Bears Kick Off Fall Camp With Practice One

MEMORIAL STADIUM - After a seemingly eternal offseason, fall camp kicked off this afternoon/evening in Memorial Stadium in picture-perfect weather.
The first practice saw four primary QBs take snaps, with presumed starter Sam Jackson taking the lion’s share of first team reps and RS frosh QB Fernando Mendoza taking a handful of first team snaps along with primarily second team reps followed by NC State RS soph QB Ben Finley and Utah PWO QB transfer Luke Bottari.
There were two interceptions on the day, with RS frosh nickel back Cam Sidney picking off a Jackson tipped ball early in practice and cornerback Noel Williams intercepting an overthrown Jackson ball for the second INT. Mendoza narrowly missed being picked off on a dropped INT as well.
Each of the quarterbacks were understandably rusty early in the session but all four got into a groove after the first few periods.
Here were some of the highlights of the day:
QB Sam Jackson 10-yard pass to WR Jeremiah Hunter
Jackson to WR Maven Anderson for 15
Jackson overthrow INT by CB Noel Williams
Fernando Mendoza 15-yard pass to WR Kenden Robinson
A 10-yard Ben Finley scramble for a first down
A 30-yard completion to Anderson
A 20-yard Luke Bottari completion to WR Marquis Montgomery
A Bottari completion to WR Taj Davis for 7
A nice Jackson sidearm pass around rush to Anderson for 20
A Jackson rollout and 10-yard completion to Hunter
Jackson to Anderson for 20
Bottari to Davis for 25
Jaivien Thomas up middle for 20, flashing great speed
Finley to Jordan King for 25
Finley to Grant Daley for 30 yard back shoulder TD pass
A pair of nice Ifanse runs up the middle, showing good burst
The first team OL was a re-run of last season, with TJ Session at RT, Sioape Vatikani at RG, Matt Cindric at center, Brian Driscoll at LG and Brayden Rohme at LT. If was a non-contact practice but each starter held their own for the most part. The second team OL saw a mix of Barrett Miller, Matin Tine, Ender Aguilar and Everett Johnson at OT, Johnson, Dylan Jemtegaard, Matthew Wykoff and Trent Ramsey and Dashaun Harris and Bastian Swinney at center. Starting WRs were Hunter, Anderson and Monroe Young, with Davis, Montgomery, Hightower and Robinson taking the majority of the backup reps. TE saw RS frosh Jack Endries start with JT Byrne and Asher Alberding seeing time with the 2’s.
On defense, it was great to see big DL Brett Johnson back with the 1’s looking lean and mean, joined by Ethan Saunders, with Ricky Correia, Nate Burrell and Akili Calhoun in backup roles. ILB starters were Jackson Sirmon along with Kaleb Elarms-Orr sharing some first team snaps with Clemson transfer Sergio Allen and Nate Rutchena on second team as well. At OLB, Xavier Carlton and Myles Jernigan returning as starters, with Florida transfer David Reese and Myles Williams seeing plenty of action. At DB, Williams and Lu Hearns started at CB while Craig Woodson, Patrick McMorris and Ray Woodie shared first team reps and JC transfer Matt Littlejohn starting at safety, with RS frosh Cam Sidney backing him up.
Punt returners included Nohl Williams, Jeremiah Hunter, Kenden Robinson and Lu Hearns taking turns fielding booming Lachlan Wilson punts.
The post-practice banner interviews including HC Justin Wilcox, Ott, Jackson and Finley
Following practice, Wilcox noted that Oregon portal transfer running back Byron Cardwell and DB Collin Gamble would be out for the season as well as PWO LB Sam Ross. He also noted that Tennessee portal transfer RB Justin Williams-Thomas was not yet available.
“As far as Justin, the trainers are gonna let us know when he's available,” Wilcox said. “He's not available today, hoping he becomes available to practice as soon as possible, because he's missed a lot of time.”
