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Football: Bears looking at every O-line option

More tinkering along the offensive line over the weekend, with Dominic Granado getting some work at center and Jordan Rigsbee sliding over to right guard. Like all previous alignments, this one may not stick, but who knows?

“We’re just trying all the different combinations,”coach Sonny Dykes said. “We did that (Saturday) and I felt like our offensive line looked as good as any points since we’ve been here.

The thing is, we’re trying to build some flexibility in there so we can figure out who the best six, seven, eight guys are, and make them pretty much interchangeable. That’s the goal.”

Dykes said left tackle Steven Moore, who had offseason surgery on both shoulders, would be given a rest day Monday. That will allow Aaron Cochran to take first-team reps.

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The Bears spent Sunday night at a hotel in Concord in preparation for a Monday morning workout on the east side of the tunnel. The hope is to build stamina and become accustomed to the kind of warm weather the team may see Week 3 at Texas.

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Football: Sonny Dykes welcomes hot weather

It’s getting hot, and Cal coach Sonny Dykes is happy about it.

The Bears, who will play Sept. 19 at Texas, practiced in temperatures that reached the high 80s Saturday in Berkeley. Beginning Monday, they will venture to east for a series of three morning workouts.

“We’re hoping (it’s) over 100,” Dykes said of what he expects Monday in Concord. “We’ve got to get our guys in some heat. I think it’s good for us mentally. It’s something we’ve got to deal with and not let it affect us.”

Dykes said even this won’t entirely prepare the Bears for what they could encounter in Texas. “It’s hard to simulate humidity,” he said. “But I think it’s more mental than anything. The guys say, `So what, it’s hot. I’ve still got to drive through.’ “

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Freshman defensive lineman Malik McMorris, a 5-foot-11, plus-300-pounder, wore a white jersey Saturday and will focus for now on playing a blocking back role when the Bears go to a jumbo alignment.

“We tried to get an evaluation on where he could help us the quickest,” Dykes said. “We felt like he could do that as a blocking back. We’ve got a lot of depth at defensive tackle right now.

“He was a really productive high school football player,” Dykes said of McMorris at Mater Dei HS in Santa Ana. “Played at a storied program, played a great schedule, he was one of their most productive players, week in and week out.

“We thought he could do a lot of different things for us. He’s a pretty unique athlete for a guy who’s 315 pounds. He catches the ball well, so he’s got kind of an interesting skill set.”

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Jared Goff was 9 of 11 passes for 141 yards and four touchdowns during the first two trips down the field for the offense in 11-on-11 work Saturday. He threw a pair of touchdown passes to Kenny Lawler, and one each to Bryce Treggs and Tre Watson.

Defensive end Kyle Kragen had a pair of sacks during 11-on-11.

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Football: No. 2 Cal QB job a complicated picture

Luke Rubenzer understands the No. 1 reality of Cal football when it comes to playing quarterback. “Obviously, they’re pretty comfortable with the guy they have now,” he said, referring to junior honors candidate Jared Goff.

The rest of the Bears’ quarterback picture has far less clarity.

Rubenzer was the backup a year ago as a true freshman, and provided 207 rushing yards and three touchdowns as a change-of-pace substitute.

Right now, however, redshirt freshman Chase Forrest is No. 2 and Rubenzer is vying for a starting job at safety. But that is by no means set in stone.

Rubenzer was moved to defense in the spring, mostly at his request, because Cal was short-handed at the position. “Honestly, I just want to see the field,” he said after Friday’s practice.

Coach Sonny Dykes said Rubenzer is doing a good job.

“He still needs reps – he’s still not smooth in some of the technical things – but he sees things well, he’s got good instincts,” Dykes said. “He’s not afraid to stick his head in there.”

At the same time, Forrest is ahead of schedule. “Chase’s level of play has been beyond what I could have imagined,” offensive coordinator Tony Franklin said.

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Football: Rigsbee is fine moving back to center, says he just wants to win games and play in a bowl game

When the Cal center position unexpectedly was vacated, the Bears went to a familiar name to fill the void.

Senior Jordan Rigsbee, who has played all three positions on the offensive line and has started 36 consecutive games, quickly nailed down the spot in the first week of fall camp after would-be starter Matt Cochran was dropped from the team in late April.

There are no complaints from Rigsbee, who started at left guard as a redshirt reshman in 2012, was moved to center for the final eight games of 2013, then to right tackle last season. He was projected at right guard this fall before need prompted another move.

“On one hand it can be frustrating,” Rigsbee said of the constant shuffling. “On the other hand, center’s an important position on the O-line. So far with this coaching staff I’ve gone 1-11 and 5-7 and haven’t gone to a bowl game.

“It’s my fifth year and that’s what I plan to do. If me playing center gets us to a bowl game, then so be it. I just want to win games.”

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Football: Bears in full pads and the defense shows up

Cal practiced in full pads Tuesday for the first time in fall camp and Coach Sonny Dykes liked what he saw: A fairly even battle between his high-powered offense and his beleaguered defense.

“They’re competing hard and they’re doing well. The offense made some plays today, which was encouraging. And the defense made some plays and that was encouraging,” Dykes said. “That’s what happens on good football teams. That’s what we want to see.”

Over much of the past two seasons, the duel usually was a mismatch. Cal’s defense, which allowed 39.8 points per game last season, typically was in over its head against Jared Goff and the offense.

Only a few times in 2013 could Dykes recall the defense enjoying such a productive day in practice.

“I don’t know if it was because we were good or if it was because the offense was that bad,” he said. “They were all not very good. The coaching wasn’t very good, the playing wasn’t very good.”

The Bears are getting more of a push up front and better coverage on the back end.

