BERKELEY, Calif. – Does six practices and one scrimmage represent a large enough sample size to make any definitive statements about a football team? Probably not, as California head coach Sonny Dykes warned that the depth chart set for release Monday will have plenty of “ors” separating players.
But two weeks is enough to at least reevaluate the notions of what was expected coming into spring practice, especially at quarterback. What was expected to emerge as a two-man race between redshirt freshman Zach Kline and redshirt junior Austin Hinder with freshman Jared Goff as a long-shot candidate now finds all three squarely in the mix.
Goff confirmed as much with his strong showing Saturday under live conditions. One of his best plays came on a check-down to Jonah Hodges, which might not seem like much on first glance. The early enrollee rolled to his left, eyes continuing to scan through his reads down the field. With open space in front of him he could have taken off for a nice gain.
Instead, Goff dumped it off to the walk-on running back who took it down to the 1-yard line for a gain of 29. That’s the kind of patience and poise that have been his trademark for the past year, whether it was proving to be one of the nation’s best at the loaded Elite 11 Finals, taking Kentfield (Calif.) Marin Catholic to a CIF state title, or now competing at the college level when he should be preparing for prom.
The logistics of starting a true freshman – earning the respect of upperclassmen and possibility of a rash of transfers by other quarterbacks, among them – would likely require Goff to perform at a level far beyond Kline and Hinder and clearly assert himself as the unquestioned starter. However, it is a possibility that the staff will now have to consider, raising the odds that no starter will be named by the end of the spring.
Do other pre-spring suppositions still stand up?
-The running backs are merely placeholders until Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco return from injury.
True; While Darren Ervin has shown flashes, overall the group has struggled in practice. There have been numerous issues ranging from poor ball security to dropped passes, while during the scrimmage Dykes critiqued their tendency to try and bounce every run to the outside.
When Bigelow and Lasco are ready to go, the dramatic upgrade in talent will be terribly obvious.
-The defensive line represents the weak link on that side of the ball.
False; It took them a couple of series to settle down and stop trying to jump the snap count, but the front four was able to turn the tide by controlling the line of scrimmage. Mustafa Jalil had two sacks and another tackle for loss, looking fully recovered from the knee injury that resulted in his invisible sophomore season. There was also pressure from the edge, a pleasant surprise with Brennan Scarlett and Chris McCain sidelined by injuries and not yet able to show how their athleticism translates moving from outside linebacker to defensive end.
With junior college transfer Kyle Kragen’s relentlessness shining through in practice and an influx of new arrivals in the fall, it looks like Cal will have satisfactory depth to manage a relatively smooth transition to a 4-3 alignment.
-Khairi Fortt is the X-factor at linebacker.
True; The Penn State transfer has not only been a valuable resource for helping bring him teammates up to speed on the nuances of the new defense but has been performing quite well on the outside. It took Fortt a few days to settle in, getting comfortable in his first major action since knee surgery taking back to before his departure from Happy Valley, but his sideline-to-sideline mobility is now back.
He had one of the two turnovers forced Saturday, intercepting Kyle Boehm’s out route throw right at the far left sideline and barely getting his feet down. Paired with Jalen Jefferson, Cal showed the athleticism to cover its own spread without substituting into nickel personnel. That would be a tremendous asset given the current limitations in the secondary.
Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.