J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch. Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett. Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. Cal's best running seasons have come in twos in the past few decades--they've finished 1st, 3rd, 13th and 5th when two runners managed 70 carries or more (2009 was an anomaly because Best dominated the first two-thirds of the season and Vereen the last third rather than the true platoon we usually see).
This year though, the one-two punch still is still very uncertain. Unlike previous campaigns, there is a genuine possibility Cal might not have a solid second option for next season. Will one of the likely candidates step up in fall practice and make it as the second option? Or will Vereen have to undergo a Forsett 2007 campaign, where he shoulders the load and carries the ball all season long?
We discuss the candidates for the second stringer after the jump. Who do you want to see in the second position and who do you think will end up in second position?
Deboskie-Johnson fits that classic Cal football style of runner. He's quick, he's decent at breaking through the hole. In terms of physical framework, he's about the same build as almost any running back who's broken through as a Golden Bear. For most fans, this is the logical choice.
Most of the time DeBoskie-Johnson ran in power-type plays last season: one guard would pull from a side to take out the inside linebacker while the rest of the linemen pushed their defenders back at a 45 degree angle and he'd burst behind it. His only real substantial gametape came in the blowout victories against Maryland, Eastern Washington and Wazzu, piling up 25 carries for 187 yards. However with Debo struggling with a wrist injury the last half of the season, coaches were probably a little bit wary of giving him the ball too much--even a wary Vereen on a torn meniscus would be better than the added risk of fumbles by a backup.
Mechanically-wise, I'd say he's closer to Best than Vereen. He's deceptively fast on tape--although it doesn't look like he's moving far, he keeps his feet active even after first contact, allowing him to pick up a few more yards if a defender secures him around the chest area. He has a curious stuttering motion. It's unclear if he's mastered that second level explosion both Best and Vereen rely on to outrace defenders in space. However, we do know he can hurdle.
Despite the high yards per attempt last season, the carries are too few to get a definitive read on Deboskie-Johnson's abilities inside the tackles. It's not easy to tell how effective he can be in the zone run plays that Andy Ludwig seems to favor these days.
Here's where the fun begins. Can the diminuitive but talented Sofele end up being the right-hand man?
There's a lot for Sofele fans to like. He's listed as the primary kick returner, so clearly the coaching staff has confidence in his ability to speed up in the open field and handle the ball. He had a very strong spring practice, capped off by a 9 carry, 54 yard performance at the open scrimmage.
Okanes talked with him during spring practice about being a conventional runner.
"I think I can. I’ve worked on my physical strength and I’m learning the offense more so I’m more comfortable being in there."
Deboskie had his own words of encouragement for his main challenger to the position.
"That's Isi. Isi's a powerful weapon, he can run inside, he can run outside he's small, he's shifty. He's not a tall receiver but if you give him a screen he'll take it like a receiver."
Sofele was used mostly in fly sweep situations last season (and a reverse or two), either straight from the quarterback or within the WIldcat (where Best or Vereen would fake the handoff to try and draw the defense away from the primary runner). This makes you think that Sofele (like Deboskie-Johnson) was not quite ready to handle the ball inside the tackles.
Still, there are a few things to notice. He seems to crouch a little bit around the ball, seemingly to shield it more to compensate for his smaller frame. He can make guys miss. He has a nifty cut motion that allows him to juke one direction before coming back the other way. Lots of fun stuff you saw in Sofele's limited carries, although most of them came in garbage time.
However, being good in the open field is one thing. Being able to bang with the big boys up the middle is quite another. Sofele might need great blocking inside to sustain himself and not get swallowed up by some good run defenses. It's still not clear whether he's at the stage where he can make his style work in the box. Perhaps he can use his center of gravity, stay low and slip away from contact.
One player immediately comes to mind when watching Sofele: Jacquizz Rodgers. If Quizz can have the type of success as a big staying low and bouncing his body away from would-be tacklers, then why not Sofele?
Dasarte Yarnway (6'0", 223 lb, redshirt freshman)
We transition from The Atom to the Incredible Hulk. All indications were that Yarnway would have gotten consideration for snaps last season if he hadn't torn a tendon in his foot. His style will be an abrupt change of pace from the typical Gould style that emphasizes shiftiness, discipline, and intelligence. Yarnway is someone meant to take contact, absorb it, and burst through it. Okanes talked to him during spring practice.
"When I first came here, I felt I had a different dimension to add to the Cal running back corps. Being able to make people miss, being able to dip the shoulder and have contact, that’s what I like. I like getting my nose bloody in there and taking on the business."
"I have to be me. Seeing Jahvid and some of the guys, I thought that’s what they want. I thought maybe I need to shake and bake a little more. But there’s nothing wrong with having your own unique style and being able to do everything. That’s what I strive for every practice, just to be complete. I’m working my way up to being that complete back."
Yarnway's size is really the big factor working for him. For all the success Cal's running game has enjoyed the past decade, their success in short-down and goal-line situations has been fairly average, and not too good against front-line defenses. You can imagine that Yarnway was brought in to be a Lendale White-type back who can charge ahead and pick up two to three yards regardless of the defensive look.
Still, it's not likely to be that easy for Sacred Heart's finest unless the offensive line upgrades in front of him. If defenders are penetrating the interior of our line like they've been the past few seasons, Yarnway will need all the ability in the world to get back to the line of scrimmage.
Trajuan Briggs (5'11", 215 lb, true freshman)
Actually...we'll talk about Trajuan a little bit later--since he wasn't playing with the first or even second units last spring, it'd be safe to guess that he's not likely to factor in too much to our 2010 squad. It looks like he's a year away, but he might surprise us all.
Let me just say that if Vereen decides to leave for the draft after this season, Briggs can compete for the starting spot immediately in 2011. He's that talented.
We have a lot of different runners with a lot of different styles. Gives you something to look forward to from the next crop of Ron Gould runners, wouldn't you say?