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Spring Football primer: Offense

A lot of key pieces are returning in 2018, but can we move the ball with uncertainty at running back and quarterback?

Weber State v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Spring practice officially begins today for the California Golden Bears!

As you may have noticed, CGB is kind of in shambles right now, so this preview kind of lost the “pre” and is more of a now-view.

And in addition to this post coming out late, it’s also coming out from someone wholly unqualified for this station. You’re in for a ride.

Offensive line


  • Arwin Rahmatpanah
  • J.D. Hinnant

Offensive line arrivals

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
77 Jasper Friis 6-7 330 Fr. HS

Offensive line returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
53 Michael Saffell 6-2 310 So. 1L
56 Jack Beeman 6-4 300 R-Fr. RS
57 Addison Ooms 6-4 305 R-Sr. 3L
58 Semisi Uluave 6-5 350 Sr. 3L
61 Valentino Daltoso 6-4 305 R-So. 1L
64 Gentle Williams 6-3 295 R-So. 1L
65 Tanner Prenovost 6-0 255 R-So. SQ
67 Matt Robinson 6-4 290 R-Jr. RS
70 Poutasi Poutasi 6-4 330 R-Fr. RS
71 Jake Curhan 6-6 340 R-So. 1L
72 Kamryn Bennett 6-3 315 R-Sr. 3L
74 Ryan Gibson 6-2 295 R-Jr. 1L
76 Henry Bazakas 6-6 310 R-Jr. 1L
79 Patrick Mekari 6-4 320 Sr. 3L

Let’s start off with the toughest group for non-experts to analyze: the offensive line.

Despite his old boss at the Oregon Ducks—Chip Kelly—heading down to lead the UC Los Angeles Bruins, our offensive line coach decided that Westwood is not quite good enough for great wood. Highly-regarded coach Steve Greatwood returns for his second year as offensive line coach in Berkeley.

The key here is continuity. Our only loss with notable experience was Hinnant, who spent time as a back-up tackle and played in two or three games— can’t even agree with itself on that. Our starters from last year return with another year in Greatwood’s system and will be building on a year in which they paved the way for 1507 rushing yards and protected QB Ross Bowers as he passed for 3039 yards. There is some room for improvement as our offense only rushed for 3.6 yards per attempt and to protect the quarterback; last year, Bowers had a net of –142 rushing yards through sacks.

Wide receiver


  • Jordan Veasy
  • Alex Netherda (position change)
  • Erik Phillip
  • Chas Peterson
  • Peter Caldwell


Wide receiver arrivals

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
39 Ricky Walker III 5-11 200 R-So. SQ

Wide receiver returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
1 Melquise Stovall 5-9 190 R-So. 1L
2 Jordan Duncan 6-1 205 Jr. 2L
8 Demetris Robertson 6-0 185 R-So. 1L
9 Kanawai Noa 6-0 180 R-Jr. 2L
10 Jeremiah Hawkins 5-8 180 So. 1L
17 Vic Wharton III 5-11 190 R-Sr. 2L
30 Matt Rockett 5-9 190 R-Sr. 2L
39 Evan King 6-3 200 R-Fr. RS
81 Brandon Singleton 6-0 165 R-Jr. 2L
85 Greyson Bankhead 6-0 170 R-So. 1L
88 Taariq Johnson 6-2 220 R-Fr. RS

So tempted to list Melquise Stovall and Demetris Robertson as arrivals after basically missing all of 2017 due to injury. If you’ve forgotten how good Robertson is, here’s a little refresher of him as a true freshman.

Although we have no arrivals to the roster, I think we’re all expecting much more out of this group compared to last year. Losing Stovall and Robertson last year hampered the offense—Robertson especially due to his potential as a deep threat. And singling out Robertson once again (which will be a unique experience for him as defenses usually double-team him), he will especially benefit from another year of practice at the position due to his relative inexperience coming out of high school. Yet despite all this depth, Cal actually decided to further bolster these ranks by switching Ricky Walker III from defensive back to wide receiver this spring.

Last year’s stars—Kanawai Noa and Vic Wharton III—are actually going to have to fight for snaps with Stovall, Robertson, and Jordan Duncan.

Fullbacks and tight ends





Fullback and tight end returnees

Position Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Position Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
TE 11 Ray Hudson 6-3 245 R-Sr. 3L
TE 16 Collin Moore 6-4 230 R-Fr. RS
TE 49 Jake Tonges 6-5 210 R-Fr. RS
TE 80 Jake Ashton 6-4 230 R-Sr. 1L
TE 83 Ben Moos 6-4 230 R-Fr. RS
TE 84 Gavin Reinwald 6-3 225 So. 1L
TE 87 Kyle Wells 6-3 235 R-Sr. 1L
TE 89 Matt Laris 6-3 230 R-So. SQ
TE 94 Trevor Howard 6-3 250 R-Jr. 1L
FB 40 Justin Norbeck 6-0 240 R-Sr. SQ
FB 99 Malik McMorris 5-11 295 Sr. 3L

Again, we have an unofficial “arrival” in the form of Ray Hudson. And again, the return will be a big one. Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin exploits the multifaceted nature of a tight end and how the position is able to uniquely attack defenses. While Gavin Reinwald played bravely last year, he was just a true freshman and a bit undersized for the position (but is now listed as 5 lbs heavier). Last year, the tight ends were coached by special teams coordinator Charlie Ragle; in 2018, Ragle is focused solely on special teams and Baldwin will be leading the tight ends.

