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August 11, 2011

McCain brings the pain



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MORE FALL CAMP: Defensive Line Video | Walls Stands Out on Day Four

BERKELEY -- As he eased himself into an ice bath, senior California wide receiver Marvin Jones looked up and said, "Sorry we didn't give you the show today, but we'll come back and get it tomorrow."

Jones was a bit hard on the offense, which wasn't all that bad today, but the defense was just that much better as the Bears completed their fifth day of fall camp.

Clancy Pendergast's defense was front and center once again, and it was a familiar face leading the charge: freshman outside linebacker Chris McCain.

"He's a very good player," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "Long, rangy, good leverage, he's doing a good job."

McCain was a mainstay on the top defensive unit, alongside Sean Cattouse, Trevor Guyton, Ernest Owusu, D.J. Campbell, David Wilkerson, Marc Anthony, D.J. Holt, Stefan McClure and Michael Coley in nickel.

"The most challenging thing is the speed and the size of these guys," said McClure. "These guys, they're not thinking out there. When I get out there, I've got to think a little bit, how to get the coverage and then think of how I've got to play, but that was earlier in the week. Now, it's coming to me. I hear the coverage, and I just think about how I'm going to play the technique and do what coach [Ashley Ambrose] says."

Wilkerson and McCain switched off in the left and right outside backer spots, and performed well no matter which side they were on.

After No. 1 tailback Isi Sofele gained a solid 10 yards on a run up the middle in the first set of scrimmage drills, the junior put the ball on the ground, where it was picked up by tight end Anthony Miller, who was promptly blasted and remained on the ground for several minutes. Tedford later said that Miller just had the wind knocked out of him, and he participated in the rest of practice.

On the very next play, McCain -- who has been christened 'Gadget' thanks to a wingspan that earns jealous stares from even the biggest California condors -- came flying into the passing lane on the right side to pick off senior quarterback Brock Mansion's pass to No. 1 fullback Eric Stevens on the sideline.

"Go go Gadget, eh? He looked open, then Gadget got his arm out and he wasn't open anymore," Tedford laughed.

The 6-foot-6, 220-pounder now seems to be a near-lock to make the starting lineup, barring any unforeseen events.

"I feed pretty good off the energy," said McCain. "It makes me very excited when I make a big play, but I'm not going to celebrate about it. I'm not going to do too much, because it wastes energy. I am going to be happy for my teammates. Coach Tedford has this saying: Hold the rope. Who can I count on to hold the rope? Who's going to bleed for me? I know, for me, being a freshman, I know no matter what, I'm going to bleed for my teammates. I'm going to hold the rope. I've got to do it, no matter what."

During the play, Stevens suffered a blow to the knee, and after a lengthy stay on the turf, was removed from practice.

"They took him for X-rays, so we'll see tomorrow," Tedford said of Stevens. "We'll see what's going on. It wasn't that sore, but it kind of felt unstable, so we'll see what it was. It was his knee. He just planted and the knee gave out a little bit."

"Honestly, I don't even know what happened," McCain said. "I didn't even know he got hurt. I may have bumped into his leg, but I'm not sure, so I don't know."

McCain kept pressure on the quarterbacks in every situation, had a sack, an interception and a pass break-up at the goal line as he played well from both sides of the field and haunted the darkest nightmares of the offensive line.

After abusing right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin during the practice-ending scrimmage segment, the North Carolina native then reached up and batted down a brother-to-brother connection from Maynard to Keenan Allen at the goal line.

McCain -- who played basketball in high school -- didn't crow anything to the effect of 'No easy buckets,' after the play, but he does look for all the world like he'd be right at home on Mike Montgomery's basketball team.

"I got to go through coach Tedford with that one," smiled McCain. "But, we'll see. Academics first. Academics and football first. Academics first, football second. But, if that opportunity comes with coach Montgomery, I don't know. I went to see a practice, and I've never played with them, but I go to the RSF, I work out, and if we don't have any practice and I get out early, I go to the gym and take a few shots, just to make sure my game isn't slipping at all."

McCain -- who was playing next to fellow North Carolinian Gabe King -- did follow his in-the-paint rejection with a little look to childhood friend Maynard, though.

