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Cal running backs preview: the three-headed backfield returns

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Vic Enwere, Tre Watson, and Khalfani Muhammad return to lead Cal's running back corps. How will the committee share playing time this fall?

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Here's how Cal's running backs split playing time last season:

Player Year Rushes Yards TD Yards/Carry
Vic Enwere SO 106 505 8 4.8
Tre Watson SO 88 494 3 5.6
Khalfani Muhammad JR 87 586 1 6.7
Daniel Lasco SR 65 331 3 5.1

Take out Lasco, who's now competing for playing time with the New Orleans Saints, and you've got a pretty good idea of the Bears' running back corps for 2016. With three upperclassmen sharing the load (not to mention lots of familiar faces returning on the offensive line), this crew has an opportunity to prop up the offense while our new QB and receivers get settled. New offensive coordinator Jake Spavital had a 1000+ yard rusher last year at Texas A&M, so there's hope that this trio will have a major role in the updated Bear Raid scheme.

#5 Tre Watson

We'll go in the order listed on the spring depth chart, although the coaches were careful to note that Tre, Vic, and Khalfani are in a three-way tie for the starting job. Watson really came on towards the end of last season, picking up double-digit carries in each of the last four games and getting involved in the passing game. He's in the middle of the three size-wise (5-10 190 lbs), so he's not a prototypical power guy or a true speedster. He's got a sneaky-good ability to get to the outside though, which could quietly make him a threat for some big plays. I'm expecting him to easily surpass his three touchdown total from last year.

#23 Vic Enwere

Though he's the biggest and strongest running back of the bunch at 235 lbs, Enwere also has surprising elusiveness that makes him hard to bring down. He's more than just a short yardage guy, but he certainly can fill that role too. If Cal's seasoned O-line can help Enwere power through the middle of the field, he could be the drive-sustaining back the Bears haven't had in recent years. Vic led the team in carries and touchdowns last season, and if his spring game performance is any indication, he's well positioned to do the same this fall.

#29 Khalfani Muhammad

After sitting out last season's spring practices, it seemed like Khalfani Muhammad might take a backseat to the two younger RBs, but instead he mustered 87 carries and led the team in rushing yardage. Muhammad's track speed is what makes him so dangerous. He gets to open space quickly, which makes him the backfield's best weapon in the passing game. And despite his small frame, checking in at just 170 lbs, he can shed tackles once he gets going. Muhammad's share of carries has fluctuated in past years, so it'll be interesting to see how Coach Spavital uses his unique skillset.

#28 Patrick Laird

Assuming everyone stays healthy, those top three RBs should carry the load this season. But for a glimpse at the future of Cal's backfield, look out for redshirt sophomore Patrick Laird. Next on the depth chart, the former Mission Prep back joined the team as a preferred walk-on and has been making his presence known in practice. He dominated the spring game with 54 yards and two TDs on 10 carries. We'll see if that performance is enough to earn him playing time in an already crowded backfield. Behind Laird on the spring depth chart are redshirt frosh Alex Netherda and Billy McCrary III, junior Fabiano Hale, and early-enrollee Derrick Clark.