It was appropriately gloomy on Sunday afternoon for the Cal football team's second practice of fall camp, as injuries marred what would otherwise have been a high-energy session at Memorial Stadium.
During the middle segment of practice, one half of the Bears' offensive line dynamic duo-Matt Summers-Gavin-went down with an unspecified knee injury. He returned to the field on crutches, sporting a bulky brace on his right knee.
"He hurt his knee when he was pulling," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "We're going to get it tested here in a few days. He'll get an MRI tomorrow (Monday), and we'll figure it out."
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Subbing in for the injured Summers-Gavin at left guard for the rest of the day was senior Richard Fisher, who helped plow the road for several impressive runs by Isi Sofele and Dasarte Yarnway.
Sofele, Yarnway and Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson each saw significant time with the first team offense due to the unavailability of starting tailback Shane Vereen, who spent his second day in a row sidelined with a balky hamstring.
"He was just resting his hamstring," Tedford said. "He had a tweak in his hamstring two weeks ago or a week and a half ago when he was conditioning, so it's just a matter of letting it heal and getting him ready."
Vereen's absence allowed the stable of backs behind him on the depth chart to get snaps with the first team, including the speedy Sofele.
"All those guys are getting reps," Tedford said. "Covaughn and Isi and Dasarte, which is good, to get more reps for those guys, because that's one of the focuses of camp, is to develop backup tailbacks. The reps are helping them."
Sofele also got reps as a punt returner, along with wide receivers Jeremy Ross, Marvin Jones, Terrance Montgomery, Kaelin Clay and Coleman Edmond. But catching punts wasn't the only thing the stable of wideouts did on Sunday. Young and old, the receivers displayed solid hands all throughout the afternoon, dropping just four passes during one-on-one drills with quarterbacks, as well as making some eye-popping grabs in traffic against the defense.
"The young guys are fast," Riley said. "I mean, those three young guys (Allen, Edmond and Carter), they're up there with J-Ross, Mike Calvin and Marv-maybe faster. It's a little different, because they have that track speed. There's track speed and football speed, and football speed is track speed as well, but just being able to adjust to the ball. We've just got to work on that and get that better, because they're going to be weapons. All of them can play, if they get the offense down. You've got to just keep on working with them and help them."
The pass-catching ability of the wide receivers has not gone unnoticed by senior starting quarterback Kevin Riley, who has put in some of the most work that he ever has during the offseason in preparation for his final season under center.
"Absolutely," Riley said about his receivers' improved ball skills. "And, just being more consistent overall and just making plays that they weren't making last year. That may be just catching the ball, but when it's not a great throw, when it's high, they're able to make those plays and helping out the quarterbacks when those balls aren't in the right spot. It pays huge dividends. It puts more confidence in us, just throwing the ball and when we have higher confidence, the balls are going to be better and they're going to keep on catching them. It's good to see, and the same with the tight ends, as well."
Riley has served as an example for his receivers, who have rallied behind the work ethic of their signal-caller.
"He's definitely improved. Coming in this summer, he's just worked so hard," Jones said. "This is his last year. He knows that. He just has that motivation, that drive to be the best leader and the best facilitator out there. We worked a lot in the summer throwing, and this is going to be a big year for us."
At times during team drills, Jones had trouble getting separation from defensive backs, though late in practice he was able to make a nifty grab in traffic for a gain of seven yards on a pass from Riley.
Jones has found himself in a position of leadership as well, given the sheer number of young receivers in camp. He has formed a particularly tight bond with Allen.
"He's like my little brother," Jones said. "I told his family that I'd look after him out here. He's just like me: competitive guy, likes the same stuff I do."
While Jones has played the role of big brother for Allen, the talented recruit's real older sibling-quarterback Zach Maynard-was in the stands for the entire practice, even though he will be unable to participate in team activities until the spring.
"He has some academic work to do, so he's greyshirting to finish up some academic stuff with his transfer," Tedford said. "He's not enrolled this semester. He'll be here in the spring."
Another receiver who's made big strides since last season is Michael Calvin, who often partnered with Riley during summer throwing sessions.
"Mike Calvin, I'd say he's the biggest guy and it has helped the most," Riley said. "Because him coming back from his knee, having confidence and coming out in the summer and working, I'd say that's the person who's improved the most since last year."
Several defensive backs stood out again on Sunday, including Williams and freshman Michael Coley, who showed great speed and smooth acceleration during pass break-up drills.
The focus today on defense, though, was on the linebackers, about half of whom sported white stripes down the centers of their helmets.
"It's so we can see their eyes, where their eyes are going when we're watching tape," Tedford said. "Sometimes when you're watching tape you're looking at where their eyes are, and you want to make sure their eyes are on the right thing, so on tape, you can see where their heads are pointed. It was the guys who were having problems with their eyes. Those are the guys who needed it."
Sophomore defensive lineman Kendrick Payne was aggressive during drills early in practice, spurred on by d-line coach Tosh Lupoi, who even got down and dirty and participated right alongside his charges at one point. Payne's day was cut short, however, during team drills, where he sustained an injury towards the end of practice. Payne was, however, able to walk off the field under his own power.
"It's a guy thing," Tedford said of Payne's delicate injury.
• Defensive back Vachel Samuels, who injured his foot on Saturday, will be out for the season.
"He's out for the year," Tedford said. "Three to six months, recovery. He split the bones in his foot, so he's got to have that repaired."
• Fullback Will Kapp was held out of most of practice again on Sunday due to a concussion. He may see some action later in the week, depending on how his recovery progresses.
"It depends," Tedford said. "He's doing a few things, but we're not letting him hit anybody."
• Early in practice, all six QBs practiced taking snaps from under center, giving a peek at the complete depth chart at the offensive line's keystone position. In order, those centers were Chris Guarnero, Dominic Galas, Donovan Edwards, Tom Berry, Mark Brazinski and Chris Adcock.
• Walk-on freshman kicker Jed Barnett was again impressive today, this time in punting drills.
"He punted the ball well today. It was nice," Tedford said. "We had both sides, and there wasn't a lot of difference between Jed's side and Bryan's side, so that was very promising."
Tedford also said that for the moment, Barnett will primarily focus on punting, as opposed to placekicking.
"He does that, but from what I've seen, right now, Giorgio and Vince are still the two that are in competition for that spot," Tedford said.
• Riley expounded on his offseason training regimen, which has seen him get leaner, stronger and more confident in the pocket during the first two days of camp.
"A lot more lifting, really," Riley said of how his offseason training routine has changed. "I actually gained a couple pounds at first, with the lifting, and then we started running more and I started running more, just doing stuff by myself, and I've lost, since last year, I'm seven pounds lighter and a whole lot stronger. We do a bod-pod testing thing, and I think I was four or five percent less body fat than at this time last year.
"I feel like I'm putting more on it, just having more strength. I'm getting it out quicker, too, and just in the pocket, I feel better moving around and being able to get out just a little bit quicker, maybe, not getting hit in practice at all, but maybe being able to shed a hit and being able to get the ball off quicker> If I can make just one more guy miss to continue on the play, do something, throw the ball away, or anything."