We head out to Berkeley to take a look at what the Bears are putting together this year. With Cal camp wrapping up on Saturday, we highlight the things that stood out by position group, and include some previews of the 2014 campaign based on performances in practice.
Quaterbacks: Jared Goff Shows Improvement, Rubenzer Locks Backup Role
The talk about Goff's continued development entering his sophomore season has been overwhelmingly positive and was affirmed in my estimation by his performance in practice. Goff does look stronger after an offseason in which it was reported that he gained about 10-15 pounds onto his frame, this has led to a bit of added zip on his throws which was noticeable throughout fall camp. He has recently added a new wrinkle to his repertoire with the addition of a back shoulder throw to his outside receivers. This connection just makes Goff that much more dangerous in the Bear Raid as it looked to be indefensible when the timing was on point during practice. The offense had a picture perfect sequence which I took exceptional note of, Goff hit Trevor Davis along the sideline for 30 yards on a back shoulder route and then dropped in a fade right in the corner of the end zone to Mo Harris with exceptional touch. Goff now has had more time and experience to add to his already impressive measurables, with that being said Jared looks primed for an outstanding sophomore campaign orchestrating the Cal offensive attack.
True freshman Luke Rubenzer took the large majority of the second team reps during fall camp. He showed an ability to make some nice plays, avoid pressure and scramble for a few first downs. To me, his highlight of camp came on a beautifully thrown 50 yard touchdown pass down the left sideline to Chris Harper, Rubenzer read the pressure off of the edge beautifully, and got the ball out of his hands quickly to the streaking Harper for the score. However, with his ups, he definitely made his fair share of freshman mistakes. All in all, Rubenzer looks like he will be a solid number 2 on the depth chart behind Goff, but it seems likely that the only way Cal would burn his redshirt would be if Goff had to miss an extended period of time.
Wide Receivers: Amazing Depth, Chris Harper and Trevor Davis are ready for huge season
This is an exciting group. and they showed why during fall camp. The receiving depth that the Bears possess is impressive, and is quite possibly the envy of the entire Pac-12. Harper, Treggs, Lawler, Anderson, Powe, Harris and newcomer Trevor Davis, who had to sit out last season after his transfer from Hawaii, will all see major playing time. The Bears are going to play a lot of receivers, and can afford to without having to worry about a significant drop off in talent level. All of the guys listed above performed well in their rotations in practice and the Bear Raid should be stronger than ever.
Chris Harper, by my accounts looks like as good a choice as any to show up as an all Pac-12 selection by the end of the season. I was highly impressed with what I saw from Harper during fall camp. He shows everything you want from a big time receiver, and in my opinion at times there wasn't a DB that could matchup with him. He showed strong hands, tremendous separation ability, and outstanding ball skills. Harper was unstoppable at points. Although he did run with the 2's a lot of the time, I am really not willing to buy into that too much, he's shown too much ability to not be starting on the outside, opposite Kenny Lawler or Trevor Davis. He has the potential for a monster year in Berkeley.
Trevor Davis is ready to hit the field for his first time in full game action with Cal. The East Bay native transferred over after playing two seasons with Hawaii and will most likely start on the outside in his first season eligible with the Bears. He looked strong during fall camp, certainly passing the eye test. He has good size at 6'2 and with a year of practicing with the Bears already under his belt Davis seems primed for a breakout campaign.
Running Backs: Rotation in the Backfield, Spotlighting True Freshman Enwere
The running backs bring their own very solid group to the table as well, speedster Khalfani Muhammad and power back Daniel Lasco are likely going to be receiving most of the carries but the Bears will likely add contributions from a few other young backs. True freshmen Vic Enwere and Tre Watson have been pushing the two aforementioned veterans since they began practicing.
The Lack of a true number one back makes for some interesting scenarios. Dykes touched on how he wanted to use Muhammad during the season, saying that he wanted to somewhat preserve Khalfani's touches early in games and 'keep him fast in the fourth quarter'. Daniel Lasco is a very solid back and probably doesn't get the full credit that he's due. My most memorable impression of Lasco during camp was the 75 yard score he took to the house on a Goff screen pass, albeit aided by some poor tackling. The two true freshmen showed good flashes in camp, and with a bit of development could turn into feature backs in their own right. It definitely appears that all four of these backs will see the field at some point this season.
