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Football: Offense gets the best of things

The offense struck back Tuesday at practice.

Coach Sonny Dykes saw plenty he liked, although he said there remains a good deal of room for improvement.

“The last two days I thought the defense really got after the offense. Today the offense made some big plays,” he said. “Turned the ball over twice, but they made some big plays.

“It has a tendency to happen when you’ve got to tackle. That’s why we’re trying to get a lot of live tackling. We’ve got to improve that.”

Still, Dykes not a couple dropped passes on potential touchdowns and a couple missed easy throws.

“But it was good to see some big plays and some guys do some things with the football after they caught it,” he said. “It was progress.”

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Football: Bears hope off-season `Swagger Games’ strength competition adds muscle to their bid to improve

They were called “The Swagger Games,” hardly a term you’d associate with Cal football after last fall’s 1-11 season.

But Damon Harrington knew he had to get creative. The team’s strength and conditioning coach faced a mountain of discouraging data from 2013. The Bears were winless against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, they had 148 designed running plays that produced 2 yards or less, and the defense allowed an average of nearly 28 points in the first half.

So Harrington devised “The Swagger Games,” an offseason competition designed to generate leadership, increase the strength of the team and improve performance inside the weight room, and most importantly, on the field. Harrington, 36, who came with coach Sonny Dykes from Louisiana Tech after the 2012 season, recognized the urgency of the moment: Get stronger or get trampled again.

“The development from that point to the (start of) the season can make or break us,” he said.

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Football: Linebacker Jason Gibson retires

Cal reserve linebacker Jason Gibson retires from football for medical reasons – for web and Monday local digest

Cal junior linebacker Jason Gibson, plagued by injuries throughout his college career, retired from football for medical reasons, coach Sonny Dykes announced after Sunday’s practice.

Gibson had not practiced this fall after undergoing surgery on his right foot after last season. He had surgery on the same foot prior to the 2012 season.

“He’s worked incredibly hard to come back and it’s just been really painful,” Dykes said. “He’s a good kid and I hate it for him. I’m proud of him for working hard and trying to rehab it.”

Gibson came to Cal from Gardena as a linebacker, then was moved to safety before last season, when he played in the only six games of his college career. He was returned to outside linebacker in the spring.

Dykes said he expects Gibson to be granted a medical hardship and kept on scholarship. He is on schedule to graduate next spring.

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Football: Goff’s goal is to complete 70 percent this season

As a freshman last season, Jared Goff set a Cal record for passing yards in a season. He also threw more incompletions (211) than any quarterback in school history.

That needs to change this fall, said Goff, who completed 60.4 percent of his attempts a year ago.

“I think 70-something is a good percentage. That’s really high, but I don’t put any limits on myself,” Goff said. “I’m just trying to complete every pass, one at a time.”

Coach Sonny Dykes said this week that Goff’s mid-range accuracy is noticeably better than a year ago, but that’s just part of the equation. The Bear Raid offense utilizes a lot of quick, short passes to backs or wideouts, and those connections need to be as dependable as handoffs, said offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.

“He needs for us to be good, he needs to be between 66 and 70 percent (overall),” Franklin suggested. “He has to be 99 percent on easy throws and where guys are wide open. When he gets an easy touchdown because somebody blows a coverage, he’s got to be about 75 percent on deep balls like that.

“Last year he would make a spectacular throw and miss three easy throws in a row. He has to get better at that, and he has so far.”

Goff will benefit from an experienced receiving corps that is the team’s strongest position group. “We’re freaking loaded,” said Goff, whose decision-making, grasp of the offense, strength, poise and ability to get rid of the ball quickly all have grown, according to Dykes.

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Football: New D-coordinator Art Kaufman not losing sleep as he works to rebuild Cal’s defense

New Cal defensive coordinator Art Kaufman is beginning his 33rd season coaching college football, and he still has the energy for the job because he knows how to get a good night’s sleep.

“By the time I get home, I’ll chill down for 30 minutes or an hour, then crash and get up and go get it the next day,” Kaufman said of the routine that keeps his batteries charged.