"It felt good," he smiled. "It always feels good when me and Gabe are on the defensive side, going against Keenan and Zach. I don't know if Keenan was in that play, but batting the ball down from Zach, just giving him a little look, I just nodded my head a little bit. I just wanted Zach to know that I'm here. What happened back home in North Carolina, in high school, nothing has changed. I'm on defense. We're not out here to make friends. It's football, and it's all about business. Off the field, me and Zach, we 'll talk and eat dinner and laugh it up, but on the field, I'm going to do what I have to do."

Maynard responded to the deflection by finding Allen on a roll left, firing a touchdown pass to his wide-open little brother underneath.

Josh Hill came up with a big pass break-up the next time Maynard tried to find Allen, as McCain again applied serious pressure.

When the team turned to full-squad work at the offense's 28, Maynard looked to Allen first, but instead saw hard-charging Hill come up with a good break-up. Hill has had a very good camp thus far and has come on strong after some off-the-field struggles.

The final series saw Mansion under center, and after just missing Calvin in the right corner -- firing the pass just off his fingers and out of bounds -- the senior found Allen once again wide open in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

"We have to come out and have a better day tomorrow," Tedford said. "Right now, we look like we're a little bit banged up and stiff, a little sore, so we've got to push through that and have a better day tomorrow."

After Stevens went down, the offense took several hits on the day, as the already-thin offensive line lost second-string left guard Alejandro Crosthwaite when his high school teammate -- defensive end Mustafa Jalil -- jumped offsides after a play where the big freshman recorded a sack on Mansion. Crosthwaite was later diagnosed with a stinger.

"He's really shown up. In all seriousness, he has shown up," Tedford said of Jalil. "He's doing a nice job. He's a guy who we've been really impressed with, as well. Coach Lupoi is really impressed with him, and he's really met expectations."

After missing much of his senior prep season, Jalil has come on strong both on the field and in the weight room, checking in at 6-foot-2 and a lean 285.

"He's tightened up a lot," Tedford said. "He lost a bunch of weight."

The Bears' first day in pads saw a lot of big hits on the defensive side and some big performances from other youngsters. Brennan Scarlett spent a lot of time with the No. 2 defense. The young defenders were particularly stout against the run. During early team work, Scarlett, Viliami Moala, Puka Lopa and Jalil teamed up to stone physical tailback C.J. Anderson, a very physical back.

Early in practice, Moala halted Sofele in the backfield, getting upwards of 10 yards of penetration.

Freshman cornerback Kameron Jackson went up against Allen in the end zone during the first set of team drills and batted away what would have been a 40-yard TD pass from Mansion, with Scarlett providing pressure and nearly coming away with a sack.

Jackson made another big play during 7-on-7 drills from the offense's 20-yard line, nearly picking off Mansion on a pass over the middle

With first-string corner Steve Williams limited on Wednesday due to a severe cut between his thumb and forefinger, McClure capitalized and had a solid day in coverage, making life difficult on much bigger wide receivers like senior Michael Calvin.

"They've been talking about how our class is pretty good, ranked pretty high and everything, but to see us getting on the field, seeing some younger guys making some plays, it just shows how hard they're all working and we all have that common goal of holding that rope together," McClure said. "Josh Hill has helped me out a lot. Marc Anthony, Cattouse, all those guys, DJ [Campbell], and even on offense. Marv will be talking to me, helping me out, Keenan's out here helping me out. Even just going against those guys helps me out, too. Marv's helped a lot from the offensive standpoint."

Another standout on the defensive side was freshman safety Avery Walls, who joined fellow US Army All-American McClure in running with the top two defensive units.

"I wasn't 100-percent, body-wise, just recovering and everything, just some soreness, dings and nicks, but we have to come up here fired up and I was pretty fired up today," Walls said. "I didn't have too many things thrown my way, but I always have to be on alert. Who knows what they'll be running at me tomorrow? I might have 20 iso plays, 20 power plays run straight at me, so I always have to be ready.

