BERKELEY -- California offensive coordinator Tony Franklin likens the three-headed quarterback race to a boxing match. For every haymaker one contestant throws, another lands an uppercut. For every time they tangle up against the ropes, there’s a flurry of teeth-rattling jabs.
“It’s like a championship fight,” Franklin says. “It’s not over ‘till it’s over.”
On Monday, though, head coach Sonny Dykes said that the race was beginning to gain some clarity.
“I’m liking what I’ve seen from all of them, but to me, it looks a little bit like Zach Kline’s starting to get a little bit more settled in,” Dykes said. “I’ve seen him kind of make a move here over the last two practices.”
So far, over two scrimmages, early-enrollee freshman Jared Goff is 18-for-33 for 258 yards and four touchdowns. Kline is 11-for-14 for 223 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt junior Austin Hinder is 10-for-18 for 139 yards with one touchdown pass and one rushing score. Breaking that down even further, that’s a 54.5 completion percentage for Goff, a 78.6 mark for Kline and a 55.6 for Hinder. Goff is averaging 7.81 yards per attempt, Kline 15.93 and Hinder 7.67.
After Saturday’s scrimmage, Dykes said he had started to see the makings of someone who could start to call this team their own.
“His reads are happening a little bit faster, it seems like he’s a little more accurate maybe on his midrange throws than he was,” Dykes said of Kline. “I saw some of that in the scrimmage Saturday, and it carried over to practice today, and I think he’s improved, and is getting better and better. It’s good to see that.”
Over the two scrimmages, per completion for the three are: Goff 14.33, Kline 20.27 and Hinder 13.9. Kline benefits from having one 97-yard TD pass to Joel Willis and a 59-yard strike to Drake Whitehurst skewing his numbers a bit, but that brings up perhaps the biggest point of comparison between him and the other two: Kline takes risks.
Kline is more apt to throw into tight windows than the other two because of his arm strength, and the velocity he can put on the ball. As receiver Bryce Treggs said after Saturday’s scrimmage, he knows that he has to get his hands up quicker when Kline is throwing, because the ball will get on him quicker. In the quick-strike, short passing game, that arm strength is a plus. In the long-bomb vertical game, Kline can put the ball on a receiver in stride at a greater distance than the other two, though he did at times struggle with that on Monday, overthrowing receivers by four to five yards on throws that he has normally made this spring.
Kline’s ability to pop the big play at any time is perhaps his biggest asset, but his propensity to try and fit the ball into tight spots could go either way. During spring ball, in his first true action competing for the starting job, it could be seen as beneficial for Kline to figure out which throws work, and which will get him in trouble. So far, he hasn’t thrown any interceptions, at least in scrimmage action. That experimentation could work in his favor heading into fall camp, but it could also work the other way, as well.
“It helps if the ball is thrown incredibly accurate,” Dykes said. “It’s not good if it’s not, because you want to have your receivers adjust to the ball, and when you throw it really hard, you have to throw it in a perfect location. When you take a little bit off of it, it gives you a little more margin for error. It’s like most things in life: There’s a little bit of give-and-take. If a guy guns the ball all the time, it’s good because receivers are catching balls in some holes and guys are getting the ball quickly, but if it’s not perfectly thrown, then you’re not completing a high percentage of balls sometimes. He’s learning when to gun it and when not to, and I think Jared is doing that, and really Austin is doing that, as well. I think that’s part of progression as a quarterback.”
With Bill Tyndall out for the rest of the spring with a broken ankle, Brian Farley took first reps at right tackle.
“We’re moving some guys around, kind of by committee, honestly, right now,” Dykes said. “We’re not quite sure which direction we’re going to go in yet. We’ll see how it plays out. We’re short on tackles right now, so we’re going to experiment a little bit, move some guys around and see how they respond this week. You’ll probably see four different people lined up at right tackle.
There were a few more wrinkles with the offensive line than just a depth-chart shakeup. At times, the Bears worked with seven offensive linemen, with one set consisting of (from left to right) Matt Williams, Freddie Tagaloa, Jordan Rigsbee, Cochran, Donovan Frazer, Crosthwaite and Christian Okafor.
The second group consisted of Williams, Tagaloa, Steven Moore, Mark Brazinski, Geoffrey Gibson, Okafor and Farley.
“We worked some guys in there a little bit,” Dykes said. “It’s a little bit of a change up for us. When we get some tight ends back healthy, we’ll substitute some of those O-linemen for some tight ends, and tight ends for O-linemen. It’s part of the deal of trying to evaluate who we have, what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses and again, based on Wark not being here all the time because of baseball, and Rodgers has been out for the spring, so we’d like to play with some two-tight end sets, but we haven’t been able to do that a lot. So, basically, we substituted two O-linemen today and accomplished the same goal.”
Cal both passed and ran out of that formation, as well as the diamond formation.
“I thought it was OK,” Dykes said. “I thought [the seven-lineman look] was a good formation for us. Part of that was our defense needed to see some of those looks, and I needed to see some double tights, things we’ll see early in the season next fall. They wanted to see some of that, and we thought it was good for us to get more O-linemen on the field. I think that’s a group that’s been playing pretty good, and getting more and more consistent, so you want to reward those guys by finding ways for them to get on the field and contribute.”
Linebacker David Wilkerson returned to action and had an immediate impact after sitting out several practices with an injury. Wilkerson got on the board in a big way in the first team period, stoning Jonah Hodges on a run up the middle on first-and-goal at the two, holding Hodges to a one-yard gain with a big stick.
“It was good to see him back,” Dykes said. “He had fresh legs and was moving around pretty good. You could tell our bunch was a little tired today. I thought we were a little sluggish, didn’t quite have the same bounce as we’ve been having. It looked like they were a bit worn out.”
Other standouts on defense included Deandre Coleman, who batted down a red-zone pass from Hinder after plowing his way through the left interior of the offensive line.
Defensive tackle Austin Clark saw his first significant action of the spring on Monday. During one-on-ones, Clark turned in a solid rep against first-team center Matt Cochran, fighting the 6-foot-2, 335-pounder to a stalemate for much of the rep until he got up and under Cochran’s shoulder pads and through for a sack. Clark also came up with a strong rep against Alejandro Crosthwaite, ripping his way past the redshirt junior for another sack.
“First kind of contact stuff, but he’s still not completely released, contact-wise,” Dykes said. “He’s been doing some stuff, but this was the first team-setting stuff he’s seen in a while.”
There was decidedly more blitzing from the defense on Monday during team periods, after the defense had kept things largely vanilla through the first 11 practices and two scrimmages this spring.
“I thought it was OK,” Dykes said. “Most of our throws are out pretty quickly. I thought our offensive line picked most of the stuff up OK. They got us a couple of times on some stuff where we were trying to hinge on the back side and we just didn’t have enough numbers to block blitz. But, that’s pretty standard stuff. Defensively, it was good for those guys to blitz a little bit more and cause the offense some issues. It was good to see that bunch be active and moving around.”
Offensive tackle Bill Tyndall was diagnosed with a broken ankle after Saturday’s scrimmage. He will miss the rest of spring, and have surgery on Wednesday, according to Dykes.
“Expect him back for July and as we go into August and fall camp,” Dykes said.
Kameron Jackson did not practice because of a headache.
“We’ll see how he responds on Wednesday,” Dykes said.
19 Bears did not practice on Monday.
“The good thing is that we’re able to come out here and have a functional practice, and look good, in some ways,” Dykes said. “We have a lot of guys out, and a lot of guys that need to get healed up.”