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Football: Dykes seeks advice of coaching veterans

When things went badly for Sonny Dykes in his first year at a new job, he did the natural thing. Cal’s football coach phoned his dad.

Spike Dykes, who spent 13 seasons at Texas Tech, wasn’t the only coach who provided offseason counsel to Sonny Dykes as he tried to regroup after the Bears’ 1-11 performance last fall.

“The hardest thing for me has been getting over it,” Sonny Dykes said. “Because as a coach, that’s your identity. That’s who you are.”

No one wants to look in the mirror and see 1-11, so after last season Dykes figured he’d benefit from the advice of coaches who have seen it all. He talked with the likes of Bill Snyder, Mack Brown, Bob Stoops and Dick Tomey, and his dad.

Their message: “You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing,” Dykes said.

Few coaches have had their self-belief tested more strenuously than Kansas State’s Snyder, who in 1989 took over what Sports Illustrated once called college football’s worst program. K-State had enjoyed just four winning seasons in the 44 years before Snyder arrived.

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Posted on Sunday, April 20th, 2014
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Football: Dykes pleased by Bears’ efforts on both sides during longest scrimmage of spring ball

Coach Sonny Dykes was smiling and encouraged Saturday after the Bears’ longest scrimmage session of spring ball.

Cal ran close to 90 live plays during a closed workout, and Dykes saw things he liked on both sides of the ball.

“I actually thought it was really good, thought it was clean for the most part,” Dykes told reporters afterward. “We didn’t have a ton of penalties. Thought the guys executes pretty well on both sides. Had some big plays on offense.

“I thought defensively we did a lot of good things. Gave up a couple big plays — we’ve got to get those fixed. I like the way guys are running around, flying to the ball. Our tackling’s much improved.”

Dykes said the Bears will run another 60 to 70 live plays during Wednesday’s workout, then about the same number next Saturday when they host what they are calling the Cal Spring Football Experience, wrapping up spring workouts.

“We’re getting a lot of live work done and I think it’s helping us,” Dykes said.

He’s also pleased that the team has not sustained any significant injuries during spring ball, despite running perhaps three times as many live plays as a year ago.

“It shows our team is in better shape, more physically developed, stronger,” he said. I’m excited about the progress we’re making that way.”

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Posted on Saturday, April 19th, 2014
Under: Football, Spring practice | 2 Comments »
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Football: Espitia finds a home at linebacker

Maximo Espitia played quarterback, running back, safety and punter at high school in Oregon. Since arriving at Cal in the fall of 2012, he has seen time at fullback, tight end, wide receiver and safety.

Now, entering his junior season, Espitia is a linebacker.

“We’re going to stick him there, leave him alone, and hopefully he can find a home,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said after Friday’s 11th of 15 spring practices.

In fact, Espitia has been one of the pleasant surprises of spring ball for the Bears after being moved to his new spot at outside linebacker for the first workout on March 31.

“I know he doesn’t really know what he’s doing yet, but he does some things naturally,” defensive coordinator Art Kaufman said. “Just his movement skills, his reads and being in position as much as anything else.”

Dykes said Espitia has performed at a consistent level through spring workouts and has a solid chance to compete for a starting job next fall.

“That’s definitely something I’ve been waiting to hear,” Espitia said. “Now that I’ve finally heard it, it’s my time to see what I can do.”

Recruited to Cal as fullback then moved almost immediately to tight end, Espitia was basically without a position last fall after coach Jeff Tedford was fired because Dykes’ offense rarely utilizes either position.

He was shifted to a slot receiver position, then volunteered to try safety late in the season when injuries left the Bears shorthanded. Linebacker was another position of need for Cal, and Espitia has picked things up quickly.

“I had concerns about how physical he would be, and he’s answered those concerns so far,” Dykes said.

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Posted on Friday, April 18th, 2014
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Football: Defensive backs making progress

Coach Sonny Dykes complimented the defense — and especially the Bears’ young defensive backs — after Monday’s closed workout.

“I thought we had a really good practice, was really pleased,” he said. “We’re starting to look better and that’s encouraging. Defensively, guys are starting to figure things out and playing a little faster.

“Guys are making more plays, especially some of those young DBs.”

Dykes singled out redshirt freshman cornerback Darius Allensworth, who had an interception. He said Cedric Dozier is much improved, and noted the efforts of Cameron Walker, Demariay Drew and David Garner.

“It’s good seeing those guys making explosive-type plays,” Dykes said.  ”Guys are developing, starting to play with confidence.”

