In which we must acknowledge some things, quickly
This was not a spring game.
This was not a scrimmage either, where the offense and defense play competitively against each other for a substantial amount of time.
For all they branded it to be, everyone in the stands "experienced" what amounted to a normal practice, and even after acknowledging that, it wasn't a particularly revealing or insightful one, due to...well, take a look for yourself.
Few guys out today looks like hahaha pic.twitter.com/YdRWAL0Hgl— Cal Rivals (@CalRivals) April 18, 2015
#Cal football spring depth chart is out. pic.twitter.com/0LGiYjZYxU— Mike Vernon (@M_Vernon) April 18, 2015
...yep. Half the roster was missing due to various nicks, knacks, and scrapes, and of those who actually played, a good number will see themselves passed up by returning veterans, or perhaps high-impact freshmen by September 5th, so the depth chart, while provided above, isn't necessarily useful. Those of you who made the infinitely smarter decision to stay home and watch the Warriors, I envy you...especially if you didn't drive back from Los Angeles for this.
Okay, onto the actual column now -- there were still things to learn, still, but not nearly as many as you or I would have liked.
In which we talk about a few observable things
- With only a handful of TDs scored on the day, love to conclude that the defense is much, much better, and while it's true they came up with a bunch more plays, I'd really, really caution folks on concluding we're out of the woods just yet. Here's why: practice ran at half speed most of the time, there wasn't really any tackling, and the first string offense played without Steven Moore, Stephen Anderson, and most of the time, Daniel Lasco. There wasn't really much blitzing, either -- a largely vanilla day, Coach Dykes admitted on broadcast -- all of which means that I'm only willing to admit to slight improvement on that side. Reaction times were much sharper and missed tackles were down in the hour or so of actual football, but it really wasn't a definitive sample size.
- Luckily, marginal improvement may be all that's needed for Cal to jump to 8 or 9 wins this year.
- The offense was also very sloppy and low energy, too. Fumbled one mesh, threw an INT, etc. Save for the 2 minute drill that ended when Jared threw a touchdown to Bryce Treggs, it was a really lowkey effort from the group.
- Cornerback play is one of the clear areas in which there have been gains though, and a good chunk of that is due to Darius White. On Saturday, he produced multiple passes defensed, kept Kenny Lawler largely quiet -- he has for the last three weeks,according to reports -- and now, fully recovered from the injuries that plagued him last year, looks every bit the lockdown we hoped for. The other Darius -- Allensworth -- is also improved a bit, and is giving up a lot less deep down the field. On the few plays he was beaten, it was largely due to Jared's impeccable ball placement.
- Kyle Kragen looks like a completely different player, two years later. Didn't showcase a ton of athleticism in 2013, missed 2014 working his way back from Mono, and he's exploding his way back in a big, big way. Had a sack and a couple other pressures, which is part of why I figured Brennan Scarlett wouldn't be missed too much.
- Finally, the other show-out was Jack Austin, leading the way with four catches, 76 yards, and a TD. One of them, a diving recovery of a pass he tipped, was very impressive. Austin has drawn raves from the coaches for the last few seasons, but simply hasn't cracked the top tier due to talent above him. If he keeps this up, his chance will surely come.
- Among the few wrinkles that were on display though, one was that Cal rolled their quarterbacks toward the left side many, many more times than usual on Saturday. This is not a new development -- I recall it being used in the past -- but the frequency of deployment makes me think that the staff is really really not comfortable with the right side of the line, and therefore, getting its signalcallers used to running away from pressure there. Currently, the released depth chart projects Farley there, and not Vinnie Johnson or Dominic Granado, who many expected. Let's see if that holds into August.
- This look premiered toward the end of last season, but I also expect a lot more usage of wide receivers in tight as TEs. No, they're not technically referred to as that, but, for all intents and purposes, Darius Powe, Ray Hudson, and Stephen Anderson will function that way for this offense, especially in the higher tempo ranges, when defense can't substitute to match up.
- I'm very, very confident there are other new wrinkles, but we'll have to wait to see toward the actual season.
- Wasn't the greatest day from Jared Goff, who threw a few more bad passes than you and I might normally be used to. One example: on one of Darius White's numerous breakups, Goff threw low-angle, when the receiver had already gotten behind White. Loft the ball up more, and it's a touchdown. There were very, very great throws, too, but we've become so accustomed to his brilliance that it stands out when he's off. but I don't worry about him. As long as he's standing and his arm is intact, the offense will run.
- Chase Forrest looked like a capable, consistent backup overall, which is likely why the staff is comfortable with playing Luke Rubenzer at safety, a move that benefits all parties involved.
