We take our first looks at spring football, position-by-position.
Remember all the anticipation we had for the 2013 quarterback battle? We had four legitimate candidates in the first few days, which narrowed down to three in the spring, then pretty much progressed to two in the summer/fall before a winner was announced.
There's none of that for 2014. It's back to business as usual in Strawberry Canyon, with a starter pencilled in for the next few years barring some drastic developments.
Although he did not earn the title, easily, it is as true now as it was against Stanford: Jared Goff is your starter. Zach Kline fought nobly but never really got the hang of the Tony Franklin System the way Goff did. Goff's ability to acclimate as a true freshman and take the punishment during a brutal season was one of the few impressive things about the 2013 Golden Bears. Unfortunately, his iron grip on the starting position pretty much sent Kline packing, leaving the Bears with a precarious depth situation going into this year.
Now, you may argue that keeping Kline at least around one more season would have been better for Cal long-term. If Goff gets injured next season, there isn't much keeping us from bottoming out for a second year in a row. Kline would be a step down as a replacement, but there is potential upside there that might have been harnessed down the road. We won't know.
What does Goff have to improve upon this offseason?
Conditioning. Goff threw solid short routes and decent intermediate routes, but his long ball was sketchy and bogged the Cal offense down after a few nice first downs. Balls would reach the needed distance, but the timing and accuracy was all over the place. Getting himself into true Division I shape after two years of conditioning could add that extra dimension Franklin's offense was lacking.
I actually think most of Goff's issues can be fixed with better conditioning. It's likely his arm just wore down near the end of the last season. He threw the football 529 times in 2013; only four other quarterbacks threw more. The fatigue probably ate into him a little more during the second half of the season and he just could never get it back.
Improving reads and footwork. Goff was pretty accurate his first season but there were times where he'd commit to a throw in a place he shouldn't have, leading to costly turnovers (the Arizona game the most glaring example). Additionally, if he couldn't find his first or second read, he would start to get a little jittery in the pocket and eventually scramble into nothing substantial. This also should improve with a second off-season full of reps, as our freshman quarterback gets more comfortable in the offense.
Scrambling. At the moment Goff is a good pocket passer and not so good anywhere else. That's not a real problem (I'll take a good pocket passing quarterback over most anything), but given the situation with Cal's pass protection and particularly at the tackle spot, Goff might have to adapt better at throwing on the run to really make this offense a fearsome unit.
It's hard to find too many things to be all that distressed about from Goff's freshman season. He completed 60% of his passes (it took Kevin Riley four years to do that). He absorbed plenty of punishment and managed to make it through 12 games. He was pulled multiple times when he wasn't feeling it and came back the next week without complaint.
Goff is healing up from the shoulder injury he suffered in the Big Game, but according to Dykes is ahead of schedule and should be ready for the spring. Even more encouraging is this recent tweet:
Threw 100% today and it felt sooo good #roadtorecovery— Jared Goff (@JaredGoff16) March 6, 2014
But entertaining the possibility that Goff isn't fully recovered for shoulder surgery, this could give Austin Hinder a chance to try and develop into a capable backup. In game action, Hinder has thrown four passes at Cal. The only advantage he might have over Goff is mobility and the ability to scramble for a yard here and there. In some ways I'd prefer him to take over as our running quarterback in short yard situations over Kyle Boehm, who was used sparingly last year.
From what I saw of Hinder last spring, he just really needs to improve and nail down a couple of the basic throws. Just nailing screens, hitches and slants could make him decent enough to keep the offense going. He's not going to supplant Goff, so focusing on the basics rather than trying to nail down every aspect of the offense would help the Bears in so many ways.
There will be no new faces this spring either. Luke Rubenzer and Chase Forrest do not arrive at Cal until the summer, while Joey Mahalic is preparing his run at whatever Guinness World Record can be be broken regarding throwing footballs into trash cans.
In short, the quarterbacking position will come down to #16's improvement and his health, which is more crucial than ever. So it's basically like any other season of Cal football from here until eternity.