With spring football practices complete, its a natural time to assess where things stand for Pac-12 teams as they head into summer, and look ahead to fall, since the first games are exactly 100 days away today.
We got together with the guys from down at California Golden Blogs for an update on how the Bears look after one of their worst seasons led to the replacement of long time coach Jeff Tedford by Sonny Dykes, who is the latest disciple of both spread offenses, and defenses designed to deal with them, to come into the Pac-12. Spring ball brought the introduction of the "Bear Raid" offense, which Oregon St. will get a first hand look at when the Beavers visit Memorial Stadium in Berkeley for the first time since it's remodel on October 19.
Leon Powe and Kodiak have some great thoughts on how golden the Bears may or may not be at this point.
1. What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?
Leon Powe: Most important question remains unanswered and that's who is going to be passing the ball in the Bear Raid offense. Coach Dykes was quoted as saying "when you have 3 quarterbacks, you really have none" and that's where we're at right now. I think the other question I had after the disastrous year the offensive line had last year was if this season could be better - but with the installation of a completely new system with new coaches, I think its difficult to reach any conclusions after a single spring season.
2. Describe the major changes coming our way in the fall that new coach Sonny Dykes has installed.
Leon Powe: Where Tedford wanted his offenses to be multiple and he had many many many counters and options and formations, Dykes has drastically cut the number of plays and focused on execution, preferring to do a few things well. Jury's still out on our ability to execute, but reports from camp point to a much pared down play book where players can get the ball in space and go.
3. What players emerged on offense this spring? On defense?
Kodiak: A lot of key skill players were out with injury this spring. Bryce Treggs stepped up as an undisputed starter at wide receiver. Another surprise was the ascent of redshirt frosh Matt Cochran to the starting center position over an older (if not more experienced) Mark Brazinski. In the Dykes/Franklin offense, the center makes all the calls at the line of scrimmage, so this is a potentially big deal.
On defense, Nick Forbes was solid inside as our starting middle linebacker and Avery Sebastian was flying around out there at safety. Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt looked recovered from a knee injury which prevented him from suiting up last year and played well enough to be listed as a starter at OLB.
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
Leon Powe: Our two key questions - QB and offensive line still hadn't solidified so I'd say we have to look to solve those first before we do anything. Also health - we didn't have a lot of nominal starters in spring ball as people were healing.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
Kodiak: Middle of the pack until proven otherwise. It's a tough schedule and all the other teams in the Pac-12 north appear to have stayed strong or gotten better. We're breaking in new systems on both sides of the ball including 3/5 starters on the Oline and a new starting QB who hasn't taken any college snaps. Even though there's excitement over how Dykes/Franklin will re-invigorate our offense, there's got to be tempered realism that it'll take a year or two for the team to adjust and start fulfilling its potential.
6. If the Bears don't have much success this fall with a new system and a very tough schedule, how long does Coach Dykes have to get things going?
Leon Powe: Depends on just how bad we look losing. If we look like its just a few execution corrections and not a systemic breakdown he probably has a 3-5 year leash. If academic problems hold over and we look sloppy and undisciplined on the field, that least becomes a lot shorter.
7. Any freshmen or other newcomers you can't wait to get on campus?
Kodiak: Khalfani Muhammad is a 4* speedster at tailback that Dykes has already talked about getting on the field early. We're hoping for another big-play threat to complement Bigelow and Lasco. Kyle Kragen enrolled early in the spring. He's a JC transfer who has already impressed coaches with his pass-rush ability. Ever since Zach Follett graduated, we really haven't had a player off the edge who could consistently threaten the opposing quarterback. We've had to generate pressure by blitzing linebackers which put a lot of pressure on our secondary.
Speaking of which, we have very little depth at corner and especially at safety. It's likely that a true frosh will need to play early in our nickel and dime packages. Cameron Walker, Darius Allensworth, and Trey Cheek will all get a look.
8. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fulfill those shoes?
Leon Powe:The question of Keenan Allen is a divisive one amongst the Cal fanbase. Almost everyone acknowledges his talent and he was probably the second best receiver here in the last decade (behind Desean Jackson) but some fans view his "family connections" as reason why Zach Maynard was given a very long leash, where other quarterbacks would've been benched earlier. But he was damn good.
Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper had decent freshmen seasons, so maybe I'll backtrack on missing KA21, not because he wasn't our best player, but because we have kids ready to step up and in. Instead I think with our combination of lack of defensive back depth and losing two corners to the NFL (Marc Anthony and Steve Williams) I'm going to say our corners are our biggest loss from last season.
9. Any specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
Leon Powe: Boy I hope Richard Rogers (TE) and Brendan Bigelow (RB) are both healthy (they were injured in the spring) If so, that's two really elite level talents.
10. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
Leon Powe: Bigelow. Let's take a trip down memory lane:
Coach Dykes has said it is going to be a priority to get this guy the ball in space. Something which Tedford didn't do a good enough job with last season.
11. What does California have to do to challenge not only Stanford, but also Oregon, or USC, for that matter, to become the center of attention in California, and atop the conference?
Leon Powe: One of the quarterbacks is going to have to be equal to his recruiting hype. Maybe Kline. and
the offensive line is going to have to be able to protect. We have the skill players, but we lost games in the trenches and with sloppy mistakes.
12. With not only your starting qb Zach Maynard, but also now his backup, Allan Bridgford, gone, who among freshmen Zach Kline and Jared Goff and junior Austin Hinder is going to emerge as the starter? More importantly, do you think that will be the right choice? And did Coach Dykes handle the qb situation correctly? It seems there could be hard feelings and other concerns that could affect future recruiting.
LeonPowe: Not being in practices its difficult for me as a fan to have a very strong opinion, but I'm kind of hoping its Kline who is a recruited wonder boy and so expectations for him are very high. Reports out of spring were that Goff had the best understanding of the offense (his high school also ran a version), Kline had the best arm, and Hinder had the best wheels.
13. What Pac-12 rival game are you most looking forward to this fall?
Leon Powe: It's always Stanfurd.
14. Is there enough money left now that a settlement was reached with ex-Coach Tedford to buy Oski a new sweater? Or will he have to wait for Memorial Stadium to be paid off?
Leon Powe: Oski HAS a new sweater! It's blue. We at California Golden Blogs think its bad luck though.
Thanks to Leon and Kodiak for their insights! It's sure to be interesting when we go to Berkeley this fall.