The 2015 Cal Football spring game -- a.k.a. "Spring Football Experience" -- is this Saturday, with gates opening at 930AM, and a full-pads scrimmage starting at 11AM:
The spring game coincides with Cal Day festivities, which will be happening all day long on campus. For more details on the event, check out Cal Athletics' info page - LINK. And now, here's a somewhat lengthy preview on what to expect on the field and which players to look out for on Saturday:
Per Head Coach Sonny Dykes' post-practice comments on Monday, the team is expected to run about 100 plays in various situations: regular drives, 2-minute drill, 4-minute offense, 1-minute [end of half/end of game] scenarios, special teams, etc. Rather than having a "Blue vs. Gold" matchup, the format will be an Offense vs. Defense scrimmage. The format is similar to the last two spring games (both during Coach Dykes' tenure), and it's in part due to current depth issues on the offensive line and secondary. This also suggests that the coaching staff believes situational scrimmage work is the most efficient and effective way to maximize reps throughout the roster.
.@CalRivals You're welcome. Your praise is humbling, and inspires me to continue being the greatest offensive mind in the history of sports.— Not Tony Franklin (@nottonyfranklin) April 15, 2015
Jared Goff is the unquestioned leader of this now-veteran group, and he's going into his 3rd year running Tony Franklin's offense. As implied in the tweet above, Not-Not Tony has opened up the playbook this spring -- there are quite a few new wrinkles, including play-action, run-pass options, and audibles. Some of our more astute readers & contributors [paging Dr. Kodiak, Prof. Le, and all other CGB film buffs/scheme junkies] might notice hints of this in the Goff v. Franklin interview video below. So now let's quickly break down each position group:
HC Dykes and OC Franklin have both complimented Goff's consistency this spring. Jared's command of the offense is apparent, and he seems cool, calm, and collected when calling the signals. On Saturday, he'll be running the 1st team exclusively, and we should see him take at least half of the total snaps. Chase Forrest (#14) -- whom Sonny noted as one of the pleasant surprises this spring -- will be the next QB in. The redshirt freshman possesses a live arm & good feet, and has reportedly been completing north of 70% of his passes throughout spring ball. As a result, he's apparently on the inside track for the backup QB job this fall -- but subject to competition over the summer, of course. True freshman [spring enrollee] Ross Bowers (#7) and walk-on Cole Webb (#18) are expected to rep with the 3s. Bowers' development this spring has also been encouraging -- the college game doesn't seem too "fast" for him, and his accuracy on short/intermediate routes is noticeably better than you'd expect from a player who would otherwise still be in high school. Lastly, don't forget QB/SAF/Swiss-Army-Knife Luke Rubenzer: he's been practicing with the DBs all spring, but he may take a few snaps in certain down-and-distance situations on Saturday.
- Running Backs
Senior RB Daniel Lasco is the experienced leader of this group, and he'll be the first back in the rotation, both on Saturday and in the fall. Rising sophomore Vic Enwere (#23), however, has been a revelation this spring -- Big Vic has been "running hard & running angry" whenever his number's been called. Enwere unofficially leads the team in carries, broken tackles, and rushing yards this spring -- he's actually seen more "live action" during practices & scrimmages than Lasco. This was by likely design though, to keep Lasco fresh and to give Enwere ample opportunity to earn the #2 RB spot. Khalfani Muhammad and Tre Watson should be the next guys off the bench, but it's uncertain how much work they'll get on Saturday. Muhammad has missed much of spring ball due to track commitments, and Watson is currently dealing with a minor hamstring tweak. True freshman [spring enrollee] Lonny Powell (#22) should be right there to pick up any slack though. Keep an eye on him, and think about which Gould-era back he reminds you of -- hint: hard-nosed running style & soft hands catching passes out of the backfield.
The receiver group -- outside & inside -- is the deepest position on the roster. Bryce Treggs recently described his comrades as "very mature, experienced, and extremely hungry." Treggs has a lockdown on the H receiver spot, and will start on Saturday along with Trevor Davis (X), Darius Powe (Y), and Kenny Lawler (Z). Stephen Anderson (the co-starter at Y) is out for the game with an illness. Jack Austin (X), Ray Hudson (Y/Bone), and Maurice Harris (Z) should get plenty of reps as Franklin -- along with receiver coaches Pierre Ingram & Jacob Peeler -- mix & match receivers very frequently. Young players to look out for include redshirt freshman Erik Brown (#11) and walk-on transfer Chad Hansen (#25); both guys are quite speedy and athletic. Unheralded players like Matt Rockett, Patrick Laird, Kenny Portera, Bug Rivera, and Kyle Wells should see action as well.
- Offensive Line
The OL group was one of the big question marks going into spring ball. Towards the end, however, Brandon Jones' #OLINE [listen for that chant] unit was arguably the most improved out of all on the roster. The two guard positions are rock-solid with multi-year starters Chris Borrayo (LG) and Jordan Rigsbee (RG). With Steve Moore (LT) still rehabbing from shoulder surgery, expect Vinnie Johnson (#78) and Brian Farley (#59) to open Saturday as the first team tackles, with Dom Granado (#55) and Aaron Cochran (#75) rotating in. Matt Cochran -- who's inched ahead of Addison Ooms in recent weeks -- should be the first center on the field, but Ooms will get plenty of work as well. Youngsters JD Hinnant, Michael Trani, and Kam Bennett -- all interior linemen -- have been running with the 2s all spring, and they should all see time on Saturday.
