Spring football is ultimately not a place where players will make or break their legacies, but it is a spot where they can inch their way into the rotation and put in the extra edge they need to succeed in the months ahead. Jared Goff took an edge over Zach Kline two springs ago and beat him out pretty early in the fall. Daniel Lasco took advantage of Khalfani Muhammad's absence last spring to cement himself as the starter.
Spring practice is the place to make leaps. Let's take a look at the players who are battling for open spots.
Center: Addison Ooms vs. Matt Cochran
There are flashier battles, but the key to next season really relies on Cal having an adequate replacement for Chris Adcock. The center is critical to the Tony Franklin System, and only Adcock has had a solid deal of success running it. When Adcock got injured in 2013, Cal's offense degraded from functional to barely operational.
Ooms was a late preferred walk-on from last season and has already drawn multiple raves from the coaching staff in two weeks of practice. Cochran isn't about to back off though, as the two have rotated snaps with the first teams.
Second running back: Vic Enwere vs. Tre Watson
With Daniel Lasco set as the starter, the attention turns to who will complement him. With Muhammad likely to be displaced after being absent for a second straight spring, it'll be up to the super sophomores, Enwere or Watson came in as freshmen to try and help out with the load, but neither seemed quite physically ready.
Enwere is already looking like a bruiser within the tackles and someone can explode in space. Once Enwere can fill in the rest of his game as a pass protector and a pass catcher, he's going to be a fixture in our backfield the next three years. Bank on it. He's definitely looking like the favorite through the early weeks of spring.
That being said, don't count out Watson. Tre is a versatile back and might not be as "wow" as Vic, but he's effective and solid at what he does. He's just facing a player who's peaking a bit faster, so he might have to wait a year before he starts seeing regular snaps. Still, I expect Tony Franklin and Sonny Dykes to use a steady running back rotation.
Offensive tackle: Dominic Granado vs. Vinnie Johnson vs. Brian Farley
If Steven Moore is healthy, one of those spots will be his, no question. He's ready to roll. The edge battle will be at the other position. Farley is the most experienced of the group and probably knows the system the best, but he hasn't started a lot outside of dire injury issues. So I imagine it will come down to the other two.
Granado was brought in here to get a year at tackle and give Cal someone who can protect the edge at least semi-regularly. Johnson has made some big strides to compete to be a tackle, putting on extra weight and now becoming a regular fixture with the 2s. Granado has gotten the early snaps, but don't be surprised if Johnson makes a push.
Defensive tackle: James Looney vs. Trevor Kelly vs. Tony Mekari
Mustafa Jalil has one of these positions on lockdown if he's healthy. If not I expect these two guys will take his spot and anchor the middle. Looney seems to have the better physical talent, but having to sit out a year might have him behind the eight ball. I don't think this is a huge battle to be honest--I expect all four to make up our regular two deep next season.
Defensive ends: Huge cluster
No one knows who will start where at this point. If I had to guess at the moment, Kyle Kragen will regain his starting spot--he played all of 2013 and looks healthy again--but I doubt he'll be a three down end. I'm not certain who the other starter will be now that Brennan Scarlett is gone.
There are a few options.
The Bears do have the luxury of depth at this position and many versatile skillsets from which to pick. You have Jonathan Johnson, the best pure pass rusher of the bunch. You have Noah Westerfield, who is the likeliest to develop into an everydown defensive end down the line but might still have some development left in him. Then there's the newcomer Devante Wilson, who is looking like an athletic force. This is a much better crew to work with than in previous years. There should be SOMEONE in this group who can get to the quarterback.
Defensive backs: To be continued in the fall.
This probably requires a more detailed breakdown. But this is still a red flag unit. Cal has a lot of questions to address.
It's not looking good at the moment for our current spring secondary. Maybe it's just that they're playing probably one of the best position units in the conference in Cal wide receivers, but they are still lagging behind where they need to be. Most of the highlights in the passing game have involved Cal wide receiver winning their one-on-one battles with Cal defensive backs. They also have to deal with the Jared Goff assignment, which is never easy.
Aside from maybe Derron Brown (who appears to be set to join the safety rotation), Cal has a lot of question marks and open spots. Darius White, Darius Allensworth, Cedric Dozier, Cameron Walker are our current regulars, but it's walk-on cornerback De'Zhon Grace who has made an early imprint. Even Luke Rubenzer has had his share of solid moments.
It's really hard to figure out who fits where yet. There's too many moving pieces and there are a bunch of other incoming freshmen/JUCO players who have yet to fit into the equation. It's going to take time.
What position battles are you watching this spring? Were there any we missed, or do you think there are any of paramount importance? Let us know in the comments!