California Football 2014 Spring Wrap Up
The team’s strength is clearly the wide receiver position. They could still use more consistency, but they’re legitimately two-deep at all four positions with starter-level talent.
The biggest question mark is the Dline, specifically defensive tackle. Projected starters Jacobi Hunter (personal reasons) and Mustafa Jalil (knee) didn’t take a single snap of spring ball. If neither of those guys can go, Cal will be relying on a mix of JC transfers, young players, and guys playing out of position.
Collectively, the defense as a whole has to be considered a question mark because there are so many key players recovering from injury. Besides Hunter and Jalil, Cal is also hoping to get back Sione Sina, Hardy Nickerson Jr., Nathan Broussard, Avery Sebastian, and Stefan McClure.
Moving beyond the personnel, it’s also unknown how quickly new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman will be able to resurrect a defense that was historically bad last year. He likes man coverage and favors an aggressive one-gapping scheme in the mold of Jimmy Johnson’s Miami 4-3. Not sure if Cal has the horses to get that done.
Looking back at the offense, the Oline play has to get a lot better, particularly with regards to establishing the running game. There’s a misconception that the Dykes/Franklin “Bear Raid” offense is all about airing it out all the time. They’ve always favored a balanced attack.
Cal was one-dimensional and threw it too much last year out of necessity. But if they’re really going to be improved offensively, especially in the red zone, the big guys will need to establish the ground game.
On offense, Cal needs Steven Moore to hold down left tackle and either Daniel Lasco or Khalfani Muhammed to become an every-down threat at running back.
Wide receiver Trevor Davis sat out last year as a transfer, but he has the speed to be a home-run complement to Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper, and Kenny Lawler.
On defense, Brennan Scarlett is finally back from injury and is circled as Cal’s designed pass-rush specialist at defensive end.
Jalen Jefferson is the most experienced linebacker and one of the Bear’s best cover guys in the slot.
Fan favorite and emotional leader Avery Sebastian was lost early last year due to injury. When he’s healthy, he elevates the play of the entire defense as a safety who thrives in the box for run support or as a blitzer.
I wrote up position group overviews here as part of our spring coverage.
I expect to see improvement on both the offense and defense, perhaps a small step back on special teams because they’re breaking in a new place-kicker.
With another year of experience for Jared Goff, better health and experience for the Oline, and the emergence of one of the young RBs, I’d expect to see a more balanced version of the Bear Raid. Last year, Cal really wasn’t able to play to the strengths of the Dykes/Franklin offense; an uptempo attack that moves the chains with crisp execution and keeps defenses off-balance with plenty of run-pass combination plays.
Defensively, I think that better teaching from the defensive coaches will help as will a simpler scheme that has the guys playing faster and covering single gaps. The emphasis on penetration and getting upfield is a good fit since the Cal defense is relatively under-sized.
However, I still expect Cal to give up their share of big plays. Previous issues of youth/depth/inexperience haven’t necessarily been resolved yet, and the Bears are heavily reliant on several players getting healthy enough to contribute at a high level.
I’m putting the win/loss prediction at 5 wins, +/- 1 depending on how the Oline/Dline issues work themselves out in fall camp.
Scott Chong of California Golden Blogs provided the information for our California Football 2014 Spring Wrap Up. For more Golden Bear football information, commentary and analysis, you can follow Scott on Twitter @kodiakcgb.