Similarly, let's look at the defense position-by-position:
- Defensive Line
Earlier this week, Coach Dykes mentioned this spring's newly-found DL depth as another positive development. Art Kaufman & Fred Tate will have a full 2-deep to work with -- and rotate through -- on Saturday. Ends Noah Westerfield (#33) & Kyle Kragen (#13) plus tackles James Looney (#9) & Tony Mekari (#97) are expected to start; but you'll notice plenty of meaningful reps for guys like Devante Wilson, Puka Lopa, Trevor Kelly, Marcus Manley, and potentially Kennedy Emesibe. Mustafa Jalil is healthy, but is being held out as a precautionary measure. Todd Barr and David Davis are still recovering from offseason injuries.
The LB group is the deepest and most experienced position on the defense; Garret Chachere may indeed have a 3-deep here come fall. Despite Jalen Jefferson (the unit's most experienced player) being limited all spring with a hamstring issue, the top 3 LBs didn't miss a beat: Hardy Nickerson (MIKE), Mike Barton (WILL), and Jake Kearney (SAM) were solid & steady throughout. Rising sophomores Devante Downs (#1), Aisea Tongilava (#55), and Hamilton Anoa'i (#25) were each praised by HC Dykes & DC Kaufman for their progress this spring. All three youngsters will be in the rotation on Saturday, mainly with the 2s, but sometimes with the 1s -- particularly in Downs' case. Ray Davison, Maximo Espitia, and Arthur Wainwright should see action as well. Nate Broussard is out until [late] summer, still rehabbing an ACL.
Sorry everyone, not too many rays of sunshine here to be had; the best I can offer for now is "work in progress, awaiting further reinforcements." The secondary remains the biggest question mark, especially considering the lack of [healthy] depth at safety. With 5 DBs still rehabbing injuries (McClure, Tartabull, Piatt, Willis, Worstell), the back end has been undermanned all spring. On the bright side, credit is due to guys like erstwhile-QB Luke Rubenzer (S #8), junior transfer Derron Brown (S #4), and Dariuses White & Allensworth (CBs) for making the most of their opportunities over the past several weeks. Those four should start on Saturday, with Cam Walker (now officially playing safety instead of corner) as the first Nickel DB. Cedric Dozier, Trey Cheek, and DeZhon Grace (#34) are the next corners in line, while AJ Greathouse (#14), David Garner (#42), and Chibuzo Nwokocha (#16) should get snaps at safety. Caleb Coleman might be held out as an injury precaution.
First off, don't expect any [live] kickoffs on Saturday. With the placekicking (and thus also, kickoff specialist) position still unsettled, ST Coach Mark Tommerdahl focused more on punt coverage and field goal/extra point situations this spring. Returning starter Cole Leininger and primary backup Noah Beito will alternate at punter. You *might* see rugby player Harry Adolphus take a kick or two, but don't quote me on that. Treggs, T.Davis, and E.Brown will likely be fielding punts, but it's uncertain whether we'll see any "live" punt returns -- likely as an injury precaution [see: lack of DB & OL depth]. Matt Anderson (#9), Franklyn Cervenka (#39), and Robbie McInerny (#41) or Jonathan McDonald (#36) will likely be taking FG attempts from various spots on the field.
And lastly, a few final comments before wrapping up:
* Don't be [*too*] alarmed if the offense -- particularly Goff and the 1s -- moves the ball in chunks and scores often. Remember, THIRD YEAR IN THE SYSTEM = this is what the Bear Raid is designed to do. You should be justifiably concerned if the offense, in some unlikely bizzaro-world shocker, can't execute. Assuming that the offense is operating as planned, try to pay attention to the "newish wrinkles" alluded to above. There's a fairly good chance you WON'T see super-crazy-fast tempo on Saturday; but you'll probably see glimpses of the Goffense at full operational capacity.
* Keep an eye on the D-line, particularly in obvious passing situations. Sonny mentioned Kragen (now fully recovered from a nasty bout with mono last year) as one of the standouts this spring. Watch if he, plus Westerfield, Wilson, Lopa can generate consistent pressure off the edge. Looney is the other DL to look out for -- he drew rave reviews last fall on the scout team. He's a massive human being, and has the ability to collapse the pocket from both the 1-tech NT & 3-tech DT spots. And one more hint: you may see some new blitz packages and pressure looks from Kaufman; in other words, no more all-vanilla-all-the-time -- probably. In fact, one of the starting LBs noted this week that "guys have confidence in the system; we know the base defense, and it allows us to add onto our [regular] packages."
* Look for heavy rotation among the skill positions (on offense), and the entire front seven (on defense). Franklin & Kaufman haven't held back in giving quality reps to nominal "2nd team" players. Depth is markedly better than in previous years, and we're starting to see signs of the 5 eligible receivers [RB + WRs] and front 7 [DL + LBs], respectively, as quickly interchangeable units. It's not anywhere near Oregon-level depth yet, but the "hockey lines" concept comes to mind. So... that's a wrap, and remember, California will win on Saturday -- guaranteed!