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Monday’s chapter in the battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot went to Austin Hinder. Dykes said Kyle Boehm, who has performed well this spring, suffered a setback with a pulled muscle in his lower back.

“It’s a good competition between those two guys,” Dykes said, “Austin had a better day today. He was much improved. But they’re competing back and forth, trading blows.”

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Junior linebacker Nate Broussard, recovering from offseason knee surgery, won’t do any contact work during spring ball as a precautionary measure, Dykes said.  “He’s moving around great, feels good,” Dykes said.

But safety Avery Sebastian (Achilles) is getting more time on the field, putting him a bit ahead of the recovery schedule of fellow safety Stefan McClure (knee), who is battling a strained calf muscle.

Posted on Monday, April 14th, 2014
Under: Football, Spring practice | 2 Comments »
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Football: Brennan Scarlett shaking off rust, excited to become Bears’ ace pass rusher

No one waited longer for Cal’s spring football practice to begin than Brennan Scarlett.

Regarded as perhaps the Bears’ best defensive player, Scarlett is back on the field after a 17-month layoff for a broken hand and a string of complications.

“It has been a long time,” the junior defensive end said Saturday after the Bears ended the first half of their four-week spring workout schedule.

By the time Cal kicks off its 2014 season at Northwestern on Aug. 30, it will have been more than 21 months since Scarlett played in a game.

“It’s going to be a great day to run out on that field again,” Scarlett said.

Scarlett was moved from outside linebacker to defensive end a year ago, but never played in 2013 while his left hand — broken for the second time in a month’s span in November 2012 — slowly recovered.

He had a piece of bone grafted from his hip in January 2013, then suffered a bad infection that stalled his recovery. A month into last season, Scarlett knew his season would be lost.

Coach Sonny Dykes is more than eager to see him on game day. “I think he can be a dominant player,” Dykes said. “He’s not there by any stretch of the imagination yet. He’s long, fast, smart … and rusty.”

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Posted on Saturday, April 12th, 2014
Under: Football, Spring practice | 8 Comments »
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Football: Dykes encouraged by O-line progress

Coach Sonny Dykes is beginning to see progress in one area the Bears must show substantial improvement — offensive line.

“They’re obviously a lot better,” Dykes said after Wednesday’s workout. “They know what they’re doing. We’re having some continuity in some spots. There’s a semblance of depth.

“We’re a year stronger in the weight room, a year more physical, a year better shape. There’s a lot of positives.”

Positions are fairly set at several spots, including left tackle, where sophomore Steven Moore has settled in to protect quarterback Jared Goff’s blindside, with sophomore Christian Okafor and junior Brian Farley dueling for the right tackle position.

Dykes said 6-foot-3, 310-pound sophomore Chris Borrayo has been “a stabilizing force” at left guard. Senior Alejandro Crosthwaite is starting at right guard and junior Jordan Rigsbee is the center.

But Cal awaits the return in fall camp of senior Chris Adcock (knee) and sophomore Matt Cochran (shoulder), and they could change the equation. Both will get the chance to compete at center and/or guard.

Redshirt freshman Aaron Cochran, a massive 6-8, 355-pounder, has shown glimpses of his significant potential. “He’s the unknown,” Dykes said.

“It’s got a chance to be a group that’s going to play tough and develop some continuity if we can get some depth issues sorted out,” Dykes said.

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Posted on Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
Under: Football, Spring practice | 9 Comments »
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Football: Athlon magazine rates all of the nation’s 128 D-I coaches — where does Sonny Dykes fit?

Alabama’s Nick Saban sits atop the list — no surprise there — and one-time San Jose State coach Ron Turner of Florida International resides at the bottom.

But where does Athlon magazine place Cal’s Sonny Dykes in its ranking of all 128 Division I coaches in the country?

Actually, pretty much right in the middle.

Dykes is No. 60 on Athlon’s list, which makes him last among Pac-12 coaches, but ahead of 68 others across the land.

Here’s what the magazine had to say about Cal’s second-year coach:

“It seems unfair to rank Dykes at the bottom of the Pac-12, but there’s not a bad coach in the conference. Dykes’ debut at California did not go well, as the Golden Bears finished 1-11 and winless in conference play for the first time since 2001. While the final record was not pretty, California had a handful of injuries to key players on defense, and Jared Goff was a true freshman getting his first snaps at quarterback. Dykes took steps this offseason to ensure last year’s 1-11 won’t be repeated. The defensive staff got a major overhaul and a solid recruiting class will help with the overall depth. Prior to his one season at California, Dykes went 22-15 at Louisiana Tech, including a 17-8 mark over the final two years.”

