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August 5, 2012

Day One: Special teams and defense in-depth



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BERKELEY -- We continue with our coverage of Day One of the California football team's fall camp, turning our gaze upon special teams and defense.

When head coach Jeff Tedford first walked through the gates at Witter Rugby Field, the first thing he saw was a 50-yard bomb of a punt off the foot of freshman Cole Leininger, the heir-apparent to third-round draft pick Bryan Anger.

"I was, that was the thing I was looking for, when I first stepped on the field," Tedford said. "I walked right over to him to see what that looked like."

Leininger regularly boomed drives up into the mist, nearly disappearing.

"Sigh of relief," Tedford laughed. "Through the summer, I've asked some of the snappers, 'Hey, how's the punter doing?' 'Well, coach, he hits them so high.' That was the first kick I saw him kick today. There's no doubt. Day One, no rush, no nothing, not 70,000 fans screaming at him with the clock running down and all the stuff that goes with it, but he's a pretty cool customer. I've really been pleased through the recruiting process, knowing what type of kid he is and how he handles himself and things like that. I was pleased to see that he really has ability."

[VIDEO: Sights and Sounds of Day One ]

Taking over for San Francisco 49ers rookie Giorgio Tavecchio as the starting placekicker is Vince D'Amato, who looked to have a bigger leg than his predecessor in early drills.

Bryce Treggs took reps returning kicks, and Keenan Allen warmed up as a punt returner.

LINEBACKERS
Though redshirt freshman Brennan Scarlett was in yellow, he did make an impact as a weak side linebacker. Scarlett ran with the top defense at times, across from Chris McCain.

Though the starting two inside linebackers for much of the day were - as expected -- David Wilkerson and Robert Mullins, there were many instances in which Wilkerson's recruiting classmate Nick Forbes took first reps instead of Mullins. Redshirt sophomore Lucas King took the Will spot in Dime situations.

Others who impressed included Jalen Jefferson, who took some one reps on the inside.

Newly-reinstated Cecil Whiteside dressed, but did not see much action.

"I just felt like, if someone makes a mistake, you always want to give young people a chance to turn over a new leaf, and understand and have gratitude for where they are and what they have," Tedford said. "I believe that he really wants to be here and wants to do things the way we want him done. That's why we brought him back."

Incoming Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt will arrive on campus on Sunday, and will likely take part in practice in some limited form.

[Read more about Fortt: Bears Add Penn State Linebacker | Q&A With BlueWhiteIllustrated]

"I think he gets in late tonight," Tedford said. "We've got to go through all the clearance and all that stuff. We've got to go through all the compliance papers and things like that, the physical and that type of thing. We would hope to get that done during the day and then he should be on the field tomorrow."

Fortt will have to work through recovery from an offseason knee surgery and also plow through the playbook in order to get into the rotation, but since Clancy Pendergast's NFL scheme is one of the reasons Fortt decided to come to Cal, that shouldn't be much of a chore.

"He's an excellent linebacker," Tedford said. "He has very good size. Right now he's 6-3, 240. He's a great-looking player. He was a really good player in high school, but we watched the tape of him at Penn State and he really did a lot of nice things. He's physical. He can really run, and so we're really excited to have him here. We've got to break him in slowly.

"He's still got to learn the defense. I think the speed of the game and all that kind of thing, we don't really worry about because he's played in some big time games already. You don't worry about the big eyes at all. It's just a matter of understanding what we're trying to do."

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Three interceptions were notable on the day, with one coming from No. 1 corner Williams and two coming from sophomore Kameron Jackson. Williams also added a big pass break-up late in 11-on-11s after Allen seemed to haul in a quick out bullet from older brother Zach Maynard.

"I feel a lot better this year," said Williams, who was nursing a thumb injury in fall camp last season. "I feel a lot stronger, and I'm ready to go. I've been doing my extra stuff to work on my body and get myself ready. I'm feeling pretty good."

Now a grizzled veteran, Williams had lofty praise for freshman wide receiver Bryce Treggs.

"I think that Bryce is pretty good, man," Williams said. "He caught a lot of big plays today. He's pretty good. I saw him make a lot of plays out there in one-on-ones. He looked pretty good. He reminds me of Marv (Jones) a little bit, in his mannerisms."

Redshirt freshman Joel Willis -- who switched to wide receiver to fill out depth in the spring -- was back at cornerback, and picked off Kline at the near sideline in team 11-on-11.

Injured sophomore Stefan McClure dressed, but did not participate in practice as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery to repair tears to his ACL, MCL and meniscus suffered in the Arizona State game last season. He did not, however, wear any kind of knee brace, and helped out the coaching staff by tossing balls to his fellow defensive backs. Physically, McClure is game-ready -- it's just a matter of going through the healing process. Once he's given the all-clear, there shouldn't be much time left before he can get into a game. If healing goes slowly, though, it's very likely he'll take a medical redshirt.

"I think we've got some pretty good depth," Williams said. "We've got Kam coming back, we've got Adrian Lee, we've got Willie Fletcher, who's a young freshman. We really don't know how he's going to pan out, but he looks like he's got the physical size."

DEFENSIVE LINE
Other defensive highlights came from the defensive line, as defensive end Mustafa Jalil -- showing a bit more levity than he had at this time last year -- got new No. 1 right guard Gibson to jump off-sides, prompting a bit of good-natured helmet-slapping. On the next rep, Jalil blew through the offensive line, allowing recruiting classmate Viliami Moala to register the touch sack.

Nose guard Austin Clark -- who celebrated his birthday this weekend -- got a present he'd probably like to give back, as he was in a walking boot for much of practice. In his absence, Keni Kaufusi took third reps at nose guard behind Kendrick Payne and Moala.


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