BERKELEY, Calif. – California practiced without its top weapon in the passing game Thursday, as wide receiver Keenan Allen attended to academics. The junior, named second-team All-American by Sports Illustrated, will be back as soon as summer school concludes.
But the Golden Bears nearly lost their emerging star that is being counted on take some pressure off Allen when tight end Richard Rodgers was hurt when he landed awkwardly after trying to catch an overthrown pass.
The sophomore left Witter Rugby Field with his left shoulder wrapped in ice, but apparently avoided serious injury.
“He’s fine,” Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said, but declined to say if Rodgers would practice tomorrow. “He’ll get treatment and we’ll see. You never want to rush anything when there is no real need.”
With a renewed emphasis on the position after Tedford visited with the New England Patriots, Rodgers is expected to emerge as a major option this season. Despite having never caught a pass, the 6-foot-4, 270-pounder has received a steady stream of compliments from his coach, uncharacteristic for the normally reserved Tedford.
Only one day earlier, he said, “Rodgers, in my opinion, is as good as any tight end in the country.”
“He is definitely a big part of our offense, big-time receiver. He’s probably one of the best athletes on the team easily,” wide receiver Jackson Bouza added.
Bouza Ready and Willing
With Allen and redshirt freshman Maurice Harris absent, it might have seemed like a given that the five touted freshmen receivers would have received extended reps with the first or second-team offense.
Instead the starting spots went to Bouza and redshirt freshman Stephen Anderson, seemingly forgotten options given the influx of new talent. Ross Bostock and Bryce McGovern were with the twos.
Even redshirt sophomore James Grisom drew some attention.
“Ocho cinco, that’s his nickname,” Tedford joked.
“Those guys are doing fine. They have a pretty good grasp on what is going on out there.”
That gives them an edge over the newcomers, who are still adjusting to the speed of major college football and learning the complex playbook. But Bouza knows part of his job is to serve as their mentor.
“I think the most important thing is that I am a leader in the receiver room for these young guys, someone to look up to and ask questions to especially," the redshirt junior said. “This offense, when you get here it is pretty hard to learn in the first two weeks.”
Well aware of the immense talents of Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper, Darius Powe, Cedric Dozier and Kenny Lawler, Bouza is confident he can serve an equally valuable role on the field.
“Very talented group obviously, but at the same time I definitely feel like I could see myself in the rotation,” he said. “I worked really hard and can definitely contribute on the offense.”
Harper Showing Progress
While freshmen are off limits to the media, upperclassmen can speak to the improvements they are making everyday.
Defensive back Steve Williams took advantage of Harper on a post route the other day, relying on cues that gave away the play.
“Then he came back. He studied my body language and how I was covering him and he changed it up and ran a good route today,” Williams said.
Harper, who starred at Encino (Calif.) Crespi, later added a 50-yard reception from quarterback Austin Hinder.
Running back Isi Sofele was not in full pads as he goes through the NCAA-mandated acclimatization period. … Outside linebacker Brennan Scarlett had several tackles for loss, continuing his strong start to fall camp. “It’s nice to see his big, physical, fast body and athleticism show up,” Tedford said. “He can rush the passer, he can drop (into coverage), he can do so many things.” … Running back Brendan Bigelow capped a long reception with a forward flip, drawing his coach’s ire. “Yeah, I saw that one,” said Tedford in a manner that indicated equal parts humor and menace. “I’m going to have a little talk with him about that.”
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.