Cal Football Fall Camp Preview: The Running Backs

I cannot confirm nor deny that new running backs coach Pierre Ingram was using the instructions manual from "Operation" as his playbook during spring ball. Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco both sat out of spring ball as they recovered from injuries. Darren Ervin is next in line, but hasn't been able to stay healthy. Depth was so lacking that Jeffrey Coprich was moved over from defensive back, and former DB turned WR Joel Willis was also taking handoffs.

It'll be interesting to see what Coach Franklin does with the running game. His "Big Bone" Diamond formation at LaTech flourished last year when he had a powerful tailback lined up behind a TE/Fullback on the left wing and an extra Olineman on the right wing. Our running back roster has big play ability, but not a lot of power. There were plans to develop Daniel Lasco as a power back, but his high school film shows a guy who is more of a glider/slasher than a bruiser.

Without a proven true fullback, tight ends who are better receivers than blockers, and young Olinemen, would we be better served using the Diamond formation like West Virginia's speed diamond which uses deception and multiple tailbacks instead of power? Perhaps. But we haven't settled on a starting QB yet, and a speed diamond would benefit from a quarterback who can also make plays with his legs. When you throw in the fact that our top four backs were all absent from spring ball, it just doesn't seem practical to install a Speed Diamond/Warp Grizzly package during fall camp.

Best guess is that we focus first on getting our tailbacks up to speed with the staple stretch plays and run/pass combination plays that make up the Bear Raid. When we do use the Diamond/Grizzly formation, it will be a power look with the up backs focused almost exclusively on blocking instead of getting cute with run/pass or read-option looks. Play fast and execute.

Tailback:

Brendan Bigelow(Jr)
Daniel Lasco(So)
Darren Ervin(So)

Bone:
Lucus Gingold(Jr)
Jacob Wark(Jr)

Also: Jeffrey Coprich(Fr), Khalfani Muhammad(Fr)


Assuming that Bigelow and Lasco are full go, this position changes from a M*A*S*H unit to your favorite way to hit the turbo button. After his jaw-dropping coming out party against Ohio State, it's safe to say that Brendan Bigelow has a little game-breaking ability. What remains a mystery is why former running back coach Ron Gould never trusted Bigelow with more carries. Although there were rumors of ball security issues, a lack of playbook mastery, or shaky pass protection, you'd think that these could be overcome with a little creativity. Suffice to say, the new coaches have to licking their chops at the various ways they can unleash Bigelow. Rather than picking a play and then inserting the player, Dykes and Franklin have stated a preference for calling plays that emphasize their players' strengths. In particular, they'll lean on the plays that their players execute the best when they get into the red zone.

Although he may not be a power back, Bigs broke plenty of tackles last year as well as showing uncanny balance and body control. He also showed some nice hands as a receiving threat. But if there's one word that defines how you feel when he gets the ball, it's SPEED. Suffice to say, it won't be the coaches slowing him down this year. If he can recover from a torn meniscus on the same knee that had two ACL surgeries, it could be a Sportscenter type of year for Mr. Bigelow.

Daniel Lasco is no slouch either. He was rated as high as the #16 running back in the nation out of high school. He's taller(6'1) and has put on 10 lbs of muscle since enrolling to bring his weight up to 200 lbs. As a recruit, he was known for his downhill slashing/gliding style and ability to accelerate to top-speed in an explosive burst. He was also dangerous when used as a receiver and in the return game. When you look at his highlights, he's more of a one cut and go type of back than someone who will dance. In some ways, he almost reminds you of a taller J.J. Arrington with higher top-end speed.

Darren Ervin is a jack-of-all-trades scatback. He's shifty and elusive, more quick than fast, but his real utility lies in his versatility. He played quarterback, receiver, and tailback in high school. Unfortunately, he's also a smaller back and has been unable to shake the injury bug at times. He was mentioned by Coach Dykes for having a good spring...although he missed the last two weeks with another injury.

Jeffrey Coprich was one of the top performers in spring ball, perhaps by default. He looked good in practice at times, but struggled to get free during the scrimmages.

Incoming frosh Khalfani Muhammad has already been mentioned by Coach Dykes as someone who he expects to contribute immediately. He's a smaller back, but has Jahvid Best-like speed as evidence by winning back to back state titles in the 100 and 200 meter dash. He gained attention in the Semper Fi All-Star camp with his big-play ability particularly as a receiver in the screen game.

Lucus Gingold is a transfer from Reedley College. One of the few true fullbacks on the roster, he is a natural fit as the "Bone" back in Franklin's Diamond (Grizzly) formation. Jacob Wark was also seeing time here in the spring.


Per Coach Dykes:

"Brendan Bigelow is a fun guy to watch. I didn't know much about him until I got the job, watched the tape, and saw him against Ohio State. He's a real explosive player, but he's coming off a knee injury with a few surgeries on that knee. He's very capable and exciting. Daniel Lasco is bigger, downhill runner. We like to have big and small backs and blend them together to give the defense more to worry about. Darren Ervin had a good spring. There's some question marks at that position because of injury. [Incoming freshman] Khalfani Muhammad is the two-time state champion. He's world-class speed, so he's an exciting player we think can get on the field and contribute. They'll allow our young quarterback to grow when all he has to do is hand-off the ball. You don't know until we play because we didn't get them in the spring."

Fall Camp Previews: Quarterbacks Oline Wide Receivers

Running Backs Summary:

Position Coach: Pierre Ingram

Probable Strengths:

Speed. Speed! SPEED!!! Don't blink. Every carry could be a big play.

Versatility. All of the tailbacks are also known for being dangerous as receivers.

Space. The spread formation forces the defense to cover the entire field instead of loading up in the box.

Possible Weaknesses:

Durability. 'Nuff said.

Short Yardage. Do we have the power to punch it across on 3rd and 1?

Ball security. In limited snaps, both Lasco and Bigelow have shown a tendency to put the ball on the turf.

Pass pro. Fortunately, 'backs under Franklin/Dykes are more often used as receiving outlets instead of in max protect.

Biggest Questions:

Will Bigelow and Lasco be 100% by fall camp?

Can they stay healthy all year?

Will our running game be consistent enough to take pressure off our young Oline and QB?

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