So. We are here again. Spring Football is in the books, Spring Game 2018 is here and next is the tormenting wait for Fall Camp to begin. Let’s take a step back. Spring 2018 has brought the most optimism to the Cal Football program in years. Gone are the days worrying about who will step up and if the coaching has improved. 99% of the fans are behind Coach Wilcox and Co. This spring gives us a chance to look at some of the young guns, looking ahead to seeing who might take their opportunity and make the most of it and set themselves up for another push for snaps in the fall. It also gives us a chance to see how well the system on both sides of the ball have developed and allowed for players to be faster in their understanding of plays rather than having to translate real time in their head. The vast majority of people watching the spring game won’t have even any practices let alone some of these players. For that? This is your primer.
Let’s start with.....The Offense.
QB: Ross Bowers, Chase Forrest, Brandon McIlwain, Chase Garbers.
It’s pretty simple here. Until one of the other guys exceeds Ross Bowers, Ross Bowers will remain the starter. He’s played the most consistent through the spring, he has the experience and he’s matured with his decision-making. There is a sense of deep breaths when he is in the pocket compared to last season where he looked unsettled on most snaps. It must be noted that Brandon McIlwain is the most electric out of the QBs. Everytime he touches the ball it feels like something amazing might happen, but for him to be playing, his accuracy and knowledge of the playbook must improve.
RB: Patrick Laird and the boys.
Patrick Laird. That’s it. It’s a wrap. In all seriousness the kid is good, and he looks more powerful than he did last season. Derrick Clark and Biaggio Ali-Walsh give the Bears some speed at the position and look to be set as the two backs that will spell Laird. Alex Netherda is the surprise here. Position Journeyman Alex Netherda seems to have found his calling at the RB position. His balance and jukes, may be the best on this group. He has found ways to make guys miss and has been really fun to watch in practice.
WR: Too many good ones.
So the obvious issue here isn’t starters or production. It’s the question of the 2s and 3s. Kanawai Noa, Vic Wharton, Demetris Robertson and Melquise Stovall will most likely not play in the spring game. So who steps up? It’s been a few guys, but the three that stand out are Jeremiah Hawkins, Taariq Johnson and Jordan Duncan. The three of them have absolutely balled out. Hawkins has become a reliable catcher over the middle and can get some yards after catch. Johnson has been an absolute beast and size mismatch. He also uses his body so well to make the catch. Duncan could be set to have a breakout year. His pass catching ability was never in doubt, in my opinion he has the best set of hands on the entire team. If these guys can produce with starter snaps, they will definitely be able to maintain that standard with the constant rotation at WR by Beau Baldwin.
OL: The Starters + Second Starters.
This group is the most reliable. No starter was lost. Backups all got playing time last season. They also add one of the best OL recruits in the country this fall in Will Craig. Not much needs to be said about this group. The OL play is one we won’t have to worry about for a few years.
TE: Old Man Ray Hudson leads the New Kids On The Block.
This position group is the most intriguing. You have 6th year senior Ray Hudson leading the way. You have solid pass catching Gavin Reinwald. You have 2 guys in Kyle Wells and Matt Laris who played different positions before making the switch to TE last season. Year 2 in a system that wants to use TEs, this could be the game where we see more 12 and 22 personnel on the field working that into our play calling rhythm. We’ll get a better grasp of how the TEs will be used through out certain game scenarios by the time spring is over.
And now for the other side of the ball.
DL: Everybody has a plan, until they’re punched in the mouth.
This is the group with the most questions, that at the same time has a lot of potential answers. Luc Bequette and Chris Palmer will anchor this defense, the question is what happens if one of them gets injured? Siu Fuimaono could be that answer. Lone Toailoa could be that answer. What about the edge? Well this is a two fold question. Our package aligns the OLB as a edge rusher on many plays so this question goes with the OLBs, but back to the original question. Gabe Cherry could be the answer. Zeandae Johnson could comeback from injury and be that guy as well. We’re going to need one of these answers to start standing out this spring.
ILB: The Gauntlet.
Jordan Kunaszyk. Evan Weaver. Gerran Brown. The ILB group is as solid as you can imagine. The intriguing potential player here is Ben Moos. The TE (who played some LB in HS) turned ILB will get his first chance playing defense. He has the physique to be very good. It will be interesting how far along he has come at that position after the change.
OLB: Hit Stick.
Talk about a group that will be doing some punishment to some backfields. Cameron Goode, Alex Funches, Malik Psalms, and Russ Ude is a solid rotation even if the season started tomorrow. Malik Psalms is the one to watch here. He’s totally changed his body type moving from DB to OLB. He has the speed to pass rush, the only question is can he play in coverage against the bigger bodies on the outside.
DB: Haunted Hills.
If you play Fornite, you’ll get the reference. You never want to venture into that area since it’ll be a wasted trip. Thats how other teams will feel when they see this DB group. Throwing the ball to any one of our DBs, may result in immediate regret and questioning of life decisions. Elijah Hicks and Evan Rambo look to be unavailable for the spring game, but everyone gets a chance to see the evolution of Sophomore Camryn Bynum along with improving EE Freshman Chigozie Anusiem. Jaylinn Hawkins has cemented himself into one of the safety spots, with Ashtyn Davis picking up the other position until the return of Evan Rambo. This position group is easily the deepest and most talented group on the team and could be a huge reason the Bears succeed this upcoming season.
And there you have it. It’s your 2018 Spring Game Primer and pseudo-preview of fall camp as well. Enjoy the Spring game. We’ll see you in the fall.