Vic Enwere, the Texas native, is as physically imposing a true freshman back as I've seen, he is listed at 6'1 225 and looks every bit of it. He is a power runner who shows great explosion and though he does need a bit of refinement in his game, he will be considered an offensive asset heading into the season. He showed me something when I watched him at camp and I am a big believer in his potential and ability. He should be in the mix for some playing time early in his career.
Offensive Line: More Stability and More Experience
The offensive line group was very solid at times during camp but definitely showed room for improvement. The biggest thing here is going to be the stability up front this season. The starting five along the offensive front are left tackle Steven Moore, left guard Chris Borrayo, center Chris Adcock, right guard Alejandro Crosthwaite and right tackle Jordan Rigsbee.
Nam Le illustrated that the group is probably a year out from being at the top level that Cal would like them at, but they all return with another added years' worth of experience and strength. There were quite a few ups and downs for the offensive line group in practice, particularly in the run game but if these guys can help power a somewhat more balanced attack, the Cal offense could really have something going this year.
Defensive Line: Question Marks Still Remain
The defensive line still has issues to address. When I was in attendance, the front four, no matter which group was in, failed to show me a consistently effective pass rush from anybody besides Brennan Scarlett. They showed a need to bring a blitz package in order to pressure the quarterback during much of what I observed in fall camp. The starting unit figures to consist of Brennan Scarlett and Todd Barr in the defensive end position next to Mustafa Jalil and Austin Clark at the tackle spots. There is still work to be done with this unit, they do look larger as whole compared to last season which is a step in the right direction.
Linebackers: Barton, Jefferson Solid.
Coach Sonny Dykes has said that linebacker Michael Barton has been one of the most consistent guys on the team through camp and going all the way back to spring ball. We know Jalen Jefferson will be starting alongside Barton as both have looked solid to this point. The third linebacker spot is still somewhat of a question mark at this stage. Ray Davison looks like he will be taking over the third starting slot after competing with Hardy Nickerson, who has been banged up for most of camp, among others. Nickerson has the possibility of sliding back into the starting lineup once fully healthy but a timetable for that is relatively unknown.
Secondary: McClure Gets Comfortable at Safety, Much Improved Depth, Cornerback Solidified,
Stefan McClure talked about defensive coordinator Art Kauffman's system. He referenced the term 'Align and Assign", touching on how the defense is cutting out all of the over thinking, getting back to basics and playing fast, which the system encourages.
McClure, and his rapid development during his transition into the free safety spot have thoroughly impressed defensive backs coach Greg Burns. Burns said he was very surprised at how well Stefan was able to pick up the position so quickly and effectively, and spoke very highly of McClure's football IQ and ability to adapt. Michael Lowe has grabbed the starting strong safety at this point, beating out an ailing Avery Sebastian, who never quite got to 100 percent during fall camp, and Griffin Piatt. All three have yet to look spectacular, but the staff liked what they saw from Lowe and "[Lowe] accomplished everything they asked of him" in preparing for fall camp including cutting some weight.
The secondary did show a lot of positives as a whole throughout fall camp. Sonny Dykes called cornerback Cedric Dozier the 'most improved player on the roster' as he has earned himself a starting role. It appears that Cameron Walker will move back to a starting position at corner this season after being forced to play safety for much of last year. Coach Burns also touched upon Darius Allensworth and his ability to play the nickel, which is a set Cal may be forced to play often due to the lack of depth at linebacker. The secondary should be much improved from last year's campaign and they have a decent amount of depth to fall back on, unlike the disaster that was 2013.
To sum it all up
Cal can't possibly be as bad as they were last year, and it appears that statement is being backed up with some necessary development on the field. Only time will tell how the improvement on the practice grounds will translate over into game action, but Bear's fans have some things to be excited about even after a dismal 2013.
It's going to be important for Cal to gain some confidence early in the season. If they can play Northwestern tough and possibly pull out a hard fought win it will be a huge emotional victory for Sonny Dykes and his team and set them on a road to a turn around.