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Posted on Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
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Football: Maximo Espitia, Ray Davison making waves at new positions on defense

Two players who made position changes are making positive impressions this spring.

After Monday’s closed workout, Coach Sonny Dykes cited the encouraging progress of new outside linebackers Maximo Espitia and Ray Davison.

Linebacker is a position where the coaching staff envisioned great depth entering last season. Then injuries caused it to become one of the club’s thinner spots.

So personnel changes were made to bolster the position.

Espitia, a junior from Salem, Ore., came to Cal as a fullback, was moved to tight end, then to wide receiver and safety. Now the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder is a linebacker who “has surpassed my expectations to this point,” Dykes said.

“The good thing is he’s got the body to do it. He can carry weight, he’s long,” Dykes said. “I had concerns about how physical he would be, and he’s answered those concerns so far. He’s been more physical, he’s done a good job getting off blocks and tackling pretty well.

“He’s not ready to go by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s making progress and I think ahead of schedule.”

So he could be in the mix come the fall?

“I would expect him to have a chance to be a starter,” Dykes said. “Based on what I’ve seen and the improvement he’s made over five practices I would think he’d be competing for a job.”

Davison, who came to Berkeley last fall as a freshman defensive end, also is getting a shot at outside linebacker.

“A lot like Max, he’s been a pleasant surprise,” Dykes said of the 6-2, 220-pounder. “He’s a little undersized at (defensive end). We moved him to ‘backer this spring to give us some depth and see what he can do.

“He’s got some natural instincts and does some things you want linebackers to do. He is a guy I’m excited about and I think will be competing for playing time in the fall as well.”

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Dykes said players are adapting to new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman and his way of doing things.

“I like what they’re doing — we’re doing a lot of fundamental things correctly,” he said. “We’re leveraging the ball correctly. We’re still learning how to run to the football — I don’t think we’re there yet.

“They’re playing faster as a result of of the certainty. I like where we’re headed.”

Dykes said Kaufman already has shown he can make adjustments and get his players to embrace them.

“He’s always trying to stay ahead as far as his teaching goes. Never misses an opportunity to talk about something that could happen in a football game and have an answer for it,” Dykes said.

Kaufman continues to work with one arm tied behind his back. DT Mustafa Jalil, DE Sione Sina, LB Nathan Broussard, Saf Avery Sebastian and CB-turned-Saf Stefan McClure all will do little or nothing this spring while rehabbing after injuries or surgeries.

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Wide receiver Bryce Treggs did some work on the side but otherwise sat out his third straight practice with a tweaked hamstring. His receiving mate Chris Harper is expected to do very little this spring after offseason shoulder surgery.

Posted on Monday, April 7th, 2014
Under: Football, Spring practice | 11 Comments »
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Football: Bears using spring workouts to develop a tougher, more physical profile

Coach Sonny Dykes plans to put his Cal football team through live scrimmaging more often this spring for the most basic of reasons.

“We’ve got to learn how to play football,” said Dykes, whose Golden Bears didn’t show much of an aptitude for the game last season while going 1-11 in his debut campaign.

“We’ve just got to get better at playing football and everything that goes along with live reps. So it’s important for us to get as much of that as we can get.”

The Bears dressed in full pads and engaged in live contact Saturday for the first time since spring workouts began Monday. The plan is to scrimmage in each of the eight fully padded workouts — rather than just three or four times during the spring — but for shorter duration.

“I like it,” junior center Jordan Rigsbee said of the greater emphasis on physical workouts. “There’s nothing like live football. You can practice, you can go half-speed, but nothing’s like going full go.”

The Bears ran 40 live plays Saturday and got a luke-warm grade from Dykes.

“I didn’t think it was great, It was OK,” Dykes said. “We’re trying to be more physical. It’s obviously a work in progress.”

Given the team’s severe injury situation last fall, Dykes said he’s wary of putting players in situations that leave them vulnerable. As a result, he’s not sure the Bears will engage in a full-length spring game on April 26.

“When you have that fatigue is when you have a lot of injuries,” he said.

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Posted on Saturday, April 5th, 2014
Under: Football, Spring practice | 1 Comment »
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Football: Bears start anew in Year 2

While I spent the day at Haas Pavilion for Mike Montgomery’s retirement, staff writer Jimmy Durkin pinch-hit for me at the Bears’ first spring football practice.

Click here to read his report from Day 1.

Posted on Monday, March 31st, 2014
Under: Football, Spring practice | 18 Comments »
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