It's here! Cal football is finally upon us and game prep for the opener against Fresno State is well underway. Before CGB takes a more detailed look previewing Fresno State's offense and defense, let's indulge our last bit of pre-season water cooler talk and take a closer look at the recently released Two-Deep Chart.
For comparison purposes, here are the position battles that we were looking at during the Spring:
Quarterback: Zach Maynard(Jr*) / Allen Bridgford(So*)
Thoughts: No surprise here. Zach Maynard took control of the quarterback competition in the spring and continued to improve throughout the summer and fall. I like how decisive Coach Tedford was in naming Maynard the starter early. It seems like in previous years, the competition lingered on throughout fall camp and even into the first games. Not to beat the dead horse into more dogfood, but it always seemed like Longshore and Riley became more afraid of making mistakes instead of looking to make plays. This lack of confidence carried over into waiting for receivers to come open, or airmailing passes. Zach knows he's the man and doesn't have to keep looking over his shoulder. I always like the reports that Bridgford is fully recovered from his injury and had a great fall camp. Where I'm curious is whether Coach Tedford will give more meaningful playing time to his backup quarterback. Instead of just handing off during garbage time, I'd like to see Bridgford have a chance to run the full offense against a real defense. If Longshore's ankle, Riley's knee, and Ayoob...being Ayoob has taught us anything, it's that we need to have our backup QB ready to play. Is Mr. Bridgford ready to come off the bench to fire a skinny post for a touchdown to help beat 'sc in triple OT?
Tailback: Isi Sofele(Jr) / Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson(Jr*)
Thoughts: Except for a brief hiccup with calf cramping, Isi Sofele has been very hardy throughout his Cal career. He spent more time studying film during the off-season and hopes to show why graduated Cal great Mike Mohammed claimed he was the hardest tailback to tackle. CDJ obviously joined the NRA over the summer if those guns he was sporting at Fan Day are any indication. We're all eager to seem him return to the slashing, powerful form he exhibited before hurting his knee. JuCo transfer CJ Anderson has played his way into shape and will push for snaps as the backup. It'll be exciting to see which of three emerges this year are our marquee back. One thing is for certain - the days of riding our starter for 42 carries are likely over. Unless someone grabs a stranglehold on this job from stellar play, we're likely to see tailback for committee. Not necessarily a bad thing since they all bring unique talents to the field.
Thoughts: After starter Eric Stevens was lost for the year with an ACL injury, Will Kapp scared us all to death by tweaking his ankle. He shook it off with a 60-yard catch and run in the next scrimmage. He's a bit undersized to be wiping out linebackers, so we'll have to see if a year with Coach Blasquez will help him hold the point of attack. John Tyndall has some experience after platooning last year. The experience level drops off precipitously after these two, however, so we'll have to cross our fingers for good health.
Thoughts: This should easily be one of the strongest positions on the team. Unlike the dynamic trio of Hawk, Djax, and RoJo, this quartet of receivers has more size and strength instead of raw speed and quickness. It should definitely pay dividends with downfield blocking for our running game. Speedster Kaelin Clay has recovered from his meniscus repair during camp and may see time in the opener as our home-run threat. Almost more than any position on the team, this one has me excited. (I'm assuming, of course, that we'll be able to keep our quarterback upright and that said quarterback can accurately deliver a ball on time. Is that too much to ask?) I'm excited to see KA21 after a year of Blasquez and Kiesau. I can't wait to see Michael Calvin find redemption after an injury-plagued career. And after hearing reports of size + strength + track speed, I'd like to see it all come together for Coleman Edmond.
Tight End: Anthony Miller(Sr) / Spencer Hagan(So)
Thoughts: The big surprise here was converted WR Spencer Hagan moving up the depth chart past Jacob Wark. Wark was pushing for time as the backup TE last year before going down with a season-ending injury. Hagan really worked hard during the off-season to bulk up to 220. Still a bit light for the TE position, I hope that he can block well enough so that he doesn't tip off plays or formations as our designated "receiving tight-end." Best case, Tedford is able to move him around and find mismatches the way he did with Garrett Cross and even David Gray. Although Spencer Ladner was rumored to be back after the first week of camp, his recovery was unfortunately delayed and his availability for this season is still unknown. This is it for Anthony Miller. With a bounce-back year, he could put himself on the NFL draft radar. Fingers are firmly crossed.
Thoughts: The big surprise here is walk-on Justin Gates working his way into the two-deep over 4* recruits Alejandro Crosthwaite and Geoffrey Gibson. Reports from camp mentioned that the younger players were still having trouble with thinking about their assignments instead of playing fast. So, this might be an issue of a veteran winning out over a talented youngster because of knowing the offense. There is plenty of depth at guard, although much of it is still inexperienced. Even though he missed most of fall camp with a shin contusion, Tyler Rigsbee has been mentioned as the backup for both tackle positions. Fortunately, he got plenty of snaps during the spring. Tackle is where our depth is more tenuous. However, we'll need to develop Rigsbee and Tyndall if we can because next year Schwartz's departure will leave a big void. In Coach M we trust!
