In most years, Cal uses the bye week to let its scout team players work with the offense and defense and let its injured regulars heal up. But with a Thursday game following, the Bears don’t feel like they have the luxury to do that.
So today was the only practice between now and Oct. 6 that won’t focus on Oregon. The Bears held a “fundamentals” practice today where they concentrated on the basics. Starting tomorrow, the game plan for the Ducks will be installed and the Bears will prepare for Oregon in earnest.
“It’s not a real bye week,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “We’re having to cram a lot of things in here because Sunday is like a Tuesday practice. Monday is like a Wednesday and so on and so forth.”
The good news for Cal’s players is they still get the weekend off. The Bears will practice Wednesday and Thursday but be off on Friday and Saturday, allowing some players to go home or spend their free time however they see fit. The Bears will get back together Sunday afternoon for a full pad practice.
“The bye week is used to work real hard, clean up some things and also get refreshed mentally and physically,” Tedford said. “The physically refreshing part is giving them two days off. The mental part is the same, give them the two days off to decompress a little bit and go home if they want to go home and then come back here for a good hard day Sunday.”
Much will be made leading up to the game about the job Cal did defensively on the Ducks last season. But it’s obvious so far that this year’s defense isn’t last year’s defense. Plus, as Tedford and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast pointed out, Oregon’s coaching staff clearly will do some things to adjust to what the Bears did last year.
“This is this year. You can’t take last year’s game and just think it’s going to happen,” Tedford said. “It’s a very difficult offense to defend, obviously. It’s a very tough challenge to slow them down. It’s not going to happen by talking about what happened last year. I know they’ll be motivated to make sure they show better.”
It looks as though freshmen Cecil Whiteside and Chris McCain will continue to play a lot at outside linebacker. And with the bye week, Pendergast is hopeful redshirt freshman Dave Wilkerson will finally be completely cured of the ankle injury that has bothered him in recent weeks. It looks as though those three freshmen are the future at outside linebacker going forward this season, although Ryan Davis and Dan Camporeale are still in the mix.
Pendergast may have to accept some growing pains by the young linebackers at times, but he feels they give the defense the best chance to perform. Playing Oregon will obviously be a supreme test, especially for such inexperienced players.
“We got who we got,” Pendergast said. “Those players are good athletes and I think they have good upside. They just need to continue to play and learn by trial and error.
“I think all three of those guys are works in progress. They are developing young players that just need to play.”
As mentioned in an earlier post, freshman cornerback Stefan McClure is going to start getting significant playing time. McClure tore a ligament in his right thumb during camp and had the cast removed today. He’s played primarily on special teams so far, although did play a lot on defense in the Presbyterian game.
McClure will form a three-cornerback rotation with Steve Williams and Marc Anthony, and will also be available in nickel situations.
“He is a tremendous player,” Pendergast said of McClure, who was a consensus top-10 prospect at his position coming out of high school. “He’s a guy that I targeted in recruiting early. I went and saw him last fall and he just stood out head and shoulders above everybody else from a confidence standpoint.”
Pendergast said McClure has impressed him both on the field and in the film room.
“I like his length. He has long arms,” Pendergast said. “He has good size. He’s one of those guys that you only have to tell something once to and he gets it. Those are the kind of guys you like to coach. The light bulb is on with him all the time. He can come off the field and tell you what happened.”
I asked Pendergast if he had any other revelations about what ails the pass defense after watching the tape of the Washington game, and he continues to point to the big plays allowed. The Huskies coverted a number of backbreaking third-and-long situations.
“We need to get off the field in those situations,” Pendergast said. “It doesn’t matter what level you are coaching. If you allow a drive to stay alive after third down, there’s a higher probability that bad things are going to happen.”
That being said, Pendergast acknowledged it goes beyond the big plays. He admitted the defense simply hasn’t played to the level of last year, when the Bears led the conference in total defense and pass defense. Cal is 7th in the Pac-12 in pass defense this week, and that includes enhanced stats from the Presbyterian game.
“We need to play better, obviously,” he said. “We’re giving up too many yards and too many big plays. We just need to play more of a complete game. We’re trying to get back to the level of last year. We’re not the same defense we were.”