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Cal Football Spring Position Battles: The Tailbacks and Fullbacks

For the first time in years, there are legitimate questions about the heir apparent for the starting tailback spot. With a proven lineage dating back to Igber, , Echemandu, Arrington, Marshawn, Forsett, Best, and Vereen, Coach Gould is a known quantity. But while previous backups got significant time, Isi Sofele hasn't gotten enough snaps for us to feel comfortable about him being the Guy. Tedford has endorsed him as our #1 back. However, there are plenty of doubters who look to Isi's lack of size and lack of game-time production. With injury issues plaguing most of the backs, this position will be a question mark all spring and fall. On the other hand, fullback looks to be in good hands with Stevens/Kapp establishing themselves as a capable rotation last year.

CJ Anderson(Jr) - Won't be available until the fall. Very productive in JC. Great vision, balance, and lateral quickness. Has some shiftiness that reminds me of Joe Igber, but in a super-sized 200+ lb package.

Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson(Jr) - The people's choice for starting tailback, he certainly looks the part with a well-muscled 5'11, 205-lb frame. More of a slasher than a juker or a burner, he's looked good in limited minutes against backups. Still recovering from nagging injuries, it's uncertain how much he'll play this spring. He reportedly promised Coach Gould that he would absolutely dedicate himself to football this off-season.

Isi Sofele(Jr) - According to Coach Tedford, he's the #1 back. I know that many people were less than impressed with his play last year. Although there are reports of game-breaking speed, shiftiness, and explosive playmaking in practice, we rarely saw the same dynamism in games. There are also questions whether his 5'7(ish), 186lb body can hold up to the pounding. I don't have the same doubts. He's tough, strong, and the best blitz pickup back we've had since Forsett. (Yes, infinitely better than both Vereen and Best.) He'll see time simply due to his skill in pass protection. With improved O-line play and an offense not knee-capped into being one-dimensional by uneven QB play, I think he'll be just fine. It remains to be seen whether he'll be the primary ball-carrier, or continue to see spot duty as a change of pace and Wildcat back.

Mike Manuel(Jr?)
- Walk-On transfer from Golden West JC. 5'11, 195 lbs and reported to run a 4.4. Versatile back who is equally adept at lining up in the slot as in the backfield. Shows some nice moves and will get plenty of reps in spring with the injury issues at this position. Highlights are here.

Desarte Yarnway(So) - Made waves in practice as a true frosh, and then hurt himself. In the brief moments we saw him last year, looked like he ran a bit too upright and didn't display the power you would hope from a bigger back. Has also reportedly had fumbling issues throughout camp. He's still hurt and will miss spring ball.

Trajuan Briggs(Fr*) - The hype was referring to him as Marshawn 2.0. He was supposed to have uncanny vision with power and burst. Unfortunately, a serious foot injury shelved him last year and his recovery is still uncertain. His availability for spring ball is unknown.

Daniel Lasco(Fr) - Will probably redshirt. Tall and lean for a running back, he's projected to fill out his frame and eventually run at 225+ lbs. Very smooth and fluid running style. Has great hands as a receiver out of the backfield. Enrolls in the fall.

Brendon Bigelow(Fr)
- My wild, armchair prediction is that this young man could break Jahvid Best's record for long scoring runs. If he's fully recovered from injury, he's going to play and he's going to be incredible. He hits the hole extremely quickly with an unreal burst. He has a one-cut and go style reminiscent of JJ Arrington, but with turbo-button afterburners. Enrolls in the fall.

Projected Depth Chart:
1) Isi
2) CDJ (if healthy)
3) Briggs (if healthy)/Anderson
4) Bigelow/Lasco/Ervin/Manuel

Overview: Depth is an obvious concern here with CDJ, Yarnway, and Briggs still recovering. New frosh Lasco and Bigelow also both missed significant time during their senior years due to injury. Because Isi Sofele might be the only healthy ball-carrier we have in the spring, we will likely have to wait until fall camp to see how the depth chart shakes out. If no one else can go, true frosh Darren Ervin might get some reps here, too. There is more uncertainty surrounding this position than in previous years where there was an obvious heir apparent. Honestly, I think there's much to do about nothing. Coach Gould knows what he's doing. We may not have the explosion plays that we've been spoiled with the past few years, but a return to a more meat n' potatoes grind it out style might actually be better for the offense as a whole. There's a good overview of the position from Okanes here. And the CGB Roundtable is here.

Biggest Questions:
Can Isi be the #1 guy? Are there enough healthy bodies to push him for time?

John Tyndall(Sr) - Great contributor on special teams, he also rotated time at the FB position.

Will Kapp(Sr) - The smallest of our 3-headed fullback committee, he was the most technically sound with regards to his blocking and assignments. Gives great effort, but lacks the size to really blow guys off the ball. He's more of a cut-block or tie-up type of lead-blocker.

Eric Stevens(Jr) - After an uneven start, he really came on last year to solidify this position. He has good hands and nice wheels as a receiver. He shows the most potential as a multi-threat blocker/receiver/short yardage runner. After a year of starting experience, I would expect him to continue to develop and monopolize the snaps at this position.

David Aknin(Jr)
- JC transfer from the College of San Mateo. Has a rep for being a bruiser, but isn't much of a threat in the passing game.

Projected Depth Chart:
1) Stevens
2) Kapp
3) Tyndall

This position was a big question mark last year. Like they say, when you have three guys playing a spot by committee, perhaps it means you don't have that one guy you really need. Stevens did a really nice job while Kapp was a serviceable backup. Although Stevens may not be the dominating blocker like Will Tau'fu was, he's at least as solid as Brian Holley and has the potential to approach Chris Manderino-status if he keeps getting better. Reportedly, we're bringing in at least one recruited walk-on to provide depth here, too.

Biggest Question:
Can Stevens/Kapp build on their experience from last year?

Next up: The Quarterbacks