Defense flexes its muscles in scrimmage
Cal running back Vic Enwere appeared to have secured a catch over the middle, but he got drilled in the back before he could tuck away the ball.
After the loose ball was batted around several times, defensive back Josh Drayden snagged it out of the air to complete the play and bring the practice to a close.
It was a fitting way for Saturday’s practice to end as the Bears’ defense generally dominated a scrimmage sequence that included 19 series of live 11-on-11 action.
The defense stopped the offense on 14 of 19 series, recording six three-and-outs and four turnovers.
“We call them takeaways,” senior inside linebacker Raymond Davison III said. “It’s not even about holding them or getting off the field. We want to get the ball back to our offense.
“That’s something we want and something we know will help to change the paradigm of the defense.”
Cal’s defense has widely been considered the weak link for a program that has been in a tailspin. The Bears have ranked among the nation’s bottom five in both points allowed and total yardage yielded in three of the past four seasons.
The Bears allowed 42.6 points per game (127th out of 128 teams) and 518.3 yards from scrimmage (125th) last season before a transformation that brought in head coach Justin Wilcox, who has been a defensive coordinator in 11 of his 16 seasons in college coaching, and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who has helped to install a 3-4 defense and change the culture of the maligned unit.
“As a group, we want to be great,” Davison said. “We’re tired of hearing Cal’s defense is this or that. We have a chip on our shoulder, and we want to make a difference.”
That was certainly obvious during Saturday’s practice, during which sophomore defensive back Jaylinn Hawkins had two interceptions and Drayden added the practice-ender. The most game-changing play, however, came a little earlier in the session.
Quarterbacks Chase Forrest, Ross Bowers, Chase Garbers and Brandon McIlwain pretty evenly split snaps, and Bowers had the best statistical day. The sophomore completed 10 of 15 passes for 145 yards and drove the offense from the opposing 20-yardline to 6 yards away from a touchdown.
On a fourth-and-goal play from the 6-yard line, Bowers got hit as he was throwing. The ball wobbled behind the line of scrimmage, and Drayden picked it up at about the 20 and raced 80 yards.
“I saw the ball behind the line of scrimmage, so I scooped it up,” Drayden said. “You know me, I don’t like to fall on it. I don’t think any DB wants to fall on it. We want to pick it up and run.
“When I was running, I was thinking: ‘I know D-Rob (Demetris Robertson) is on the field. Don’t get caught by DRob.’ Once I saw (James) Looney got the block, I knew we made it.”
“We want to be great. We’re tired of hearing Cal’s defense is this or that. We have a chip on our shoulder.” Raymond Davison III, senior inside linebacker