Cal Football Spring Practice Recap Part Two: CB, DL, QB

Jason O. Watson

The second of two positional recaps, in which we examine what we learned at spring practice. This one covers the cornerbacks, defensive line, and quarterback.

We'll skip the introduction and get right into it.

Cornerback

All eyes were on Stefan McClure's knee coming into spring, but by the end of the first practice, it was clear that there was nothing to worry about - he had recorded several passes broken up, an interception, and solid work all around. The Bears have a shutdown corner in #21 - for proof of that, we need to look no further than Kenny Lawler, a big star through most of camp who became nearly invisible once matched up against McClure.

On the other side of the field is Kam Jackson, who has been fine, but remains too physical for his own good at times. It was not uncommon to see him breaking up passes in practice in ways that might have drawn flags in game situations - a tug here, a bump there, sometimes getting tangled up with a receiver. His skills as a ballhawk are not in question, and have never really been - he led the team in interceptions this spring - but he must cut down on penalties to play at the level Cal fans believe he is capable of. Kam also did not do much in the way of tackling, so it's hard to tell if he's made any progress in that particular area.

That being said, the Jackson-McClure tandem will be just fine, inexperience and all.

The bigger problem is that there is no depth behind them - the second string defense has given up most of the touchdowns, and that unit has been spearheaded mostly by Isaac Lapite and Cedric Dozier. Lapite has also taken most of the reps as the nickel corner, but he isn't a particularly good pass defender, and has given up more than his fair share of catches in coverage, while Cedric Dozier has been largely inconsistent. You don't even want to know who's behind those guys.

In short, the search for an effective third corner will likely continue into fall camp, when Darius Allensworth, Trey Cheek and Cameron Walker are thrown into the mix. Odds are good that at least one will play this fall, and comments from Sonny Dykes seem to favor Walker as of now.

Defensive Line


The good news is that the 4-3 looks like it's going to be pretty effective - there has been a more consistent passrush this spring than there was all of last season. [This is also where I be optimistic and chalk that up to the defense being good more than the offense being bad.]

Villiami Moala missed most of spring and only got back on the field toward the end of it, so he still hasn't materialized as the destructive force we all hoped he would be. No matter - even without him, the Bears have a damn good tandem of defensive tackles in Mustafa Jalil and Deandre Coleman. They not only swallowed the inside running game completely, but also made life difficult for the Klindergoff all spring. Based on how they played the last month, both seem primed for big seasons, especially now that they are fully healthy.

Behind them will be some combination of Moala, Gabe King and Keni Kaufusi, and Austin Clark and JUCO transfer Marcus Manley should be in rotation as well. That's certainly a lot more depth than last year, and Kaufusi has been a pleasant surprise.

The end positions figure to be a bit different than what we have seen, though, with Chris McCain, Brennan Scarlett, Sione Sina and Todd Barr all returning from various injuries. Nathan Broussard could also join them - he was originally reported to be moving to end, but remained a linebacker this spring due to depth concerns. Questions remain about whether or not McCain can put on the weight needed to play here, but that list of players should compensate a bit even if he cannot.

Still, as far as those who actually played end this spring, Kragen would be an obvious standout; the JUCO transfer blew up everybody in sight for the first few weeks of camp. The rest of the guys here - Harrison Wilfley, Dan Camporeale, Antoine Davis, Ted Agu - have all played well at one point or another, but none as consistently as Kragen. The ends have been a step behind the tackles in performance, but again, that could change in the fall, when they get their presumable starters back.

Quarterback

And finally, quarterback. Oh, quarterback.

Too much has been typed on the battle for Bear Raid Commander, but fifteen practices have not been enough for any candidate to truly win out, much to the dismay of fans everywhere. Coach Dykes ended spring without naming a winner, leaving us with nothing better to do than to speculate wildly over the next few months on who will eventually start against Northwestern. You know all about their strengths and weaknesses and general performance now, but I'll recap how each has done in 140 characters or less.

Hinder - Mobile and best runner of the trio, but cannot throw deep well. Generally accurate in the short game. Steady and serviceable.

Kline - Highlight reel arm, but his touch is improving. Underrated runner, and throws well on the move. Plagued by inconsistency.

Goff - Throws a decent deep ball most of the time. Good decision maker and extremely polished for a true freshman. Skinny, but poised.

Everyone will have their own opinion on who should win - and who will win - but what follows is my own.

Zach Kline should [eventually] start. He gives the Bear Raid its best chance at becoming everything we hope it to be. He does pretty much everything you could want, save for some moments of head-scratching awfulness, where he sails balls badly incomplete. Whether that is simply him getting adjusted to the offense or learning his receivers' tendencies, I do not know, but he will have to get better at moving the chains and making those little throws. It is also fair to say that Kline has been the worst quarterback at times, guilty of trusting his arm so much that it gets him into trouble. More than a few of his interceptions can be traced to this. I would be willing to live with those growing pains, though - his strengths far outweigh any weaknesses to his game.

Jared Goff should redshirt. I do not write this because he did anything wrong, but simply because he hasn't been good enough to warrant being the starter, or even significantly better than the other two. With his talent - and he has shown a lot of it - there's a very good chance he will see the field at some point in his Cal career. It just doesn't have to be now. All the other previously written criticisms about his size also apply here, and a redshirt year would do him wonders in that department.

Austin Hinder should be the backup. Hinder has proven his abilities as a runner and could provide a nice change of pace under center in certain packages. There is little to worry about when Hinder is on the field, but watching him, you can never shake the feeling that you would like more. I've seen the Smith versus Kaepernick comparison made more than a few times in reference to these candidates.

Austin Hinder is Alex Smith.

The good news is that the Bears have more capable quarterbacks than they have had for a while. Now they just have to figure out which one it is.


Conclusion


Well, that's it from me. This is where the debate continues - what did you guys see in these six areas? Who stood out to you? Who else could be an impact player come fall? WHO SHOULD START AT QUARTERBACK?!?! Sound off below, readers.


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