"I'm always pumped up, fired up to be in. I joke around with everybody; I know I'm small, but I'm big at heart, and I'm just a physical person -- I actually kind of want to play linebacker. I love hitting tight ends. They're always trying to block me when I'm running in there to make a tackle on the run, so when they're in my zone in the secondary, they're in my house, so I've got to keep them out, throw them out the door."

Walls had started camp seeing a lot of time on special teams, and was recognized by Tedford as being a factor on the unit. A four-star safety and a US Army All-American, Walls has a very prominent competitive streak, and before long, could very well make the jump from special teams standout to defensive mainstay.

"Actually, all the great players you hear about in the NFL, the ones that always have long careers always play special teams. I know a lot of coaches stress that here," Walls said. "Being on special teams shows off your speed, physicality, mental toughness, and I'm trying to take any avenue I can to be on the field. If special teams is one that I can do, then I'm perfectly fine with that. I love the stuff that they're putting me at, anyway, so I'm enjoying it."

Injuries on the offensive side allowed some of the young tailbacks to step up, as Sofele had to leave in the latter half of practice because of some severe knots in his calves and left hamstring.

"We pulled him out of practice. He's got some bad looking calves, right now. He's got two huge knots sticking out of his calves, and he's limping around," Tedford said. "I asked him if he was alright and he said, 'Yeah, I'm alright,' and you look at his calves and he's got huge knots in there. You see that big red mark on the left? That's a big knot. He's got a huge bulge coming out of both calves and one in his hamstring. It's not from getting hit. It's got to be from cramping. Yesterday, when he was returning a punt, we were messing around, and he went down, and I thought he was kidding. So, I started laughing, and he started going, 'ahhhh!' and it was a pretty serious cramp. When he cramps, he really knots up. We've got to get those knots out of there."

Sofele's absence allowed No. 2 back Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson to redeem himself for a sub-par spring camp performance. After dropping some pounds and rededicating himself to Mike Blasquez's fitness program, DeBoskie-Johnson broke out on Wednesday for several big runs.

DeBoskie-Johnson was stout carrying the ball and in the passing game, hauling in a 12-yarder from Mansion in the first set of team drills.

With Mansion under center behind a second-string line of Bill Tyndall, Justin Gates, Mark Brazinski, Geoffrey Gibson and Matt Williams during mid-field scrimmage drills, DeBoskie Johnson ripped off a solid 10-plus-yard run.

As practice wore down, the offense took the ball at the five-yard line, and DeBoskie-Johnson led off with a bruising run over the right side for a touchdown while fighting off senior linebacker Mychal Kendricks, a play which impressed Tedford.

"Yeah, Covaughn's been doing a pretty nice job," Tedford said. "He did a nice job on the first touchdown. That was live, Kendricks was coming clean, got his pads down, got by him and banged it in there. That was really nice to see."

DeBoskie-Johnson did fall victim to the young defensive linemen, though, when DeAndre Coleman and King teamed up to drop the No. 2 tailback in the backfield. One play later, Jalil tagged Mansion for a sack, before his offside hit to Crosthwaite.

Tailback Mike Manuel had a few nice runs, including a seven-yard rumble through several defenders. He doesn't have much of a second gear, but he gets his yards. A faster back like true freshman Brendan Bigelow may have turned that run into a touchdown.

As for Bigelow, the electric young back is making progress, but didn't see any snaps with the top unit. After taking reps on kickoff return during special team individual work, Bigelow sliced off a nice run with the offense backed up in its own red zone, getting by a strong defensive front which included Jalil, Scarlett, Nick Forbes and Jalen Jefferson.

"He's getting more comfortable every day," Tedford said. "You can tell he was really timid in the beginning. He hadn't played in two years, so he was really kind of watching the cutting, and every day, he's making a few more cuts, playing a little faster, that type of thing. He did a couple things today that looked like him, but a couple days ago, you could tell that if he gets on the perimeter, he's feeling his way through."

Later in the drive, Bigelow took several hits along the right sidelines, including a blow from Moala, spinning off defenders for a five-plus-yard gain.

