Lorenzo Alexander is used to being the big dog on the block. He dominated the gridiron for four years at St. Mary’s High in Berkeley, using his massive 287-pound frame to push around smaller opponents. But after his first two practices for the Cal football team this week, he admitted that size isn’t the biggest factor in his mission to start for the Bears this season.
“The biggest adjustment I have to make is the speed of the other players,” Alexander said Wednesday after the second and last newcomers practice on Witter Field. “Everyone’s going to be as big as me, so I have to be quicker.”
But after a full day of drills with fellow linemen Josh Gustaveson and Tom Canada (both junior college transfers), it was apparent Alexander is the quickest of Cal’s new linemen.
“His first step is outstanding, and puts him at the top of the heap among our new guys,” defensive line coach Bill Dutton said. “He’s fast and athletic, maybe more than I’ve seen in the past few years out here.”
With the defensive line unsettled after the loss of senior stalwarts Andre Carter and Jacob Waasdorp, Alexander could indeed find himself a starter before Pac-10 play starts on Sept. 22. But despite the freshman’s obvious physical talent, Dutton is quick to say that Alexander will have to prove himself at the Bears’ camp in Turlock for the next two weeks.
Dutton, who is in his fourth year with the Cal program, said Alexander compares favorably with Carter at a similar stage in his career. Dutton pointed out that Carter was a sophomore when Dutton first coached him, which means Alexander could potentially progress even further than Carter, who was the No. 7 pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. But Alexander is likely to play defensive tackle for the Bears, while Carter played defensive end. Carter was also known for being one of the best-conditioned athletes on the Cal team, as well being a player who never let up for a single play.
“(Alexander) has to pass the gut check, prove that he has the heart and determination to play at his highest level all the time,” Dutton said. “If you come back and ask in two weeks when we get back, then I’ll really know if he’s ready to have an impact.”
The Bears’ most highly-ranked recruit, Alexander is unsure whether he should be looking forward to Turlock. The heat is usually oppressive, and he will be practicing in pads for the first time at the college level. He knows it will be make-or-break time for him to earn playing time in his first year.
“I’ve heard a lot of bad stuff about Turlock from the older players,” he said. “But I know I have to play my best if I want to be on the field this year, and it’s a good opportunity to show the coaches what I can do. I’m learning new techniques every day out here, and I want to use them as much as I can.”