Thoughts: It's good to see Tipoti on the two-deep after he missed almost all of camp with concussion symptoms. We'll have to hope that this doesn't become a recurring issue. Although he isn't listed, we all know that Tiny Moala is going to play. Perhaps selectively at first to get himself settled, but I'm hoping that he'll be a regular in the rotation by mid-season. Despite all the depth at end, it won't matter if we can't hold the middle. Guyton and Owusu will really need to raise their game in order to hold off the young guys nipping at their heels. I'm somewhat surprised that Owusu was able to hold off Deandre Coleman; Coleman really flashed some "wow" plays last year. And although we've noted it before, how exciting is it that Mustafa Jalil has worked his way into the rotation as a true frosh? I'm not certain we've had a true freshman make a real impact at defensive end since Andre Carter. No matter who starts, Dline Coach Tosh Lupoi has always favored rotating his guys. In this case it's really nice that he'll be able to really set his guys loose and still keep them fresh. I wonder if they'll show a four-DE formation on passing downs like the NY Giants did when they won the Super Bowl.
Thoughts: Easy call to see D.J. Holt back for his third year of starting inside. He made great strides last year with improving his pass coverage skills and should be rock-solid for us again. It was a bit of surprise in the spring to hear that Kendricks was moving back inside. However, interviews revealed that there are more reads and assigments for inside 'backers. So, it makes sense to move the veteran Kendricks into the middle and while the younger players get their feet wet outside. Although Fanua was reportedly one of the backups, it looks like he's been beaten out for the time being by Hurrell. It's too bad that 4* recruit Nick Forbes was still limited in camp recovering from ankle surgery; I was hoping that he would challenge for time. Neither Mullins, Fanua, or Hurrell had much success subbing for Mike Mohammed last year. Mullins was steady, but often got lost in the mix. Fanua was very aggressive and often ran himself out of plays. Hurrell has some speed, but is a bit undersized. We'll have to hope that another year of experience in Coach Pendergast's system will help.
Thoughts: A lot has been written recently about how walk-on Dan "Campo" Camporeale was the underdog who beat out the more touted Chris McCain and Cecil Whiteside as well as the more experienced Ryan Davis to win the starter's spot. Tedford mentioned that he was very sound in his assignments. My speculation would be that while the younger players might flash the talent to make big plays, they also might be prone to giving up big plays. I'd still expect to see the others vying for time, especially in pass-rushing situations. But, it wouldn't be the worse thing in the world if Campo turns into another Scott Fujita and refuses to relinquish his spot. Lost in all the talk about Whiteside terrorizing spring ball and McCain's gadget arms in fall camp, Dave Wilkerson quietly locked up the other starting position. Although his natural position is inside, he was too good to keep off the field as a true freshman so the coaches moved him outside. Before he had to blueshirt with a broken hand, he showed great instincts, closing speed, and a lot of pop. Somewhere from this group, I pray to Oski that an edge pass rusher emerges.
Thoughts: Besides the Oline, this is perhaps my biggest area of concern on the team. Our starting corners should be solid and Josh Hill is at least experienced as a nickel back. He's had trouble in the past staying with really fast receivers, so it'll be interesting to see what they'll do schematically to help him. All the talk about him being a "secret weapon" was either: 1) a smokescreen, 2) they don't know where to play him, or 3) they're going to be creative with where he lines up. Maybe as a variant of a "Big Nickel" package? It was disappointing to hear about McClure's torn thumb ligament. It's hard enough to get adjusted to Pac-12 passing attacks without doing so with a cast on one hand. At safety, we'll have to hope that Sean Cattouse is up to the challenge of filling Chris Conte's shoes. We have more experience with Campbell and Moncrease, but none of them have shown a knack for consistent play-making, particularly with regards for playing the ball in the air. An All-Pac-12 year from one of Cal's safeties will go a long ways towards making this defense click.
P: Bryan Anger(Sr*) / Jed Barnett (Fr*)
PK: Giorgio Tavecchio(Sr) / Vincenzo D'Amato(Jr)
LS: Matt Rios(Jr*)
HLD: Brock Mansion(Sr*)
PR: Marvin Jones(Sr) / Keenan Allen(So)
KR: Coleman Edmond(Sr*) / Mike Manuel(Jr*)
Thoughts: No real surprises with the kicking game. Anger has all the tools, he just needs to be consistent. I hope that we ditch the rugby-style kick and just focus on either booming them or pinning a coffin corner. I have no idea whether the Shield of Death formation will be back...but if so, I plan to proactively yell "Oh no!" every time we punt. Tavecchio just needs confidence. If he can show the mental toughness of a battle-tested senior, we should be fine here...really. Robbie Keen had his best year as a senior, as did Ryan Longwell and Tyler Frederickson. I predict that Tavecchio will either clinch or win one for us this year. I really, really like Mansion as a holder for a variety of reasons. Politely, I'll just say that it offers interesting opportunities to run a keeper off-tackle on a fake. Let's give a shout out to Matt Rios for being so reliable that most of us probably didn't know his name. KA and Jones at punt returner makes a lot of sense - I'm glad that the rumors of Jones returning kickoffs were false. It also makes sense to have Edmond (speed + strength) and Manuel (speed + elusiveness) as the kickoff returners. Although Manuel might have been a victim of the numbers game at tailback, he can really scoot and it's nice to see him getting a chance.
Final Thoughts: This is it. No more what-ifs or what-wills or what-evers. Let's just go play some ball.
Go Bears! Beat the Bulldogs!