"We just have to have him be patient," Tedford said of Bigelow, who has to still negotiate some of the psychological scars of having a twice-operated-on knee. "It's a natural thing to have to overcome, so don't worry about it, just work yourself back into it. He'll feel the speed of the game. We know that he's a special player. We know that he's going to get a lot better than he's showing right now, just because he's still trying to figure out what he was doing. That's why he's not playing full speed, because he's just feeling out his cuts and things like that."

Freshman athlete Darren Ervin continued to have a strong showing, but when faced with some of the more veteran defenders, he struggled a bit. After DeBoskie-Johnson's touchdown run, Coleman sniffed out a handoff to Ervin from Maynard, crushing the tailback for a loss.

Aside from a few miscues, the offensive line gave Maynard a lot of time to throw for most of the afternoon.

Calvin -- who has been having a very strong camp -- made a great catch over the middle on a pass by Maynard for about 10 yards, which was followed several plays later by a coverage sack from Kendricks. The offensive line gave Maynard plenty of time, but the young defensive backs really locked down their receivers.

During red zone drills, Kendricks came up with a big stop on Spencer Hagan, stopping him at the five for no gain on a pass from Maynard. On the next play, the defense again got the better of Maynard, rushing him into a big overthrow to cousin Maurice Harris.

The freshman wide receiver continued to make some progress, but did drop a few catchable balls. His physicality is definitely a plus, and during one-on-ones, caught a lazer underneath from his cousin Maynard with Jackson draped over him.

Later, on a pump fake from Mansion, Harris hauled in a nice 17-yard score on a fastball from the senior signal caller.

Maynard and Calvin hooked up several times for big gains, including a 40-yard leaping grab by the senior wide out against stout coverage by McClure. Calvin fell hard to the turf, but retained possession.

Overall, the line performed well for Maynard and consistently gave him some good time in the pocket, despite the absence of Mitchell Schwartz.

"Well, we haven't seen the first line yet, because Mitch wasn't out there, so we haven't seen that yet. It's been kind of a revolving door at tackle," Tedford said. "Schwartz is out, Rigsbee is out, so we haven't had our two tackles in there yet."

Schwartz has yet to participate fully in practice due to a balky hamstring, but he increased his workload on Wednesday, and should return to full duty soon.

"I sure hope so," Tedford said. "I know he's experienced and he's good, but he's not that good to just not practice. He did some things today. He practiced today in full gear, but we just didn't let him take any team. Just did individual drills."

In the second set of installation periods, Maynard scampered for a weaving 10-yard gain on the second play of scrimmage work, showing good vision in avoiding defenders. He showed some good poise under pressure, too, when he found Jones for a short gain after McCain blew by right tackle Summers-Gavin.

Shortly thereafter, with McCain on the left side, the line clutched up and gave Maynard enough time to fire a 15-yard strike to Jones.

Several plays later, Bill Tyndall -- playing in place of Schwartz and the still-injured Tyler Rigsbee at left tackle, stayed strong against McCain, who abused the junior lineman on Tuesday, allowing Maynard plenty of time to throw, though the junior quarterback still overthrew Terrance Montgomery.

Maynard looked to have made some strides since the beginning of camp, improving his velocity, his reads and the spin on his passes.

Walk-on wide receiver Bryce McGovern continued to show strongly, showing some great get-off in shaking a defender to get the high point catch on a rainbow from Maynard in the back corner of the end zone in one-on-one red zone drills.

McGovern made several tough catches, but also whiffed on a few catchable balls. On one play, he went up for a ball and got hit by Anthony, seeing the ball come off his fingers.

During the 7-on-7 portion of practice, Maynard was close on many of his passes, but sailed a few. He was in the neighborhood and kept up his good velocity, but was just a little off target on a consistent basis.

On one 30-yard pass to Allen, big bro fired the ball just a tad high and Allen's mistimed leap resulted in an incompletion.

The highlight of red zone one-on-ones was Allen, who spun Coley out of his shoes to haul in a pass at the goal line. Allen wagged a finger at Coley, and, frankly, he earned it. The move he put on Coley was devastating, to say the least.

Camp Notebook
-- Sophomore quarterback Allan Bridgford participated in the first part of practice, going through individual position work, but had to leave in order to take a summer school final.

In his stead, Mansion took all of the second-team reps at quarterback.

