California fired longtime head coach Jeff Tedford last year after the Golden Bears finished a disappointing 3-9. California and their new coach Sonny Dykes begin spring practice today and hold their spring game on March 23. Helping us with our California 2013 spring preview is Scott Chong of California Golden Blogs.
You know how a classic country song involves the girl leaving, your truck breaking down, dog dying, and the house burning down? Cal’s season was like that, only perhaps not quite so cheery.
Our Oline should have been improved after a 2nd year with proven coach Jim Michalzick. We had a veteran senior QB, playmakers at the skill position, and a future NFL 1st rounder at wide receiver.
There were some question marks on defense, but great recruiting classes theoretically had us loaded with young talent.
Add in the emotional lift from returning to a renovated Memorial Stadium, and I had thought that the stars were aligned for a nice year.
Instead, the Oline play remained awful and our QB play was inconsistent at best. The defense was decimated by injuries and were often overwhelmed from spending too much time on the field after yet another offensive three and out.
More disturbing than the losses themselves was the way that the team performed. It seemed like more of the same each week with the team killing itself with foolish self-inflicted wounds. We were undisciplined and often appeared confused and unprepared.
At the end of the year, some guys looked like they had checked out mentally. Long story short, going 3-9 when many of us had projected an 8+ win season was thoroughly disappointing. Our AD clearly agreed as she made the tough decision to fire Coach Jeff Tedford after eleven years.
On offense, we have a lot of young talent at wide receiver. Many of them got their feet wet last year and did a really nice job considering their limited experience. We also have several quarterbacks who were highly regarded out of high school vying for the starting job.
On defense, we have one star in the making at safety in Avery Sebastian. My one concern is that he doesn’t hurt himself or any of his teammates because he goes full-out all the time. We also have several talented linebackers with game experience who will create healthy competition as we switch from a 3-4 base to more of a 4-3 look.
On special teams, our kicker, punter, and long snapper had solid campaigns last year and should provide reliability this year.
Perhaps the biggest strength is the sense of optimism and renewed energy that has been brought in by Coach Sonny Dykes and the new coaching staff. They’re preaching simpler schemes with more of an emphasis on execution.
They’ve also made it a point of emphasis to open up every position for competition throughout the entire depth chart, including walk-ons. Whether this translates into better play and team chemistry remains to be seen, but it certainly seems to be a breath of fresh air relative to previous springs that recently seemed characterized by “more of the same.”
We have to replace both starting tackles and our starting center from the Oline. None of the younger linemen distinguished themselves in limited time last year. In fact, the Oline was perhaps the biggest overall weakness for the team. The new Oline coach is very young and has his work cut out to put together a serviceable group with young players.
Both projected starters at running back are out with injury as is our top tight end and top returning wideout. The coach has already joked that he might have to suit up at tailback this spring.
With Steve Williams declaring for the draft, our depth at corner is suspect. We also need to find a serviceable safety to pair with Sebastian. Because of rampant injuries, we have no idea what we’ve got on our Dline…and we’ll be switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3.
Although there’s theoretically a lot of talent at the QB position, until we see someone seize the starting job, this position remains a huge question mark.
It’s bittersweet because I respected Coach Tedford and appreciated what he did for our university. There was a lot of mediocre to bad football played at Cal before he took the reins. The Student-Athlete High Performance Center doesn’t get built and Memorial Stadium doesn’t get renovated without him, no doubt.
However, I was very disappointed about the abysmal APR numbers that happened under his watch despite an oft-stated emphasis on academics. And, it was clear watching the past few years that he had lost his way.
I don’t think that it was for a lack of good intentions or hard work. But, he went away from what made him successful during the first five years and it was reflected on the field by an inconsistent and often disjointed product.
It was a change that needed to be made. Some Cal fans are still complaining about missing out on Chris Peterson or Bob Diaco as a replacement.
But, Coach Sonny Dykes has hit all the right notes early in his tenure. He did an admirable job holding together a decent recruiting class despite the changeover and coming off a 3-9 year. He’s proven to be capable of working with Tony Franklin to put together a potent offense.
There are some question marks with whether he can field a serviceable defense and whether he made the best hires possible for the defense.
And, of course, will he be able to pull off the big win against a ranked opponent. As Cal fans, we don’t expect much. Just beat Stanford and take us to the Rose Bowl. No pressure.
For more California football analysis and commentary you can follow California Golden Blogs on Twitter @GoldenBlogs.