Cal wide receivers have to feel pretty good about their 2013 campaign. Two wide receivers had outstanding seasons. Another broke out to become one of our most reliable touchdown threats. They headed an incredibly deep position group in general, as eight receivers totalled ten or more catches in 2013, with two on that list being former walk-ons.
It's pretty safe to say that they should enter 2014 as the most confident group out of any unit on either side of the ball. It's pretty safe to pencil in two of the four starters, with the final spots up for grabs for whoever earns it. They'll be losing only two receivers, albeit one very talented in Rodgers. Still, for all his talents, Rodgers exactly never fit into this offense and it was unlikely we were going to see a breakthrough with him if he returned. That makes it a manageable loss, and everyone else who is returning is pretty good.
Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper are pure possession route runners who can pretty much go anywhere and catch anything. They don't possess the breakaway speed or athleticism that forces a defense to gameplan against them (a la Marqise Lee, Brandin Cooks or Paul Richardson), although Treggs is reportedly going much faster this offseason with a reported 4.38 hand timed 40. Kenny Lawler has the potential to really break through and be more of a dynamic downfield weapon, although with his slighter frame, might have to work more on his blocking for the screens our offense uses so much.
Treggs, Harper and Lawler generally rotated about 95% of the offensive snaps at outside receiver last season (with a dose of James Grisom and Maurice Harris here and there; Drake Whitehurst was supposed to make a decent impact but really, really struggled). Treggs and Harper saw a majority of the action and rightfully so, but Lawler looks like he's going to make a push for playing time, especially if he keeps up the good work from his redshirt freshman campaign.
With those three alone, Rob Likens has plenty of reason to bask about his wonderful outside receiver depth, and that's without mentioning Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis, who was impressive in last year's open practice. He drew rave reviews all offseason and is certainly talented enough to contend for a starting spot himself. All in all, it's a pretty embarrassing position of riches at the X and the Z.
Four receivers for two spots is a clear logjam, though, and one tactic the team seems to be considering is sliding Treggs to inside receiver, at least according to this tweet:
As you would expect, things are definitely more fluid at inside receiver. With Rodgers and Bouza gone, the trio of Darius Powe, Stephen Anderson and Bryce McGovern are a bit more uncertain than the outside receivers. In addition to the Treggs move, you also might see Harper occasionally slot on the inside as he did last year to shore up depth and get more Lawler on the field. Expect Jack Austin and Ray Hudson make a push for playing time too. Austin got off to a particularly strong start in last year's camps, and there was some speculation that he would not be redshirting for that reason. We'll see what he manages in his second season.
The praise I am foisting on the receivers isn't unconditional. They do have weaknesses, with a particular struggle coming in the area of perimeter blocking. Being unsuccessful there kept far too many runs and screens from breaking out into open field. They would also occasionally struggle to connect with Jared Goff, although I'd put a decent amount of those communication issues on our Marin-based signal-caller as well. And they really struggled to produce yards after catch (to be fair, they sometimes were facing down multiple defenders, or having to adjust to slightly off-target throws, and all that jazz), forcing the offense to produce long, methodical drives. I love long, methodical drives, but the big play element was missing from a pass-heavy offense like Cal's, and without a run game to support, too many of those drives eventually sputtered out.
Still, if I had to give any position coach a passing grade for last year's debacle, it would have to be Likens (less so for inside receivers coach Marc Tommerdahl, because special teams was clearly lacking). Likens has put together a mighty impressive eight to ten deep wide receiver circuit that can handle one or two injuries and still remain an effective unit. Of all the units this spring, I'm most excited to see how the recievers are looking after a year of non-stop catching, blocking and route running. I think we're bound for some good surprises.