Depth chart signals youth movement

The Bears will need youngsters to supplement core, especially at wide receiver.

It is one thing to see a true freshman atop the depth chart after enrolling early and performing well in spring practice or having a dominant fall camp. It is another thing entirely to see him listed as a starter before ever having set foot on campus.

That is the position punter Cole Leininger is in after the release of California's post-spring depth chart Tuesday, the most visible sign of a youth movement that the Golden Bears will be relying on at several spots this season.

Leininger, from Fruit Cove (Fla.) Bartram Trail, was expected to hold that role from the moment he signed with Cal, replacing three-time All-Conference first-team honoree and third-round draft pick Bryan Anger. But he might not be the only freshman counted on, as is especially evident at wide receiver.

Redshirt freshman Maurice Harris will start opposite his cousin, All-America candidate Keenan Allen, but there are no backups announced behind the pair of 6-foot-3 wideouts.

Cal head coach Jeff Tedford has said often that the Bears will look to play at least two of the five incoming receivers – Bryce Treggs, Cedric Dozier, Chris Harper, Kenny Lawler and Darius Powe – this season, but this is the clearest sign that the scramble is officially on.

Treggs has been continually projected to see the field immediately, a player in the mold of other Pac-12 standouts like Allen, Marquess Wilson at Washington State and the USC duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee that contributed from day one. The son of a coach and former Bear, it is the precise route running Treggs has demonstrated that will put him in that position.

With veterans Allen, running back Isi Sofele and quarterback Zach Maynard anchoring the offense, Cal does have the luxury of working other inexperienced players into the offense while relying on that trio to do most of the heavy lifting. On the other hand, Ohio State and USC will be focused on shutting down Sofele and Allen in difficult September road tests, meaning Harris, sophomore tight end Richard Rodgers and the newcomers will have to make some plays.

That balance of bringing that group up to speed without overloading them will be a tremendous challenge for the coaching staff.

On defense, the eight second-year players are listed in the two-deep, not counting redshirt freshman Jason Gibson, likely to compete with redshirt sophomores Nick Forbes and David Wilkerson at inside linebacker.

The nature of college football has changed dramatically in the past decade, where playing true freshmen has become the norm for elite programs. Oregon and USC have seen impact players contribute to conference championships and BCS bowl wins.

Similar returns could push Cal back to the upper echelon of the Pac-12.

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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