Cal football is so close you can almost taste it. Let's do this thing!
1) Camp ended on Monday and there was no media access for the scrimmage nor any interviews afterwards. The players were given two days off and will start game-planning for Fresno State on Thursday.
Thoughts: I like having the extra week to prepare specifically for the home opener. I also like the decisiveness and confidence being displayed by the coaching staff. In previous years, it always felt like certain key positions (cough - quarterback) were still being "evaluated" up to and through the first game. This year, it looks like the coaches have a much clearer picture of their depth chart.
2) Spencer Hagan has moved up the depth chart to be the backup tight end. Although Spencer Ladner was expected back a week ago, he's still not healthy enough to play.
Thoughts: This is an interesting choice. Hagan is a converted WR. He's fast and has great hands. But he's a bit light to be a dominant blocker. Blueshirt frosh Jacob Wark was reportedly the most ferocious blocker of all the tight ends last year. However, his hands have been a bit up and down. Normally, I would have expected Coach Tedford to want his second tight end to be a blocker first, receiver second. I wonder if it means Hagan will be used more off the line or in motion (like an Hback), and Wark will go in when they want another bruiser with his hand on the ground. If Ladner's recovery is delayed, it has been mentioned that Richard Rogers might play this year.
3) CJ Anderson is our #3 tailback and is pushing Covaughn DeBoski-Johnson for the #2 slot.
Thoughts: This is a great development. For Anderson to come in without the benefit of spring ball or summer conditioning and start to assert himself is fantastic. His tapes show a powerful runner with some Igber-like wiggle and Forsett-esque vision. More quality depth at this position is a good thing because it will let us bring along our talented freshman tailbacks slowly. I'd be most concerned with his blitz pickups while he's still learning the playbook. But as a change of pace or short yardage option, it's nice to know that he's good to go.
Thoughts: It's great to see competition and depth at that position. Give credit to Ryan Davis for putting in the work to learn a new position after excelling as a defensive end during his JC days. Reportedly, it was unnatural for him to drop into coverage at first, but the light has clearly come on. As the most experienced and largest of the trio (he weighs in at 250, Whiteside/McCain are both 232-233), he might be more stout holding the edge on obvious running downs. However, he was also a pass-rushing terror as a JUCO soph, recording an 11-sack season on the way to national honors. Whiteside was the talk of spring camp and seemed to spend most of his time in the offensive backfield. McCain, on the other hand, has been the star of fall camp with his "gadget-like" long arms and athleticism. It's unknown whether each will be used situationally based on their strengths, or whether the coaches want to see which one of them is the most consistent when the real snaps begin.
*Practice Update: Coach Tedford mentioned that sophomore Dan Camporeale got the starting snaps at outside linebacker with the 1st team defense during Thursday's practice. Camporeale was the 2010 Scout Team Co-Player of the Year and got a lot of reps in the spring. The actual depth chart is supposed to be released on Sunday.
5) Michael Calvin is our #3 receiver and Coleman Edmond is #4.
Thoughts: Coach Eric Kiesau specifically mentioned that he wanted to get more production out of Calvin and Edmond. I thought Calvin came on at the end of last year. Although he's not exactly a blazer, he's the one that Cal reporters have mentioned most consistently gets open deep. I think it took a while for him to regain his confidence after returning from injury so many times. He's already one of our most physical blocking wide-outs. I think he's also going to finish strong with a break-through senior year. It intrigued me to hear that Kiesau decided to limit the number of packages available for Edmond so that he could play fast and be more comfortable. That seems a little out of the box to me and speaks highly of Kiesau's ability to adapt to what he has instead of putting square pegs in round holes.
6) Until Kaelin Clay returns from injury, true freshman walk-on Bryce McGovern is our #5 receiver.
Thoughts: Let's hear it for the smart, little guy. We're lucky to have him at Cal. There was a nice feature on Bryce from last fall. His high school coaches thought very highly of him, citing his work ethic, competitiveness, and toughness. I've also liked reports that Kiesau is taking a different tact with his coaching. Because McGovern doesn't have the size or the speed of other wideouts, they're focusing on his footwork, route running, and "all the little things" that will help him get open. He may only make his mark on special teams this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if he demands playing time in the future after Jones, Edmond, and Calvin graduate.
Also in the mix in the case of injury: Mustafa Jalil, Kameron Jackson
Thoughts: From a depth perspective, a lot of these names make sense. With Tipoti having missed almost all of camp with concussion symptoms, Moala will absolutely need to contribute right away. I think all of us would pay good money to have him line up against Presbyterian's O line...by himself. Put my money on Tiny. Similarly, with thin depth at cornerback, we needed at least one of the freshman DBs to be ready to go, especially with so many spread offenses in the Pac-12. We have more depth at safety with Cattouse, Campbell, Moncrease, and Hill. So, for Walls to demand early playing time is impressive. Arguably even more impressive is Scarlett forcing himself into the discussion; we're loaded with depth at defensive end. Even if he ends up playing more as an outside linebacker, we also have plenty of talent there. Despite all the buzz, most true frosh have their ups and downs during their first year. I'd be content to see fewer big plays as long as we can also limit the number of assignment errors. It's going to be a lot of fun seeing these young Bears grow together over the next few years.
Biggest Worries Heading Into Fall Camp:
2) Depth in the secondary
3) Quarterback depth chart
4) Tailback rotation
5) Special teams coverage
Biggest Worries Heading Into the Season:
2) Special teams coverage
3) Depth at fullback
4) Depth at tight end
5) Depth in the secondary
Final Thoughts: Until proven otherwise, I remain convinced that the success and health of our offensive line will be the prime determinant of how the Maynard Era kicks off. With 2nd string tackle Tyler Rigbee having missed almost all of camp with a shin contusion, I'm deathly afraid of an injury to one of our starting tackles, Schwartz and MSG. If I dare to theorize solid line play, it looks like we have talented rotations at quarterback, receiver, and tailback. With depth being uncertain at tight end and fullback, I wonder if Coach Tedford will compensate with more 3WR sets, especially because Calvin, Jones, and KA are all strong and willing blockers.
Looking at special teams, one can only hope that another year of experience with Coach Genyk's system as well as having an influx of speed/athleticism from the touted youngsters will start to pay dividends. It seemed that last season's coverage units had a decent start to the year, but tailed off considerably towards the end. I wonder if Coach Tedford's decision to use the 2nd string instead of the scout team to work out the 1st team offense had an impact on our special teams. Presumably, many of the 2nd string defenders were also on the coverage units and there might not have been enough practice time to serve both roles. It hasn't been talked about this year, so it's unknown whether Coach Tedford will continue this practice or go back to using the scout team. Considering all the hand-wringing about our previous special teams coach, however deservedly, it would be incredibly embarrassing to get out-played by Alamar's units in the opener. And yet, the Old Blue in me would almost bet money that we're going to give up a blocked kick or a fail to cover a fake that results in points.
With so many new players and new (old) coaches, there's a lot of uncertainty as to what the team will look like next week. But you can't deny the feeling of excitement, either. Maybe _this_ year will be our year!
A big thanks to all the readers who followed our spring and fall camp coverage. The off-season is officially done and next week we resume our normal schedule of game previews. Go Bears!