(If you haven't already, read Eugene's practice report from Monday and Rob's practice report from Friday for more of the details.)
1. Brennan Scarlett's departure sucks, but it's not really going to affect the defensive trajectory of the Bears
Obviously, Cal will miss Scarlett for his on-the-field leadership. He was well-respected and a true professional. Going to Stanford is a bit of a bitter pill, but hopefully the rest of the team uses it as extra motivation to take Big Game.
But in terms of actual experience? Eh. Cal wasn't a great defense when Scarlett was on the field, and they held steady in their sub-mediocrity--they got a bit more pass rush and remained solid on run defense all season. Scarlett has been injury-plagued his entire career, robbing him from being an imposing force. He was steady in run but couldn't really gain the leg drive or steadiness to be a pass rusher.
And let's look at things the other way. Scarlett's absence from injury did allow first-year players like Jonathan Johnson, Noah Westerfield and Tony Mekari to develop and get vital reps. With Russell Ude and DeVante Wilson now entering the fray and James Looney likely to occupy the inside with Mustafa Jalil, Cal will have a legit defensive line in 2015, and one that can more than afford the absence of Scarlett.
2. The Bears are getting bigger on both sides of the line.
This is huge, no pun intended. Cal has been one of the smallest teams in Power 5 college football the past few years, and they've been bully-balled against the Stanfords and USCs of the world. Although the Pac-12 slate won't be quite as fierce as the last few seasons, the Bears simply need to get bigger and stronger along with faster. Scoring points won't be enough to win football games in the trenches.
The three impact recruits in DeVante Wilson, Lonny Powell and Derron Brown are already holding true to that mold. The Cal offensive line two deep seems to have bulked up to around an average of 290-310 pounds (thanks Nam for charting). Additional conditioning has also appeared to work wonders for guys like Vic Enwere and Devante Downs, who are sounding like they are going to give the Bears some added power on both sides. Getting game-changing athletes who are versatile enough to win both the physical and speedy matchups will be the first step back to respectability for a Cal team that got too easily beaten up during the final Tedford/early Dykes years.
3. Luke Rubenzer at safety what's up with that?
The simple answer is that barring injury, Jared Goff will probably take every snap this year at quarterback. Rubenzer's Wildcat was a fun change-of-pace last year, but the Bears were kind of in wild experimentation mode, and bringing it back this season would probably lead to diminish returns. Goff needs to be on the field, simple as that.
Rubenzer was used as a Wildcat option last season because Cal's running back depth was still questionable--Khalfani Muhammad appears to be moving out of the regular rotation and neither Vic Enwere or Tre Watson had experienced a year of conditioning. Rubenzer helped win one game and was instrumental in moving the ball at several other times last season, but he needs some drastic improvement in the passing side to really be effective in the Bear Raid. Chase Forrest looks like he'll serve as this year's backup before things probably open up in 2016.
Meanwhile, Cal has no safety depth. None. We have Stefan McClure and Griffin Piatt rehabbing this offseason, meaning the safety two deep is totally up for grabs. While Brown figures to challenge to start almost immediately, there are no other clear contenders with Avery Sebastian at Notre Dame and Michael Lowe graduated.
So why not Luke? He's proven he can hit.
Wondering why @lukerubenzer8 is getting reps at DB? This clip of him playing SAF in HS should clear things up: https://t.co/IWdbLH7YJp— Cal Rivals (@CalRivals) March 10, 2015
Speaking of which.
4. Cal has a legit running back rotation
We all know about Daniel Lasco, but this is feeling like a committee backfield. Although Khalfani Muhammad appears to be dropping back due to his desire to do track along with football, the next three up are ready to make waves.
Vic Enwere. In terms of upside, Enwere is the most impressive of the running backs and seems like the favorite to be Lasco's Number One. Enwere is just a physical runner who can explode when given the space to move. I could see Lasco/Enwere being Cal's best backfield since Best/Vereen. They have that potential with their differing skillsets.
Tre Watson. Watson is a bit under the radar at this point and will probably be the secondary back, but that shouldn't be any problem, as the Bear Raid is very much the giving offense--everyone will get reps if they're given the opportunity. I expect Watson to see a solid secondary load.
Lonny Powell. Cal hasn't had a power back in a long, long time. They have one now. If there are no issues with ball security, Powell is going to be playing in a lot of short yardage this season, which will hopefully relieve us of the need to utilize any Goff quarterback sneaks this season.
5. The offensive line remains unsettled.
Ideally, if Cal were to have its way, they'd hope for competence from Steven Moore and Dominic Granado at tackle, allowing Jordan Rigsbee to slot into guard. Presuming Cal finds a good center, Rigsbee and Chris Borrayo at guards would be top 2 or 3 in the conference in terms of interior linemen. The Bears haven't had much pop in the running game as of yet, but things could change in Year 3 if that is the rotation..
But the most important position on offense in the TFS isn't quarterback. It's center. Addison Ooms seems to have already gained the trust of the coaching staff at center over Matt Cochran, and it sounds like (thankfully) he's not having too many problems with shotgun snaps. Replacing Chris Adcock with someone who is serviceable will ease a lot of our concerns. If Ooms proves to be up to the task, the Bear Raid will be more than operational.
And then there's tackle, where success is on a razor thin edge--Vinnie Johnson and Brian Farley have a lot to prove if any shifts happen. It's hard to feel comfortable in the Bears having to shift anyone around this year. The starting five have to stay healthy or there could be a drastic drop in performance against the best defensive fronts we face.
What are your early takeaways? Sound off!