Opening up his first spring practice media session, head coach Justin Wilcox looked to be as “California cool” as ever. He’s a coach whose top focus since coming here four years ago has been and always will be coaching the Bears. This sentiment was emphasized in his first sentence and echoed throughout the rest of the media session: “It’s always a great day when you’re able to get back on the field with the players.”
Wilcox’s calm demeanor may have partially stemmed from looser restrictions from the Berkeley City Health Department. The Bears are able to practice with the entire roster on the field at Memorial Stadium, a delightful difference from the fall’s limitations.
This year, the Bears listed 104 players on the spring roster. Ninety-nine of them were healthy enough to practice today, and all 104 are expected to practice at some point in the coming weeks. Wilcox wasn’t fazed by the size of this practice.
“We’re able to do a lot of team and crossover and “toot-spot”, we call it. It’s productive.”
Another recent challenge that Wilcox stoically faced was the loss of assistants to other schools. Wilcox filled in one of those holes with the addition of tight ends coach Geep Chryst, who was announced Monday. Keeping with his traditional values, Wilcox says he knew Chryst for a while and wanted him here because of Chryst’s familiarity with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s offense.
The other new coach, strength and conditioning coach Brian Johnson, hadn’t previously crossed paths with Wilcox before, but Wilcox espoused praise for Johnson’s coaching, particularly noting how the players “have really taken to the process.”
With former defensive backs coach Marcel Yates leaving last Thursday, Wilcox hasn’t quickened to fill in that position before fully assessing the situation and potential candidates.
In the meantime, Wilcox, who played in the secondary at Oregon, and graduate assistant Ryan Conry will coach the defensive backs together.
Wilcox spoke fondly about outside linebacker Tevin Paul who, Wilcox said, has moved on from football. After recounting Paul’s years at Cal, Wilcox remarked that Paul “became a dang good player for us” and hoped to see Paul return to Memorial as an alum.
Although a fullback/h-back isn’t listed on the roster, Wilcox reaffirmed that there’d be no major changes in Musgrave’s usage of fullbacks. He hinted that there’s a plan in place to test certain players in that role.
“Gavin Reinwald’s a guy that can do some of those things.”
On the defense, Wilcox announced one significant shift: sophomore Trey Paster has shifted to inside linebacker.
“We thought Trey, because of his build, he might put on weight really easy, and he has [gone up 10 lbs from the fall to 225 lbs].”
“We played him last year at our STAR position, which is really an outside linebacker, and we’re giving him reps at inside linebacker.”
Last fall, two other freshman, Jeremiah Hunter and Stanley McKenzie garnered praise during practice but couldn’t stay healthy during the season. Wilcox confirmed that both are healthy and back on the practice field to start out spring ball. They’re part of a large group of young players that Wilcox believes will have a spring that is “incredibly important to them,” one way or another.
Wilcox was adamant that the early start to spring practice has no bearing on the team’s potential going forward, saying “they’ve worked extremely hard in the last five weeks to prepare for this moment.”