After a week off for spring break, our sturdy Golden Bears returned to the practice field with a vengeance. The pads must have been popping because there has been an absolute epidemic of injured hands. Reminiscent of the year where we managed to hit the uprights on kicks multiple times, it's hard to recall another spring where so many players ended up wearing casts on their mitts.
Avinash already did a great job reviewing developments on the Oline and Dline, so today's focus will be on the skill positions. For more thoughts on last Saturday's standouts, check out CalFootballBlog's write-up.
1) Isi Sofele and Daniel Lasco have missed time with a injured hamstrings, CJ Anderson is out for the spring with torn thumb ligaments, and Tedford has mentioned that they haven't had any fullbacks available. In their absence, Brendan Bigelow, Desarte Yarnway, and Darren Ervin have been taking snaps. While Yarnway has seen time as both a short-yardage back and fullback, Bigelow has impressed with his all-around skills.
It's really gratifying to hear that Yarnway might have finally gotten over the injury bug. Although he's been lost in the shuffle as he's recovered from a number of unfortunate ailments, he was a highly regarded 4* recruit out of high school. It'll be interesting to see if he can develop as a short yardage specialist, or offer a more multi-dimensional threat out of the fullback position.
The news that Bigelow has ditched his knee brace is truly exciting. Not only does he offer game-breaking speed, but it's surprising to hear that he's been dragging tacklers and showing off some toughness. This suggests that he's gotten over that mental hurdle from his repeated knee injuries and can finally go back to playing on instinct instead of being tentative.
How Coach Gould will end up dividing the snaps will be interesting. Sofele is now a known and proven commodity out of the backfield. CJ Anderson offers a solid change of pace as well as a nifty receiving threat. Historically, it's been a two back rotation. But if Bigelow can live up to his recruiting hype, it's hard to see that he wouldn't earn playing time.
Even so, spring is typically the time where younger players are given more opportunities. Last year, it was Mike Manuel and Darren Ervin who stole the show. However, a strong spring from Bigelow and Yarnway could build much needed confidence leading into summer workouts and fall camp.
Hagan is a converted wide receiver who had trouble at times last year setting the edge as a blocker. Rodgers was also lined up more as a wide-out in high school to make best use of his height and incredible hands. Both of them offer more of a receiving dimension at the tight end dimension than we've had in several years. Whether this comes at the expense of run-blocking and pass-protection will be closely intertwined with the development of our young Oline. Of the three, Jacob Wark is the reportedly the most physical and was being touted as the best blocker out of all our tight ends as at true frosh before breaking his leg. It will be interesting to see how the development of this position relative to our depth at fullback influences the offense. If we don't have enough blocking from the TE/FB spots, we might have to rely on more spread schemes than Tedford's classic power run formations. However, more speed and receiving ability from the tight end spot also offers the opportunity to use more H-back style motion as well as creating matchup issues against slower linebackers and smaller defensive backs.
3) At wide receiver, Maurice Harris has been praised as having the best hands on the team. Jackson Bouza had the highlight of Saturday's extended practice with a 34-yard diving touchdown reception from Allan Bridgford.
Considering Maynard's occasional creative use of accuracy, having another wideout with tractor-beam hands isn't a bad thing at all. Although Harris has the inside track at the starting spot opposite KA21, he'll need to show the ability to separate and to use his body to ward off defenders while making tough catches. When the fall comes around, there will be a number of young and talented wide-outs ready to push for time. It's easy to focus on the Fab Frosh and the cousin to cousin passing connection, but don't sleep on the walk-on wide-outs. Bostock, Bouza, and McGovern all earned playing time in still-competitive games last year.
4) Avery Sebastian and Kameron Jackson have been mentioned as making an impact in the secondary.
Sebastian was all over the field making plays last year. He was a special teams terror before injuring his hamstring, and just seems to have a knack for finding the ball. Just write it down now - we're really going to enjoy watching him rock the blue and gold this fall. Zach Maynard specifically mentioned that Jackson has been causing him issues in coverage. With Stefan McClure still recovering from injury and Joel Willis moved to wide receiver, it's nice to have depth behind our starting duo of Marc Anthony and Steve Williams. The Pac-12 is a passing league with many of the teams using 3+ wideout formations as their base set. You can never have too many good corners.
Finally, in case you missed it, here are highlights and interviews from spring practice.