After dropping some passes during early team work, redshirt freshman Jacob Wark redeemed himself during goal-line 7-on-7s, hauling in a tough five-yard catch on a pass from Mansion, battling with a very physical Cecil Whiteside to come up with the grab.

The final series saw Mansion under center, and after just missing Calvin in the right corner -- firing the pass just off his fingers and out of bounds -- the senior found Allen once again wide open in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

-- Miller missing some easy passes in early team work, including what would have been a nifty 15-yard touchdown zinger from Maynard that went right through his hands.

Freshman tight end Richard Rodgers continues to show a lot of potential. His speed and hands are a plus. He has wide receiver skills, and, combined with his size, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him maybe get some snaps this year.

During red zone drills, Rodgers jumped offsides, but on the next play was able to capitalize on a deceptive fake handoff from freshman quarterback Austin Hinder to Ervin, releasing to find himself wide open in the middle of the end zone for an undefended touchdown grab.

-- Tailback Dasarte Yarnway had a productive day in the backfield, particularly after Sofele left the field.

In early team work, Yarnway took several hits from some of the better young defenders and stayed on his feet for a big run. He tore off some more solid runs and didn't put the ball on the ground or show any hesitation.

"Dasarte had a couple good runs," Tedford said. "I've got to look at his pass protections and things like that, but as far as running the ball, I thought he ran, for coming off a knee, I thought he ran strong up the middle, had his pads down low and did a pretty good job."

Anderson churned out several good runs, but is still working his way into playing shape after some academic snafus during his transfer process from Laney College.

"He's still got to get in shape, though. He's run himself right into the ground," Tedford said. "He doesn't have his legs under him. There was one class he needed to get done, and until then, he wasn't going to be a part of this, so he started out, passed the class, but didn't get the grade he needed for his AA, and so he went back and did that. That's the thing, though, you can tell he has good vision, runs low, he's strong, he's got really good balance. He's just not in great shape right now. You can tell because his legs kind of go out on him when he's moving. His mind's telling him one thing and his legs won't let him do it."

-- Hinder ran well on two straight plays during full-team work, scampering for a gain of seven and then escaping both Moala and Todd Barr for another big gain.

During goal-line one-on-ones, Hinder threaded the needle to physical receiver Coleman Edmond, who made a nifty spin move to grab the ball on his back hip to evade Walls in the back right corner of the end zone.

During red zone drills, Hinder kept up his strong throwing day, finding Ross Bostock on the back hip, allowing the junior wide receiver to turn and run for seven yards up the sideline.

While Hinder had some nice passes with good touch, he did make a few mistakes, overthrowing Manuel by a good amount during red zone drills.

-- Keni Kaufusi made a few nice plays, including applying pressure to Mansion in the shotgun in the red zone, forcing the senior to overthrow McGovern in the end zone.

-- Redshirt freshman cornerback Adrian Lee had a nice break up at the goal line on a pass from Mansion to Hagan.

-- The punt returners were Allen, Edmond and Manuel. Redshirt freshman punter Jed Barnett showed a bit more consistency than he did last year, blasting several straight 50-60 yarders before shanking a few in a row. He definitely has a big leg, but one more year behind senior starter Bryan Anger will do him good.

Anger worked without a cast on his left hand, which he had been sporting for the first four days of camp, and was smooth and consistent, with very few mis-hits.

-- Walk-on wide receiver Stephen Anderson showed off some nice moves in hauling in a short sideline pass from freshman signal-caller Kyle Boehm, who had Bigelow serve as a decoy out of the backfield.

-- Tedford said that the coaching staff will have a personnel meeting on Sunday to make preliminary determinations on who will be seeing the bulk of snaps throughout the rest of camp at every position.

"That's what we're going to have to find out. On Sunday, we're going to have a personnel meeting to figure out which ones, because as they play it down, they're in. We have some tough decisions to make," Tedford said. "That's the first time we're going to go guy-by-guy, see what they do, how they fit in, especially special teams, so on and so forth. We've been making a big point of evaluating these guys on special teams, because that's where they're going to make a big contribution. That's part of it. If they're a backup, if they're a two, then they're going to start on special teams, maybe, that type of thing."



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