Cal football begins 1st spring under new coach Justin Wilcox
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) Justin Wilcox has a tall task ahead of him in his first season as California's head football coach.
He must learn a roster full of new players, implement his system and rebuild a program that has had little success of late. That process began in earnest on Wednesday when Wilcox held his first practice every as a head coach when the Golden Bears opened spring ball.
''It was exciting to get back on the field,'' he said. ''It's been a long time. A lot of anxious players and coaches to get back out here and do what they love to do. They did a great job for a first day. There is going to be a ton to clean up. That's to be expected. The work ethic was really good, the energy was good, the focus was good but we have a lot of work to do.''
It's been a whirlwind two months since Wilcox was hired to replace the fired Sonny Dykes. He had to put together a coaching staff, sign a recruiting staff and now install his new system that will feature a more traditional offense than the Bear Raid version used by Dykes and a defensive shift to a more aggressive 3-4 approach.
The players welcomed the change and felt the excitement that comes from the start of something new.
''Now we focus more on the individual things and getting the little details right and then putting it together as a team,'' running back Tre Watson said. ''Last year we were more focused of running plays. We're focused on the little things right now because it's new coaches, new system and new everything. We have to get the fundamentals down first.''
Cal went just 19-30 in Dykes' four seasons at the helm as the Bears struggled each season defensively in part because of the fast pace of the offense and a lack of strength in the trenches.
The Bears ranked 125th in total defense, 127th in scoring defense and 122nd in yards per play out of 128 FBS teams last season on the way to a 5-7 record.
''We want to change the paradigm,'' linebacker Raymond Davison said. ''Just change everybody's mindset on Cal football. We're here to make sure we do that. We're going to be a good defense.''
The offense that was so prolific in recent years led by quarterbacks Jared Goff and Davis Webb will also undergo big changes. New coordinator Beau Baldwin plans to use tight ends and more power formations than the spread out attack under Dykes. There will also be a bigger emphasis on the running game.
That might be necessary with some uncertainty at quarterback. Webb was the only quarterback to attempt a pass last season, leaving four basically untested options headed into the spring with Chase Forest, Ross Bowers, Max Gilliam and Victor Viramontes. Forest threw 18 passes in 2015.
Wilcox said he plans to split the practice time evenly and is not looking to hone in on one starter just yet.
''We have a long way to go before we even discuss that,'' he said.
The work right now is more general with a big emphasis on building a winning culture. As part of that, Wilcox talked about the need for passion from both players and coaches.
''You can feel the passion,'' Davison said. ''They gave us the definition of passion and energy. Passion is more of a slow burn. Energy is something that can fade away here and there. I can definitely feel the passion.''