- The kicker situation remains extremely troubling, with guys missing wide, clanking all over the place. Didn't matter if it was Cervenka, Anderson, McInerny. This one's extending into the fall for sure. Harry Adolphus, the rugby walk-on, wasn't available due to a game of his own.
Worth seeing again and again. Wow Jack Austin! RT @Pac12Networks: Catch of the year already?? #CalSpring #12Best pic.twitter.com/qNUI8YNYdM— Cal Football (@CalFootball) April 19, 2015
In which there are other notes
- We'll begin with the news that broke after the Spring Experience, which was the huge, huge Shurod Thompson commitment. A high four-star safety from out of Brentwood (formerly from Pittsburg High School), Thompson and Marquel Dismuke figure to be cornerstones of Cal's defensive backfield a few years down the line. It's going to get really, really rangy back there between those two, Jaylinn Hawkins -- who the staff said would be tried at CB first, recently -- Malik Psalms, and Trey Turner, to say the least. Assuming they hang onto both Thompson and Dismuke, they've got the pieces to begin breeding absolutely beasts.
- They did have 75% off all Cal merchandise in the stadium, although you did have to wait about 40 minutes in line to even get a shot at anything. In a second huge victory of the day, I procured for myself a small Jared Goff jersey at the low, low price of 25 dollars.
- Incredibly sparsely attended. Shout out to everyone who dropped by: Rico, Twist, Gustav, both Mikes, etc.
- I also had the fortune of being able to visit Ol' Yeller on Friday, aka Ivan Rabb's mom's soul food restaurant. A quick review: I found the chicken to be too salty for my taste (although I originally wanted it smothered and they had no gravy, so maybe that was a factor), loved (loved) the mac and cheese, and had an okay time with the cajun fries. My girlfriend, who had the seafood platter, gave it a thumbs up, but saved her highest praise for their collard greens and yams, which she said tasted like something your great-grandmother in small town Georgia would cook up.
- In short: 17.5/19, would visit again. Tipped a decent -- but hopefully not NCAA violation triggering -- amount and signed the check Go Bears, although Mrs. Rabb was not at the restaurant on this day.
In which I must say goodbye
It is with great heaviness that I am typing the words that follow, friends, but as I first tweeted last month, this column will indeed be my final substantial football piece for California Golden Blogs. After three calendar years and two football seasons, I am stepping down from my position here in order to join the Cal Rivals staff, a move that figures to be finalized over the next few weeks.
Truthfully, I was, and am happy here. This blog has offered me the kinds of editorial luxuries I may never again receive -- I got to write whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, with no filtering, for a community of people as gold-blooded as I am. It was tough for me to consider leaving all of that behind. It still is...
But Rivals is just an opportunity I couldn't pass up at this stage in my life. (Don't worry, the irony of most of the main Cal Rivals writers being CGB alums is not lost on me.)
Being as young as I am and still uncertain how far I want to take this whole writing thing, I owe it to myself to at least keep that door open for as long as possible, which means taking on new challenges like these as they present themselves.
I hope that this move does not change how you see my work, a good portion of which -- including the Monday Novel -- will remain unpaywalled, as I fully intend to remain serving the community the same way I have before: with passionate, in-depth, informative, varied, and occasionally entertaining writing. You are also still invited to pick my brain, send me questions, interact, banter, and mess around with me on Twitter as you have been.
In essence, I'll be the same dork you've grown to tolerate...just with my name on a different masthead. I'm also not completely closing the door on my affiliation with CGB, either -- Avi and I have discussed running just my promos here, for example, and I'm sure I'll drop by for Q&A -- but the exact details of that are still TBD.
Thanks to the entire staff here for their never-ending efforts and their undying love of Cal, but especially Avi, Twist, and Scott, for being outstanding mentors to me, and really, for giving me a chance when I might not have earned it yet. There was no real reason for them to entrust the Monday slot to me -- considered prime time, essentially -- when I first started, but here I am, all those words and columns later. CGB has been one of the best things to ever happen to me, and those three men made it all possible. This site remains in their good, capable hands and I have every confidence in the new young'ns Rob and Trace to replace my production, as well as the already fantastic team that keeps this blue and gold engine running.
And of course, of course, of course, thank you, the readers. You guys are who I do this work for. You guys are why I've spent many a spring and August afternoon in the Memorial Stadium stands, twittering away into my laptop. You guys are why I spend Monday mornings glued to my phone, refreshing the comments -- your thoughts, your support (and dissent!), your voices... I value each more than you may even know.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting. I hope you continue to do so.