barth is out there getting some reps, I'm really optimistic about what Hunter is going to be. He's got some really good skills, a lot bigger than I anticipated, runs well. Dejuan Butler is another player that we recruited as a corner, we transitioned him to that safety position, the more reps and team activities he gets, we'll see him improve as well."
The nose guard is also a position of interest, as both Ricky Correia and Stanley McKenzie are healthy and ready to go. Neither played last fall, but both could give the Bears a boost in the middle going forward.
"Those are two big human beings," Sirmon said, "I know our emphasis has been getting guys of a bigger stature, football is a big person game and we want to continue to get bigg on the defensive line, though you still need some position versatility. Ricky has really done some nice things, he has flashed, there were some instances where he had a couple dings where he wasn't able to be on the field in the fall. He's a big guy, he has really nice feet, and the more reps he gets, I think we'll be able to find packages for him to be in there. Stanley, as I was telling him the other day, he had a great one on one rep in pass rush, that's exciting to see for a player who plays on the inside part of our defensive line, that got us really excited."
On the line, there's plenty of experience. Seven players that are currently healthy have started a game. The biggest competition comes at right tackle, where Valentino Daltoso, Brandon Mello, and Brayden Rohme are all competing for the spot (Ben Coleman is able to play there as well).
"It's a competitive situation right now," McClure said, "Rohme is getting reps at the position also, and as we progress into spring ball, we'll see how it shakes out. We're still in our installation days, so we're not ready to make any decisions on depth yet."
That time for installation has allowed McClure to try his two mid-year enrollees, Bastian Swinney and Ryan Lange, at different positions than were expected of them coming in, as both were seen as tackle prospects.
"Coming out of high school, Bastian had a season, an extra year of hitting," McClure said, "where Ryan didn't, so we didn't want to throw Ryan in there and pound him, we want to make sure he builds up a crust. They're getting a ton of repetitions, Ryan primarily is focused on the right guard position, and Bastian is focused on the left guard and center position."
With Lange and Swinney in the fold, that leaves Dylan Jemtegaard to join the Bears over the summer. Jemtegaard is playing his senior year at Yelm right now and was recently named to the US Presidential Scholarship Shortlist for his academic excellence.
"He's a typical Cal offensive lineman," McClure noted, "he's one of the brightest in the country, he has great character, he has a tremendous work ethic and he's really developed himself in this last year and a half. He's fun to watch, because he's playing football right now. He'll be an interior offensive lineman for us, he'll be coming in later than the other freshmen on the offensive line, but he'll catch up. Thankfully we have Zoom and all the technology, when his season is over we can prep him for the journey to Berkeley. He's a good example of the type of recruits we want here at Cal."