The Takeaway: Wide Receivers

Redshirt freshman Maurice Harris and several newcomers at receiver must take advantage of the defensive attention that will surely be focused on All-America candidate Keenan Allen.

Spring practice has come and gone, but in the third part of this series, Cal Sports Digest looks at the top three storylines at a given position. Today, the wide receivers and tight ends.

With Keenan Allen sidelined, Cal got a glimpse of the future
The Takeaway: Keenan Allen is an immense talent, a future first-round draft pick. As good as he is, he might be underrated simply because the Pac-12 is loaded with outstanding receivers.

All-America and All-Conference honors might be one and the same this season, with USC returning its dynamic duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, the best pairing in college football, while the prolific Marquess Wilson of Washington State will now be playing in Mike Leach's Air Raid spread offense.

With his half-brother Zach Maynard at the controls of the Golden Bears passing attack, Allen will have every opportunity to state his case as one of the best in the game.

But an ankle injury kept the junior out of spring practice, leaving the offense in the hands of cousin Maurice Harris. Sharing a similar skill set at 6-foot-3, Harris demonstrated plenty of promise, capped by seven catches for 95 yards and a touchdown in the open scrimmage.

The redshirt freshman has remarkable athleticism, making leaping catches a common sight at Witter Rugby Field. The challenge was getting him ready for game conditions, ironically allowing him to benefit from limited numbers at the position because it increased the available reps.

If Harris can demonstrate the necessary consistency, he could take advantage of the immense defensive attention that will surely be focused on Allen.

The timing's right to count on freshmen receivers contributing
The Takeaway: Not that long ago, relying on a receiver just a few months removed from prom and senior ditch day was inconceivable. Now it happens all the time; you just better have someone special.

Allen and DeSean Jackson certainly fit that mold, posting 46 and 38 catches respectively in their first seasons.

Bryce Treggs is likely to become the next five-star recruit to make an immediate impact for the Bears, but several other newcomers could see playing time this season because of attrition.

A combination of factors has led to the rising number of freshmen to deliver from day one. High schools and private trainers placing a greater emphasis on weight training and core strength have developed 18 and 19-year olds capable of physically matching up with veterans. The passing game is far more advanced and refined starting at an earlier age, giving them the knowledge to attack and beat defensive schemes. 7-on-7 tournaments and passing leagues have dramatically increased the number of reps they come into the college ranks with.

It is easy to see Cal finding someone capable of stepping into the role of a No. 3 or 4 receiver or special teams contributor. The real excitement will be seeing if there is a superstar like Sammy Watkins or Lee capable of supercharging the Bears offense arriving this summer.

Richard Rodgers could be the tight end unlike any the Bears have had recently
The Takeaway: Cal has had plenty of productive tight ends of late – Craig Stevens, Cameron Morrah, and Anthony Miller among them – but never a game-changer in the mold of Tony Gonzalez since the two-sport star was making his name in Berkeley. But while Gonzalez ushered in a new era of pass catchers at the position throughout the NFL and Pac-10, the Bears haven't had one capable of really creating mismatches.

The big sophomore Rodgers might change all that. He can be that weapon too big for corners to defend, too fast and physical for safeties and linebackers. He can be more than a mere outlet for Maynard, though he can serve that role effectively while the young receivers get up to speed.

His background as a high school wideout is notable, as it should give him a better understanding of the route tree and concepts than your average tight end at this stage of his career. Rodgers did just that throughout spring practice, making plenty of acrobatic catches.

Cal's running game should be spectacular once again, creating play-action opportunities down the seams where Rodgers should be the beneficiary.

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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