He seemed satisfied with the camp opening effort from his squad.
"The intensity was great, which it needs to be on day one," Wilcox noted of the day one practice. "If you had a low-intensity day one, you have real problems. Eager to get out here. A lot of new faces."
Ott was his usual confident self after practice following the practice session.
"We're going to ball out," Ott said of this season. "We've got a revamped offense. I'm excited. We've got 52 new faces on the scene. We're going to do great.”
Asked what he liked most about new OC Jake Spavital’s offense, Ott stressed the quick strike ability to score points.
"The tempo," Ott noted. "It'll hit a couple of plays, you know, short yardage runs then plus for 50 out of nowhere."
Being the smart guy that he is, Ott knows where his bread is buttered, noting that he wasted no time getting to know his new offensive linemen in the offseason.
"Oh, of course," Ott said with a smile. "I was hosting all the linemen anytime they were coming. Yeah, I love those dudes. They're doing great things. They did a lot of good things in the spring. And then we got a couple of new guys in fall camp so they're looking good."
Since Jackson joined the Cal program in the spring, another scholarship QB with experience joined the roster in NC State transfer Ben Finley. Does he see the newest QB addition as competition for the starting nod?
"I definitely look at it as competition," Jackson said. "I mean, I'm a competitive person. So honestly, when he came in, it just motivated me, to be honest. He's a good person, too. He had a really good practice today. He added some decent depth to the quarterback room, for sure. Great guy. I mean, I have no problems with him at all. So I feel like he's honestly just competition."
Asked if he felt it was a good thing to have other QBs push him to be his best, Jackson noted:
“For sure. I mean, we have Fernando in the stream. He's pretty good, too. So he's just another guy helping me get to the next level for sure."
Coming in the spring, Jackson hadn’t had much time to become acclimated but with a summer of player-led practices under his belt, that comfort level has grown.
"Mostly just working on the timing with the receivers," Jackson said of how he's prepared for fall camp. "With us having so much freedom with the receivers so the summer was all just about making those guys run and go get it just cuz it's hard in the summer, though, because you don't really get to go against the defense, especially with the stuff that we ran and stuff like that. So it was really just working on time and camaraderie."
Watching Jackson operate with throws in different arm slots, against his body scrambling left, jump throws and more is reminiscent of some of the QBs seen in recent years in the NFL like KC Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes.
"I've definitely watched Pat Mahomes," Jackson said. "I will say, I watch a lot of Pat Mahomes. I watch a lot of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, just for the pocket presence and his mechanics and stuff like that, but definitely having the off-balance skills and stuff and all the running throws."
Though Jackson was a backup QB at TCU the last two seasons, with no play during 2020, it’s been quite some time since he’s led a team as signal caller in his one season as QB1 in high school.
"I think about it every day," Jackson said. "2019, that's almost four years. I didn't get to play my senior season, I just went straight to TCU. And at TCU, I played behind a couple of good guys, Max Duggan and Chandler Morris. So honestly, the last two years there, it was kind of it was kind of cool for me just to see what it would be like at that level. But since I'm here now, I feel like the coaches and my teammates definitely helped me to prepare to get to the next level, especially with certainly mixing up the defenses and trying to make me see certain things in practice. So that's definitely helped me a lot."
Early in spring ball, Jackson looked tentative and forced some balls and aside from his slow start early in practice, he got sharper as practice went on. He noted that he’s more comfortable running the offense now that he's had some time in the system under his belt.
"I definitely do feel more comfortable," Jackson said. "Just because the guys are more decisive what they want to do, based on the defensive look, option, stuff like that. So like I said, in the summer, we worked on our stuff. So those guys being decisive, I can be decisive. So I definitely feel much more comfortable with the offense.
Tomorrow’s practice will be the same time at 4 pm at Memorial and is open to the public. Entry is through the stairwell by Section E rather than through the North Tunnel.

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