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2018 Cal Football Preview: Running Backs

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Pat Laird, MVP, leads a talented but untested group of RBs

NCAA Football: Oregon State at California Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Last year’s rushing and receiving splits for the California Golden Bears:

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Rk Player Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
1 Patrick Laird 191 1127 5.9 8 45 322 7.2 1 236 1449 6.1 9
2 Vic Enwere 101 377 3.7 5 5 37 7.4 0 106 414 3.9 5
3 Ross Bowers 60 -142 -2.4 3 60 -142 -2.4 3
4 Tre Watson 17 83 4.9 0 5 31 6.2 0 22 114 5.2 0
5 Derrick Clark 14 46 3.3 0 1 4 4.0 0 15 50 3.3 0
6 Zion Echols 13 17 1.3 0 5 17 3.4 0 18 34 1.9 0
7 Malik McMorris 6 13 2.2 0 5 39 7.8 1 11 52 4.7 1
8 Demetris Robertson 2 40 20.0 1 7 70 10.0 0 9 110 12.2 1
9 Jeremiah Hawkins 2 0 0.0 0 8 70 8.8 0 10 70 7.0 0
10 Chase Forrest 2 -4 -2.0 0 2 -4 -2.0 0
11 Dylan Klumph 1 3 3.0 0 1 3 3.0 0
12 Vic Wharton 1 -5 -5.0 0 67 871 13.0 5 68 866 12.7 5
13 Kanawai Noa 56 788 14.1 4 56 788 14.1 4
14 Jordan Veasy 38 491 12.9 6 38 491 12.9 6
15 Brandon Singleton 14 141 10.1 0 14 141 10.1 0
16 Gavin Reinwald 11 104 9.5 0 11 104 9.5 0
17 Jordan Duncan 10 120 12.0 1 10 120 12.0 1
18 Kyle Wells 1 2 2.0 1 1 2 2.0 1
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 7/31/2018.

Removing the rushing stats for Ross Bowers (which are muddled since they combine runs and sacks into one number), we have 350 rushing attempts for a pace of 29.16 per game. Patrick Laird averaged 18.8 rushes per game in the 10 games where he had significant carries. This means Cal has to find 10.36 carries per game from the returning RBs (Derrick Clark, Biaggio Ali Walsh, and Alex Netherda) as well as the dynamic freshmen (Christopher Brown Jr., and Johnny Adams Jr.), and the dynamic JC transfer Marcel Dancy.

With ~64% of production in touches and yards returning with Laird, the field is wide open for a newcomer to the field. And despite the lack of past college-level production, there is a lot potential waiting to step on the field and fill in that 36%. Though there isn’t much gametime experience past Patrick, there is plenty of depth when it comes to athleticism, talent, and scheme fit. There are many avenues the team can take: we can rely on the players who have been in the system in Ali-Walsh, Clark, and Netherda or on the newcomers in Brown Jr., Adams Jr., and Dancey—who has a more developed body coming in from the JC ranks.

Patrick Laird, MVP, #28

Patrick Laird’s first set of runs for Cal were in 2014 against Sacramento State: 3 Runs, 6 yards, 2 YPC. He remained on the roster, without a scholarship, until the summer of 2017 as a third-string RB behind a duo of highly-recruited, former-4* RBs in Tre Watson and Vic Enwere. Now in 2018, he enters the season as the starter for Cal. He is the fourth-leading returning rusher in yards for the Pac-12.

After the injury to Tre Watson against Weber State, Patrick Laird took lead as the RB above then-Sr. Vic Enwere. This was due to his versatility as a rusher and receiver. Laird accumulated 45 receptions and 191 rushes, meaning 19% of his touches came through the air; comparatively, Vic had 5 receptions and 101 rushes for 4.7% of his touches being aerial).

This versatility will probably play a bigger role in the 2018 season as the offense has a year to mature under Baldwin. A good sign in the first few games for Cal would be Laird running more types of routes (he ran wheel and angle routes well in 2017) as well as split out from the RB position into the slot to give the offense more options from similar formations.

Derrick Clark, #33

A Redshirt Sophomore and former 3* recruit from San Diego, Clark is going to step into the battle for the back-up role. He has only 15 runs from scrimmage for 50 yards. Most of his plays came against Stanford and Washington State; in the latter case, it was due to Patrick Laird’s injury.

In high school he played QB/RB where he ran from both the power I and shotgun formations. He was rarely tackled on first contact and always tried to do his best to break tackles or juke would-be tacklers. On 1:35 of the above highlight, we can also see that he is willing and able to take on the run-blocking role and level the OLB with a well-timed block.

He looks to add a similar type of player as Laird.

Biaggio Ali-Walsh, #26

Redshirt Freshman, the former 3* RB from Las Vegas, Nevada. He has no college statistics. As a high-school recruit from the national powerhouse Bishop Gorman HS, he averaged a ludicrous 11.4 YPC as he ran for 4508 yards.

The first play from the highlight showcases his speed. The safety (#5) has a 15-yard headstart on Ali and fails to get a good angle on the runaway RB. A lot of his highlight plays are simply because he was able to take advantage of the daylight ahead of him and burst through with his speed. He could be the home-run hitter Cal needs to add some explosiveness in the offense.

Alex Netherda, #31

The Redshirt Junior walked on the team in 2015 and since has bounced between the RB room and the DB room finally settling in as a RB for the Bears. Most of his statistical production came as a special teamer and looks to continue to produce in this phase of the game.

Johnny Adams Jr., #32

The incoming 3* RB out of Indianapolis, Indiana brings outstanding rushing and pass-catching talent to the Cal offense. A lot has been discussed about the possible contributions by him and his co-RB from this class (Chris Brown Jr.) as True Freshmen or as Redshirt Freshmen benefiting from the new redshirting rule.

Not only was Adams a standout on the football field, but also as a track athlete and rivals camp attendee (RB MVP). As a pure athlete, he has the tools necessary to succeed in the Pac-12. According to his hudl page, he runs a 4.41 40-yard dash, a 4.16 shuttle, and a 11.14 100-meter dash with a 32 vertical. Based on the first three measurements, he is faster and more agile than the average RB attending the NFL combine and is within a standard deviation of explosiveness—please note that we’re comparing a high schooler with potential NFL draftees.

I think that has the season progresses, Adams will work his way to the rotation and will start next season above Clark and Ali-Walsh.

Chris Brown Jr., #34

Another incoming RB from 3* RB from Oceanside, CA. Chris Brown is what I would call “an absolute unit, what a lad” at 6’1” 220 lbs. Brown is the largest RB despite being a freshman; Alex Netherda comes in second at 215 lbs. He also qualified to the California State Meet as a long jumper, which suggests that despite his size, he has explosiveness and lower-body strength in spades. This shows on his high-school tape [see game by game highlights here], where he would bulldoze in pass-protection or run through arm tackles.

I think that Brown, like Adams, will make significant contributions as a true freshman by providing the offense with a bruiser and a proficient pass-blocker from the backfield. Though not as large as the 240-lb Vic Enwere, he looks to fill the role of thunder for the RB room.

Marcel Dancy, #29

A friend of Marshawn Lynch and an alumnus of Laney CC (where former Cal RB and Super Bowl champion CJ Anderson played). In 11 games in his last season at Laney, he accrued 1033 yards on 6.8 YPC and 12 TDs and 22 receptions for 241 yards and 3TDs.

During his time at Laney, he showed speed and decisiveness with the ball in his hands. On many plays, he would use his lateral agility to bounce outside and outrun pursuing LBs, demolishing angles of pursuit.