The Takeaway: Running Backs

Led by senior Isi Sofele, running back again looks to be a position of major strength, not a surprise considering Cal's recent history.

BERKELEY, Calif. – Spring practice has come and gone, but in the second part of this series, Cal Sports Digest looks at the top three storylines at a given position. Today, the running backs.

Isi Sofele looks ready to build on his impressive 1,322-yard campaign
The Takeaway: What can Sofele do to build on the sixth best single-season rushing tally in school history? Get better, of course.

The redshirt senior did just that throughout the spring, hitting the hole with greater authority than last year, much to the delight of head coach Jeff Tedford. If everything that happened in 2011 did so without a complete understanding of what to do, look out.

Sofele was tremendous taking over as the lead back, carrying the ball 252 times despite being listed at 5-foot-8. He was a true workhorse, which makes his greater understanding of the offense that much more critical. If Sofele can now make the right read say two more times per game, that should be good for an extra first down, dramatically increasing the chances for the offense to be more efficient.

The Golden Bears averaged 28.3 points per game, even with limitations in the passing game. If that number tops 30 next season, a threshold not met since 2008, even with personnel changes on defense, it will give Cal a real chance to finish in the top two in the Pac-12 North.

Sofele will have to be the focal point to do so, with dramatic turnover at receiver and on the offensive line. But with the experience of last season, he has also been able to better prepare his body for the physical toll.

Backup C.J. Anderson has done the same, cutting more than 10 excess pounds. That duo should be among the best in the conference.

Versatility and depth at the position will be put to good use
The Takeaway: Without any true fullbacks available this spring, coaches make it a point to give every tailback a crash course working there, the same at slot receiver because of a lack of numbers.

That experience will give the Bears opportunities to get Sofele, Anderson and redshirt junior Dasarte Yarnway all on the field at the same time.

They will be critical given the lack of game experience out wide, offering quarterback Zach Maynard reliable options in the passing game while freshmen receivers get up to speed. It also creates more ways to get them carries.

Finally healthy, Yarnway's versatility was on display in the spring game as he caught passes and carried the ball from multiple positions. Anderson too has enough size and receiving skill to be deployed across the field.

At a time when the fullback has been largely erased by the adoption of spread offenses and related concepts, Cal could rely on it in a big way.

The future continues to be exceedingly bright at running back
The Takeaway: It is almost inconceivable that a year ago there were major question marks about whether Cal could produce yet another standout feature back. In retrospect, it is like asking could Pixar produce another hit animated motion picture or Jay-Z another hit record?

The convergence of philosophy, scheme, and talent under Tedford has churned out a consistently effective running game, dating back to Joe Igber in 2002. The only way one player wasn't going to produce big numbers was injury or complete collapse of the offense.

Really the question should have been would it be Sofele or someone else. With Sofele and Anderson set to graduate at the end of this year, the question will be who's next.

Based on the progress sophomore Brendan Bigelow and redshirt freshmen Daniel Lasco and Darren Ervin showed this spring, any one could be the next star.

Bigelow was especially impressive as he got more comfortable running on his twice surgically repaired knee and working in the Bears' offense. He could be the third option at tailback this season, providing a glimpse into the future.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.


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