After taking off a week of practices early in fall camp to heal a balky knee following arthroscopic surgery, Nevada quarterback Carson Strong has looked good in his return to action, according to Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell.
"Carson's been taking advantage of all his reps," Norvell said. "We kind of held him the first week. He he was a little swollen, a little tender, but he's been back practicing this last week."
Despite returning to practice, Strong did not participate in last week's scrimmage, the Wolf Pack's only full-tackle session of fall camp. Nevada has tried to take precautions to ensure Strong would be as close to full health for the Sept. 4 opener at Cal as possible following two offseason knee surgeries, including a scope before fall camp began.
"We held him in the scrimmage," Norvell said. "But he's been really going after it. And you could see the ball starting to pop out of his hand again. And he's just really anxious to get going on."
Strong is the preseason Mountain West offensive player of the year after throwing for 2,858 yards, 27 touchdowns and four interceptions last season. The Wolf Pack began preparation for Cal on Monday during a walkthrough practice in Reno before leaving for Stanford later in the day.
"We got an introductory practice on Cal and he had a thousand questions during the meeting, which is great," Norvell said. "We're excited to have him back."
Norvell pleased with defensive progress
While most of the preseason focus on Nevada's 2021 season has centered around the Wolf Pack offense, Norvell was pleased with his team's progress on defense during fall camp.
"Boy, I'm just excited about our defense and our defensive line," Norvell said when asked what stood out during last week's practices at Stanford.
Norvell emphasized the additions of FBS transfers CB Bentlee Sanders (USF), CB Isaiah Essissima (Wake Forest) and S Chad Brown (UCF) should help elevate the secondary.
"Those guys are really adding to what we had a year ago," Norvell said. "And I just think we could be a defense that pressures the quarterback, that can limit big plays and just get the ball back for the offense. I think that's something that we really are stressing. And Coach (Brian) Ward has had a whole year to get this defense installed. And we've had a spring practice and a training camp. I think we have a much better understanding of what we're trying to do, so I'm really proud of our defense."
Team captains announced
The Wolf Pack's four team captains remain unchanged from last season, with QB Carson Strong and OL Jermaine Ledbetter earning the honor on offense and LB Lawson Hall and DE Sam Hammond being awarded on defense.
"It's a huge honor," Norvell said. "When we brought some of these seniors back, I sat them down and talked to each one of them and said, 'Listen, this is a new season. Everything's got to be earned. Every position's got to be earned, and the captaincy has to be earned.' We talk a lot about leadership with our team. I wanted them to really understand what a captain is and the responsibilities of a captain. We ask these guys to do a lot. They meet with the team on a weekly basis without the coaches. They emphasize the game plan. They talk about when we travel, it's a business trip and keeping the younger guys in line.
"We look at it as a very serious position, and there's a lot of responsibility. And those guys were all voted captains. Lawson Hall's probably been one of the best leaders we've ever had. Sam's played more football than anybody on our team, and Carson and Led just have such respect from their teammates. And so four great captains. We've got some really strong leadership on this team, and I'm anxious to see how they lead this year."
Initial impressions on Cal
Nevada will look for a sweep of Cal in a three-game series that was originally signed in 2009. The Wolf Pack beat the Bears at home in 2010 and on the road in 2012. The finale of the series was expected to be played in 2016 but was pushed back five years.
Cal, under the direction of fifth-year coach Justin Wilcox, a former defensive coordinator at Boise State, went 1-3 last season, with the win being an upset of No. 23-ranked Oregon. Cal lost to UCLA, Oregon State and Stanford. The Bears should have a strong defense with a below-average offense.
"Cal is a really solid defensive team," Norvell said. "They've had that kind of reputation, physical, don't give up a lot of big plays. They're a pro-style offense with Bill (Musgrave), who I've known a long time. He was a backup quarterback for Peyton (Manning) when I was with the Colts. But, no, they're solid all the way around. Really fundamental team. Quarterback has played a lot of football. And so it should be a fun game. We've got good players, and they've got experienced players, and I think it's a great opener. We're looking forward to it."
A matchup with 'Uncle Angus'
One familiar face on Ca's sidelines will be Angus McClure, who was the Wolf Pack's offensive line coach and associate head coach from 2018-19 before accepting a job with the Bears.
McClure still owns a home in Reno and has two sons who play locally, including Hamish, a walk-on quarterback on the Wolf Pack, and Malcolm, a senior defensive end/outside linebacker at Bishop Manogue High. Known as "Uncle Angus" for his recruiting prowess, McClure recently landed a verbal commitment from Bishop Manogue three-star offensive lineman Sioape Vatikani, who also was considering Nevada.
Norvell said while McClure will be familiar with Nevada's players, it shouldn't have much of an impact on the game.
"I don't know if it will or not," Norvell said. "Angus has some idea about our personnel, but a lot's changed since Angus was here, what we're doing offensively. We've changed a little bit, and how we call things is different. So it'll always be good seeing him. He's a close friend and , of course, his son is on our team, and so it'll be fun to see Angus."