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Cal Football 2019 Position Preview: Quarterbacks


NCAA Football: Cheez-It Bowl-Texas Christian vs California Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In Part 2 of our position preview series, we look at the position with the most fanfare. The Quarterback position.

*Editor’s Note: This discussion was written before the McIlwain news to no longer play football, and before the depth chart was released on August 24th.

Rob: Here it is. The most important question of the team going into the season. I’ll let you start what are your thoughts on the group going into 2019?

Mike: We can start by saying the QB play in 2018 was atrocious. I wish the coaching staff could have cleared the air of the situation pertaining to Ross Bowers so it did not leave us scratching our heads over why he was not playing. Bowers took nearly all the reps in fall camp and started the season opener before being pulled and never seen again. News later leaked that an apparent thumb injury on his throwing hand was the reason for his late fall-camp struggles. That left us playing quarterback roulette with Chase Garbers and Brandon McIlwain. While both QBs stunned us with their uncanny running ability, both left us discouraged by how poorly they performed in the other aspects of quarterback play. Neither could be relied on to throw the ball downfield confidently without turning the ball over. Garbers started the final seven games of the season primarily under the game plan of playing conservatively and trusting our defense. We won seven games that way, but it is not the recipe for the future.

The 2019 Fall Camp QB battle will be between incumbent starter Chase Garbers and UCLA transfer Devon Modster as they move Brandon McIlwain to either RB or WR. Garbers had a leg up on Modster in the Spring with a better grasp of the playbook as he begins his third season with the program. Garbers is a startlingly elusive runner but really needed to improve his ability going through his reads and not latching on to his first option. Furthermore, he needed to put more zip on his passes and stop underthrowing his receivers downfield. He has worked hard and improved in every aspect of his game, but it is still difficult to tell if he will be good enough to be a Pac 12 calibre starting QB.

Modster’s tape from his few starts at UCLA were more impressive than anything we saw at Cal last season. Cal fans may remember him beating us over the top several times robbing us of a bowl game in 2017 while filling in for injured Josh Rosen. He unveiled a strong, downfield arm with a lot of touch on his deep ball. He is not quite the runner Garbers is, but he is mobile in the pocket and can take off when he needs to. We really will not know much about the competition until Fall Camp when we see if Modster develops a better understanding of Beau Baldwin’s offense.

Rob: I think you’re spot on that its a 2-horse race. BMC will be a huge threat from the Slash position and adds some speed to the offense, which the team missed all of last season. From what we saw at Spring Ball, Garbers has come a long way from last season. It’s clear that his confidence level was at rock bottom and getting a fresh start of a new season looked like it helped him get over the mental struggles of starting as a freshman. He looked to have more confidence with running the offense and was way more comfortable making his reads through the plays. Modster looked sharp despite not playing football for a full year. He made some excellent throws downfield and threw the ball with confidence and velocity. The only issue was he still had no repertoire with the WRs and RBs, and was still in the process of learning the playbook. This summer will have been key for both guys, working the WRs and building up their bodies for the full brunt of a season, which I am positive that Torre Becton did. So all in all this comes down to a battle for the starting job. What do you think we need to see these guys do in Fall Camp that you would name them the starter?

Mike: The news about Brandon McIlwain surfaced after your response, but I will reiterate he is no longer with the team and will center his attention on his baseball career. Really cool development for an incredible athlete and the Bears will miss his explosiveness.

As for the Quarterback situation, I really want to see someone take charge and emerge as a leader in 11-on-11 game situations. I want to see the quarterback make better reads pre and post snap in live settings. Whoever it is, he needs to get us out of running plays when the defense stacks the box and execute better in the RPO game. And obviously, he needs to take care of the football. The player I picture in my head while writing this is Chase Garbers because he is the returning starter. I have been really impressed by his demeanor in the offseason and think he has the right personality to overcome last season’s struggles. This is in no way a diss to Devon Modster who I am equally pulling for because I think he is the better downfield passer. I do not know a whole lot about his personality but hope he has spent this summer grinding because he will receive every opportunity to lead this football team. I also think the staff will make a decision within the first two weeks of fall camp to better prepare the starter. Whoever it is, he needs to look sharp day one.

Rob: It comes down to two things as you said. Can Garbers overcome last season and improve? Can Modster nail down the playbook and chemistry with the playmakers? These two questions is what it boils down to for me. Until we see either on the field, I would have to give the edge to the incumbent just because the staff has made it a point of emphasis that they need to know the playbook to execute on the field rather than raw talent and ability.