Inheriting a defense that allowed 45.9 points per game last season would be enough to disrupt anyone’s REM cycle. After being hired last winter, Kaufman said he didn’t bother to review 2013 game tapes because he’s not here to fix last season but to build from the ground up.

Still less than a week into fall camp, Kaufman is just getting to know his personnel and said he’s installed perhaps 40 percent of his defense. But he has drawn some early conclusions.

Three things contributing to sweet dreams:

1. “The big thing is our kids have some pride about what they’re doing. They want to be good, and they’re willing to do whatever we ask.”

2. “They’ve got some intelligence as far as understanding what we’re doing. I’ve been where we’ve been able to do some pretty good things, and I’ve been where we couldn’t do a whole lot because we didn’t have anybody who could line us up. We’ve got guys who can do that.”

3. “These guys have a chance to be physical. I’m waiting to see that, but if we can be physical at the line of scrimmage and with our second-level people — a safety, a ‘backer, a corner — that gives you a chance.”

Three concerns that could leave Kaufman with restless nights:

1. The Bears were decimated by injury last season, especially on defense. “The big thing is we’ve got to make sure we stay injury free.”

2. “How well do we match up with the people we’re playing? Anytime you go into a new league — and this is my third league in three years — you don’t know how you match up. That’s the unknown.”

3. “How we will handle adversity? We may have adversity the first play of the game, but we will have it in every game. Don’t worry about the last play, play the next play. I don’t think you can know that until you know who your leaders are. Right now I don’t know.”

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Football: Dykes seeing better attitude, more competition

Day 4 of fall camp brought a smile to the face of coach Sonny Dykes, who praised his team for a much better effort Thursday than he got the day before.

The Bears were in shoulder pads for the second straight day – they go full pads Friday – and the intensity was amped up.

“I was pleased today, very much so. They competed a lot harder. It was really a good step I the right direction,” Dykes said. “ I thought the practice was really intense and physical. It was good to see those guys come out and compete.”

The Bears have 25 more practices before their Aug. 30 opener at Northwestern, and Dykes said the team generally has raised its level from a year ago, Well, certainly they needed to.

“At times last year we had to kind of drag them out here kicking and screaming a bit. They’ve been much more self-starters,” he said. “It’s early still and we’ve got to continue that intensity, but they’re ready to practice.

“I used to hear guys out here talking about other things than football. I don’t hear that anymore. They talk about football, they’re coaching each other, they’re having fun competing against each other.”

Part of the reason there is greater competition in practice is simply there are more healthy players in the mix. And it’s not just the veterans who are creating that atmosphere.

“I think with the influx of the junior college players and the freshmen coming in, a lot of these guys realize they better raise their level or they’re not going to be playing,” Dykes said. “There’s a tremendous amount of competition, pretty much across the board. That kind of brings out the best in everybody.”

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Football: Granado states his case for right tackle job

With projected starter Jordan Rigsbee still working his way back after knee surgery last spring, JC transfer Dominic Granado seemingly has the hand at right tackle. At least for now.

Granado has gotten the majority of the first-team reps, and coach Sonny Dykes has been pleased.

“He’s competing well – that’s the biggest thing he’s done,” Dykes said after Wednesday’s workout. “We recruited him because we thought he was a tough football player. We’ve gotten what we hoped to get.

“Quite frankly, he’s been a little more consistent than I thought he would be at this point. It’s still early, but three practices in he’s been pretty darn good.”

Rigsbee, who had his meniscus repaired at the end of spring ball, actually is ahead of schedule, Dykes said, and should be ready to play by the Aug. 30 opener at Northwestern.

Others are competing there too – Brian Farley and brothers Matt and Aaron Cochran. Figure it to come down to Granado or Rigsbee, who also can play center or guard and gives the Bears a versatile player to plug in anywhere on the line.

Dykes doesn’t anticipate naming a starter at right tackle anytime soon. “That’s going to play out for a while,” he said.

*****

Senior center Chris Adcock, who missed the final eight games last season with a serious knee injury, is holding up well so far.

“Adcock’s been solid. He’s held up incredibly well. He feels so good right now, he keeps going,” Dykes said. “We’re talking about backing him off a little bit, just make sure we’re not loading him with too much too soon.