“I thought we tackled well,” Dykes said. “You could see our athleticism is much-improved. You can improve your tackling, but the easiest way to improve your tackling is in recruiting, quite frankly. We’ve become more athletic and as a result, I think, we’re tackling better.”

Dykes said junior defensive end – who arrived as a JC transfer in the spring – has made a big leap in recent days.

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Football: Bears eager to go full pads 1st time Tuesday; Dykes likes the look of rebuilt defensive line

On Tuesday, the pads go on and the gloves come off. The Bears will begin hitting on Day 5 of fall camp.

Coach Sonny Dykes is eager to see how his team looks when practices are closer to game conditions. He says you can’t fully evaluate the performance of linemen until tackling is allowed, but he has been encouraged by what he’s seen already from his defensive line.

The Bears now believe they have a dozen D-lineman – or more – who can play. “Now, we need our front-line guys to play at an elite level and we’re not there yet,” he said after Monday’s third practice. “But we do have a lot of depth.”

The biggest surprise of fall camp so far?

“It’s maybe David Davis,” Dykes said of the 6-foot, 285-pound senior defensive tackle. “He’s been very effective. He’s moving and playing very strong and very physical. It’s good to see that.”

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Football: Three days, four INTs for Evan Rambo

Freshman safety Evan Rambo had another big practice Sunday, securing two more interceptions to give him four in three days.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder had two all season last fall as a senior at La Salle High in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that – in three practices a guy’s got four picks. It’s good to see out of a true freshman,” said coach Sonny Dykes.

Finding help in the secondary is a major camp objective, but Dykes said it’s way too early to feel like there is any clarity there. Still, he is thrilled by what Rambo has shown so far.

“He’s just got a nose for the football,” Dykes said. “When you go back and look at the tape, he does a nice job breaking on the routes, he reads the quarterback’s eyes well, he’s getting himself in a good position, he’s long, he can run. It’s pretty impressive.”

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Another pleasant surprise in the secondary has been the early play of junior safety Damariay Drew, back at Cal after resolving legal issues following an incident on campus last year where he assaulted a fellow student.

Now a non-scholarship walkon, the Livermore native has played well through the first three practices.

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Football: Defense shines again on Day 2

The defense continues to show up.

On Day 2 of Cal’s fall camp, it was the Bears’ much-maligned defense that once more looked most impressive. The team still wasn’t in pads and defenses often are ahead of the offense early in camp, but it seems clear the Bears have made some progress.

Especially in the final 11-on-11 session with the first units, the defense made noise. Defensive backs broke up pass plays, and safety Demariay Drew – yes, he’s back as a walk-on – intercepted Jared Goff and returned it for a touchdown.

“It’s good to see the defense perform the way they’re performing. We know that’s what we need to give ourselves a chance to have a good football team,” coach Sonny Dykes said. “Those guys have performed well the past two days. I’m excited about the progress they’ve made. Still got a long way to go, but excited about the progress.”

In particular, Dykes is encouraged by what he’s seen so far in third-down situations.

“That’s a really critical time in practice and I thought our defense, quite frankly, has dominated that period,” he said. “It’s good to see that.”

Dykes stressed that he needs to see this kind of performance on a consistent basis. And he will need to see it on game days. But the Bears were so bad defensively last season – allowing 39.8 points per game and setting NCAA “records” for pass defense futility – that the first order of business this summer had to be restoring some belief.

“They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing aggressive,” Dykes said. “The thing we needed to get out of camp was confidence.”

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Football notes: Barton enjoys the company

Notes from Day 1 of fall camp . . .

Michael Barton remembers two years ago when he was a redshirt freshman and the Cal linebacker corps, stripped by injuries and attrition, barely had enough bodies to play.

Things are different now.

“We’ve got about 10 guys who can play,” he said. “We’re going to be rotating. Everybody’s got to be interchangeable – Mike, Sam and Will. What we’re doing now is making sure there’s no dropoff with any set of linebackers.”

Besides Barton, the Bears feature fellow juniors Hardy Nickerson and Jake Kearney, senior Jalen Jefferson and sophomores Hamilton Anoa’i, Ray Davison, Devante Downs and Aisea Tongilava.

Also on the field Friday was senior Nate Broussard, who is fighting back for the second straight season from a major knee injury.

“Nate’s our veteran leader,” Barton said. “It’s just good to have him out there. We missed him.”

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Football: Bears begin fall camp feeling confident

One thing was the same on the first day of fall camp for Cal junior linebacker Michael Barton. “My feet are hurting, breaking these cleats in,” he said after the Bears wrapped up practice at Memorial Stadium on Friday evening.

Otherwise, there is a different vibe around the Bears in Year 3 of coach Sonny Dykes’ regime. No longer will the Bears have to rely on mostly freshmen and sophomores. Cal believes it has the experience to build on a 5-7 season in 2014 and make some noise in the Pac-12 North.

“Guys know what they’re doing, everyone’s more comfortable. It’s kind of a silent confidence we’re carrying around. You can see it in everybody,” Barton said. We know we’re going to do good things this year.”

The Bears averaged more than 38 points last season, and quarterback Jared Goff leads a strong corps of returnees at the skill positions. Cal’s defense, which ranked among the nation’s worst, expects to carry some of its weight this fall.

“I thought we looked much improved defensively, just in terms of our size and speed and strength and depth,” Dykes said. “Still, there’s a lot of young guys out there, so we’ve got to learn fast and get better. But they’re kind of what we thought they were.”

“The defense is much, much, much improved,” stressed Goff, who said that’s “definitely encouraging.”

The consensus Friday was that the offense was a bit off-kilter early, then began clicking.

“First day there’s anxiety – everybody wants to get back out here,” Goff said. “The first hour of practice, everyone’s trying to go too fast. I thought the second hour was really good. We know how good we can be.”

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Here are the top questions facing Cal during training camp:

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