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Cal football postgame thoughts, pre-season edition: An introduction

It's next man up in the high stakes world of amateur college football blogging. PLUS: uninformed fall practice #analysis from a guy who hasn't watched any practice footage!

Soon . . .
Soon . . .
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Hi everybody! Welcome to August, the month when it becomes socially acceptable to start thinking about college football again! Which, of course, didn't stop all of us social lepers from thinking about it all summer. Anyway. I've been a bit scarce around these parts (1st solo article since May 18th!) in part because there's not much to write about during the off-season, in part because my summer was more hectic than usual, and in part because I need time off from writing once basketball season ended. But the leaves are falling off of trees already, which means it's time to dust off the keyboard and pretend that I know more about college football than any other average fan.

Also, let me wish you a happy Monday morning. Over the past few years, Monday mornings in the fall have become something of a ‘big deal' here at CGB. For years the slot was occupied by HydroTech, who offered his highly informed thoughts after each game to the edification of all. When he hung up his cooler, Nam took over and regularly penned multi-thousand word epic poems filled with hip references and cool turns of phrase. Then Nam turned pro in something other than sports, and somebody had to fill his shoes. Everybody agreed that Scott would be the best choice, but Scott had concurrently decided to semi-retire from blogging as well.

Which is really just a long-winded way of explaining why you're stuck with me! This fall, I'll be writing CGB's Monday morning game analysis/discussion generator/hot take machine. I haven't really decided exactly what direction I'll be taking things, other than to note that it probably won't be structured all that similarly to what Hydro or Nam did because I'm not even going to pretend I can replicate their style.

I CAN tell you certain areas that I'll be taking particular interest in this season. And what I would particularly like to hear from you in the comments is what YOU want to hear about, particularly at the micro level if/when I review the DVR'd game.

  • Cal's pass rush: How frequently will the front 7 be able to disrupt a quarterback's timing? And when the Bears are successful getting pressure, which players and what defensive play calls led to said success?
  • Special teams, particularly in terms of how they impact field position.
  • Game theory: clock management, 4th down decision making, time out usage, etc.
  • Depth (particularly on defense): How far into the 2/3 deep are the Bears going? Is it a proactive decision (to keep bodies fresh and because there's more depth of talent) or a reactive decision (because of injuries, or because we're desperate to find a solution in certain spots?
  • Separating pace of play, opponent quality, and game situation (which combined to make Cal's offense look like a top 10 offense last year) from actual offensive output (which put Cal somewhere in the 20-30 range last year).
  • Penalty analysis, because I'm fascinated by the high-penalty environment of the Pac-12 generally.
  • Anything else that is deemed interesting by the CGB readership that I might have time for. Let me know in the comments!

Later this month I'll have a season-preview-of-sorts article coming out looking at some of the above items in greater detail, particularly focusing on items Cal struggled with last year that can be improved for next year. But that's for later. As of right now the Bears are about halfway through fall camp. I tend to bring a skeptical eye to most practice reports. What can we gleam the official and unofficial reports?

1) Defense ahead of the offense?

Pretty much every report has been unanimous in praise for Cal's defense. If the defense were merely holding its own that would be worthy of remark, but some have even said that the defense was outperforming its more highly touted counterparts. What gives?

Well, item #2 below might well have something to do with the struggles of the offense. I think it's also fair to say that this is the first year of the Dykes era in which the defense might have a legit two deep of real, experienced defenders rather than a mish-mash of true freshmen, walk-ons, and position conversions. Things should be looking different this year.

2) Offensive line shuffling

The loss of Matt Cochran shouldn't be underestimated, for obvious reasons: with the departure of the anticipated starting center, Cal only has five upperclassmen left on the offensive line two deep. I'm generally a believer that experience is particularly critical in the trenches, because the position requires both physical and mental maturity.

Jordan Rigsbee's move to center makes sense, both because of his prior experience at the position and as a way to get as many upperclassmen onto the field as possible. If Cal ends up rolling with Moore, Borayo, Rigsbee, Granado and Farley, I'll be reasonably confident that the Bear Raid can surpass last year's output. But any injuries means somebody is going to be thrown into the fire, and might lead to even more disruptive musical chairs.

3) Searching for a pass rush

We'll see exactly how it shakes out when the post-fall depth chart comes out, but Devante Wilson, James Looney, and Kyle Kragen have all played themselves into the line rotation, if not into starting positions. The idea that three players who couldn't play last year for various reasons are going to immediately step into prominent roles tells you volumes about Cal's pass rush last season. But it's probably the single biggest reason to be optimistic about Cal's chances to go from awful to reasonable against the pass.

The obvious question that will have to be answered in September? Are Wilson, Looney and Kragen starting because they are legit Pac-12-ready players, or because there are no other options?

4) No major injuries

Sure, a few guys have had minor knocks, but nothing like this. There are very few (if any) position groups that have the depth to absorb an injury to an expected contributor, and so far the Bears have emerged unscathed. Keep knocking on wood everybody.

5) Aren't you ready for the season to just start already?

Honestly, there isn't a TON of intrigue to practice this year. For the first time in years there hasn't been any major shifts at either coordinator position. The team isn't installing a new offense or defense. Most of the depth chart on one side of the ball is entirely settled, and even most of the defensive contributors are already familiar faces with a few exceptions. For once in the Dykes era, this year's freshmen can mostly focus on being freshmen.

There isn't much practice intrigue, but there's plenty of season intrigue. For the first time in years Cal is expected to make a bowl, expected to be consistently competitive, expected to get a bit of national notice, even if it's only for their star quarterback. There are plenty of reasons to be excited, but just as many reasons to be worried - and we won't really find out until this team takes the field in September. Can we just skip the next few weeks?