And we all know who’s coming back at fullback. Malik McMorris is outright beloved by Cal fans due to his surprising athleticism. As a senior, this is his last year to take a shot at winning the Piesman Award, awarded to the big man who makes the most and best non–big man plays. And beyond the mere novelty of watching a player of McMorris’s size catch passes (and touchdowns) and run the football, he’s more than just a fun little parlor trick. McMorris is truly an integral part of the offense due to his blocking ability.

As with the above two groups, we’re looking pretty solid thanks to returning experience (including returning players whom we missed last year). But now, we move to the more uncertain groups...

Running back


  • Zion Echols (transfer to unknown school)
  • Vic Enwere
  • Fabiano Hale
  • Billy McCrary III (transfer to FCS Abilene Christian)
  • Tre Watson (grad-transfer to unknown school)

Running back arrivals

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
31 Alex Netherda 6-0 215 R-Jr. 2L

Running back returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
26 Biaggio Ali Walsh 5-10 190 R-Fr. RS
28 Patrick Laird 6-0 205 R-Sr. 2L
33 Derrick Clark 5-10 190 R-So. 1L

Enter position of uncertainty #1.

Don’t get me wrong—we’re feeling pretty comfortable with the return of Patrick Laird. Last year, he came out of nowhere to earn Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 recognition, rush for 1127 yards, and score nine touchdowns (eight rushing and one receiving). I certainly expect a bigger year for him in 2018 as he enters Memorial Stadium as the entrenched starter. He’ll be doing a lot of reading in the endzone.

But with five whopping departures, we have no proven experience behind him. Derrick Clark has 10 whole rushes under his belt... and that’s about it. We can see the coaches’ first attempt to remedy the situation by moving Alex Netherda to RB; Netherda is kind of a return to RB as he started his career at this position, moved to receiver, then running back, switched to defense to play safety and linebacker, then moved back to receiver, and now running back once again. What a journey for the Santa Rosa native. I think I need a Family Circus–esque route to track his movement at this point. Netherda did play running back in high school, but it remains to be seen how he’ll perform here at the collegiate level. I consider the competition for back-up between Netherda, Clark, and Biaggo Ali-Walsh to be pretty even at this point.

Further complicating things, the Bears have a new coach at this position. As mentioned in the previous section, Baldwin will no longer be coaching this group. Instead, Cal legacy Burl Toler III was hired by the Bears and will be in charge of the backs. We’ll see how well he integrates into the group and fits Baldwin’s vision.






Quarterback returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
3 Ross Bowers 6-2 190 R-Jr. 2L
5 Brandon McIlwain 6-2 190 R-So. RS
7 Chase Garbers 6-1 205 R-Fr. RS
14 Chase Forrest 6-2 200 R-Sr. 3L

Ah yes. The reason why we’re all here. There may or may not be a reason why I saved this for last.

We have a returning starter who passed for over 3000 yards in Ross Bowers... but fans aren’t even too happy with him as a playmaker due to his 2017 struggles throwing deep or passing in high-pressure situations.

Armchair quarterbacks at home are expecting transfer Brandon McIlwain—who redshirted last year due to NCAA transfer rules—to win the starting job. As a true freshman with the South Carolina Gamecocks in 2016, the dual-threat quarterback threw for 600 yards and rushed for 127 in eight games.

Forrest and Garbers are certainly going to chase after the starting job, but the favorites are likely Bowers (due to his year of experience) and McIlwain (as Baldwin likes employing dual-threat quarterbacks to confuse opposing defenses).

We’ve got great continuity at offensive line, tight end, and receiver—even at starting running back. Expect competitions for who backs up TE Ray Hudson and RB Patrick Laird, but all eyes will be on quarterback. The fans will be overanalyzing every throw, muscle twitch, and tweet for this position group to suss out who will lead the Bears in 2018, but I expect the competition to be tight and even extend into the Fall.

Spring Football starts today at 4 p.m. Football is finally upon us.


Which offensive group will you be following closest this spring?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Offensive line
    (40 votes)
  • 1%
    Tight end and fullback
    (6 votes)
  • 3%
    Wide receiver
    (13 votes)
  • 12%
    Running back
    (41 votes)
  • 70%
    (238 votes)
338 votes total Vote Now