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A name you probably haven’t heard: Addison Ooms.

He’s a true freshman walk-on center who has caught the attention of the coaching staff.

“Looks like three practices in he’s got a chance to play,” Dykes said of the 6-4, 295-pounder from Mater Dei High. “That’s a pretty dang good surprise.”

*****

The battle for the vacant placekicker position seems to be down to senior James Langford of Pleasanton vs. redshirt freshman Matt Anderson of Danville.

“James Langford has been pretty consistent. I’ve been pleased with him,” Dykes said. “He’s got a big leg. He hasn’t always been the most consistent guy but so far his consistency is where we want it to be.

“Matt Anderson is stronger. He’s making a little bit of a push as well. It’s encouraging to see. I think it’s going to be a good competition.”

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Football: Good start for Cal’s freshmen

Coach Sonny Dykes got his first look Monday at his incoming freshmen, and liked a lot of what he saw.

The Bears brought in a pair of rookie quarterbacks, and Luke Rubenzer and Chase Forrest both “looked way ahead of schedule,” Dykes said. “I was happy to see that.”

Dykes said Rubenzer and Forrest could be in the running to compete with Austin Hinder and other returnees for the backup job to starter Jared Goff.

“If they continue to perform like they did today, its going to be hard to count either one of them out,” he said. “I thought they both looked very good at times. Both showed a lot of poise, both knew what to do with the ball. You could tell both spent a lot of time learning our offense and had a good summer in terms of working out.

“I was really pleasantly surprised by both of them.”

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Two freshmen running backs also have a chance to get early playing time.

Texan Vic Enwere brings size (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) and Southern Cal product Tre Watson speed and fluidity.

“Vic ran tough when he had the ball. It’s tough when you don’t have pads on. When you’re a big back, you’re not going to look great at times,” Dykes said.

“I thought Tre looked smooth, looked comfortable. He looked like what we saw as a high school player, a guy that’s going to be a very consistent back. He can see things and make decisions, make things happen with the ball. I was pleased to see that.”

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Recent addition A.J. Greathouse, a cornerback from Chandler, Arizona, also got high marks.

“I thought he did some good things. He’s very athletic, he’s got some length, you can see he’s pretty well put together,” Dykes said. “He’s a kid who has a really bright future.

“He was a little bit lost today — he really hasn’t been here that much this summer. He showed some athleticism today and willingness to compete. It looked to me like he might have a chance to be a player.”

 *****

Defensive tackle Chris Palmer practiced for only about 30 minutes — but caught his coach’s eye.

“He has a chance. From what I saw today, he showed some ability to move,” Dykes said. “I’m pretty encouraged by the early returns at D-tackle after one practice in no pads. We have some depth there.”

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Football: Bears in good mood as practice begins, but Espitia suspended for season for team rules violation

UPDATED

There was no negative fallout from last year’s 1-11 Cal football season evident Monday as the Golden Bears held their first practice of fall camp at Memorial Stadium.

“I think everybody’s refreshed and ready to compete again,” junior wide receiver Chris Harper said after the 2 ½-hour workout. “The attitude is just a positive one from everybody.”

“I thought we looked sharp,” coach Sonny Dykes said.

The Bears will not dwell on 2013, when they failed to defeat a BCS opponent. “It’s there, it’s not going away,” Dykes said of his debut season. “But I think we’ve all moved on.”

Most of the players who missed last season with injuries were back, including defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil, who had an impressive push against quarterback Jared Goff early in practice, but rested later.

*****

It wasn’t all good news Monday. Dykes announced that junior Maximo Espitia, who earned a starting outside linebacker job last spring, is suspended for the season because of a team rules violation.

“It’s pretty serious,” said Dykes, suggesting that Espitia won’t automatically earn a return to the team. “We’ll see how it plays out. He’s going to have some pretty serious things he’s going to need to work through, in terms of punishment and things on our end.”

Dykes said he’s convinced he has plenty of linebackers to fill the spot. “We’ll see how the pieces fit together,” he said. “The depth at linebacker, assuming we stay healthy, is pretty good.”

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