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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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Basketball: My first up-close look at Jaylen Brown

I stopped by the RSF practice gym on Tuesday night to watch the Cal basketball team conduct its second-to-last workout prior to departing Thursday for Australia.

I took in a portion of practice last Wednesday, but freshman Jaylen Brown did not participate. Let me assure you, there was a difference this time. Big difference.

But before we discuss Brown, the five-star small forward from Marietta, Georgia, a few other observations:

— One of the big winners on the “new” Cal team looks like it could be Jabari Bird. With Brown and fellow freshman Ivan Rabb drawing more defensive attention, Bird should be freed up to play his game. On this night, the junior guard appeared relaxed and confident. I don’t remember him missing a shot. He looked like the player we’ve all waited to see, but has been inhibited by injuries and subsequent loss of rhythm his first two seasons.

— Center Kingsley Okoroh was taking a night class, but 7-footer Kameron Rooks played aggressively at both ends. He shows promise and should benefit greatly from four games against older pros in Australia.

— The most improved player on the floor, at least for one practice, was Roger Moute a Bidias. He has shown virtually no offensive aptitude for two seasons, but made outside shots and attacked the basket when shown even a crack in the defense. Not sure where he fits on a deep roster, but the guy has improved.

— Rabb, who says he has gained 11 pounds since arriving on campus early this summer, had a few terrific moments, including an impressive put-back flush. He rebounded well but also seems entirely comfortable at the high post. Still, he needs to continue to get stronger, as evidenced during a drill that pitted players against each other in the low post.

— Which brings us to Brown. He is strong, smooth, quick and calm. Doesn’t force anything, but plays both ends and plays unselfishly. After a steal at mid-court, he dashed to the hoop, throwing down a left-handed dunk. I observed just a small sample size and, to quote the loquacious Allen Iverson, we’re talking about practice. Even so, it’s pretty obvious the guy can play.

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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: Player who punched Jets QB Geno Smith once suspended by Sonny Dykes at Louisiana Tech

IK Enemkpali, the New York Jets player who punched out quarterback Geno Smith and was subsequently cut from the team Tuesday, once ran afoul of the law while playing under coach Sonny Dykes at Louisiana Tech.

Enemkpali was arrested and charged with battery on a police officer and disturbing the peace after an April 2011 incident at a Ruston, Louisiana restaurant.

Dykes, then Enemkpali’s coach at La Tech, suspended him indefinitely, although he later was reinstated and played the 2011 season.

Enemkpali was involved in a fight at Rabb’s Steak House and eventually punched an off-duty, undercover police officer who was working security in the bar. Ultimately, he was subdued by a taser, according to various media reports.

Enemkpali later received probation on a simple battery charge.

The Jets say they were aware of his history before making the defensive end a sixth-round draft choice in 2014. Smith is out 6 to 10 weeks with a broken jaw.

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Basketball: Bears release nonconference schedule

Much-acclaimed freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb will make their official Cal basketball debuts on Friday, Nov. 13 against Rice at Haas Pavilion.

The Bears, expected to be a top-25 team with the return of three starters and the arrival of an elite recruiting class, announced Tuesday they will play eight nonconference home games, including a Dec. 28 contest against Davidson, alma mater of Warriors’ star Stephen Curry. Davidson was 24-8 and played in the NCAA tournament last season.

Cal fans hoping to get their first glimpse of Brown and Rabb can catch the Bears against Carroll College in a Nov. 9 exhibition at Haas.

The schedule also includes previously announced games in the Las Vegas Invitational and at Virginia.

The Bears will face San Diego State (27-9 in 2014-15) on Thanksgiving night, Nov. 27, in the opener of the Las Vegas Invitational at the Orleans Arena. Cal will play either West Virginia (25-10) or Richmond (21-14) the next night to close the event.

Cal visits Virginia – expected to be a top-five team in the preseason polls – on Dec. 22. The Cavaliers were 30-4 season and won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title.

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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.”

*****

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: Pac-12 to create All-Century team

As part of the Pac-12 Conference’s 100-year anniversary celebration, the league is assembling an All-Century football team.

The conference put together a voting panel of former players and coaches, media members (including me), along with current and former staff members from the universities and the conference, who will each vote for players at each position, along with 10 coaches.

The Pac-12 will then whittle the ballot down to 10 in each category and ask fans to also cast votes.

Eventually, a 50-player team (24 offense, 23 defense, 3 specialists) and a coach will be chosen. An Offensive and Defensive Player of the Century also will be determined.

Here is the breakdown by position for the final 50-player team: 5 QB, 5 RB, 5 WR, 2 TE, 7 OT, 5 DE, 5 DT, 5 LB, 4 CB, 4 Saf, 1 K, 1 P, 1 returner.

Below are highlights of the candidates in each category. Lots of Cal players and coaches. And lots of competition.

I will share my 10-deep ballot as soon as I compile it.

QUARTERBACK: A total of 57 nominees, including Troy Aikman, John Elway, Dan Fouts, Pat Haden, Marcus Mariota and Jim Plunkett. Cal nominees: Steve Bartkowski, Charlie Erb, Joe Kapp, Craig Morton, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Roth.

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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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