California was the first Pac-12 football program to hold its spring practices and, naturally, the first to conclude those workouts. On Monday, head coach Sonny Dykes and the rest of the conference coaches spoke at length about a wide range of topics, with Dykes in particular taking center stage for the effects that his early practices had on the rest of his spring.
"It gave us a good five-week program in the weight room, where our guys could make some significant gains, get bigger, faster, stronger, obviously, which is really critical," Dykes said. "It gave them an opportunity, too, to take what they learned in the spring and go out on the field and apply it and throw 7-on-7 with individual routes and all that stuff on a daily basis, walk through blocking schemes and defenses and blitzes and adjustments and all that stuff."
With a new offense being installed, brain space was and is at a premium with the current roster, and giving the Bears the chance to get away from it all and get their entire spring break to themselves, without any playbooks and without any required reading.
"The great thing for our players is that it gave them the chance to really get away for a week, go to spring break and relax and get away, and then get back here and really hit the ground running," said Dykes. "Our players have done a great job of organizing themselves and getting out on the field and doing that kind of stuff."
Those workouts have been the province of Cal's three-headed quarterback monster of Zach Kline, Jared Goff and Austin Hinder, who, despite some additional tape review on the part of the staff, are still as close as they were after the spring game, though it does appear, according to those close to the situation, that Goff and Kline are neck-and-neck for the top spot.
"We had a chance to go back and review everything, and really felt similar after reviewing it to how we did after spring ball," Dykes said. "We had three guys who we thought were very different in what they brought to the table, and all three of them were good players. We felt like they were good leaders, were competitive guys, who we feel can handle being the starting quarterback at Cal, and all the stuff that goes along with that. We felt similar after going back and looking at tape. Guys traded days. There were days where you'd walk off the field and say, ‘Zach Kline's the guy,' and then, the next day, you'd go and say, ‘Wow, Jared Goff's the guy,' and then Austin Hinder would make a run. There were always days where they were making moves and getting better and better, but I don't think anybody solidified the position, really, during the spring, and certainly going back and looking at the tape. I think we came away with the same conclusion."
Fall camp – which will start on August 5 – will see a renewal of the quarterback competition, which, Dykes hopes, will be concluded midway through camp.
"As soon as possible. The best thing would be that one of the guys really improves over the summer and really takes over the job a week into camp and we just move on from there," Dykes said. "But, I think we're going to need to make a decision by practice 12, practice 15 probably at the latest. We're hoping somebody's obviously the clear-cut winner."
Dykes vacillated between seeing the three-man race as a good thing and as a bad thing during the conference call, and, admittedly, having three signal-callers battling and making one another better for it could be a plus, but not having a true leader for the offense could be equally as impactful.
"I think I kind of believe in the old adage that if you have two quarterbacks, that really means you don't have any," Dykes said. "If you have three, that means you really don't have any. But, we'll see how it plays out. I hope one of them ends up being really, really good and playing really well, and that the others continue to get better and better and better.
"We have a quarterback competition that plays out from year to year. That's what you'd like to have. Whoever the starter is, you'd like to have the backup constantly right on his heels, nipping, biting and battling, never letting the starter get too settled."
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The one certainty in the quarterback competition will be the fact that none of he three has ever started a college game, with Goff being a true freshman, Kline a redshirt freshman and Hinder being a redshirt junior.
"I think whoever the starter is, is going to go through some growing pains," Dykes said. "They've never started a college football game. But, when you sit down and you say what makes a good college quarterback, those guys certainly possess the qualities. It's going to be up to us to bring out the best in them and put them into situations to be successful. It's going to be up to them to play well, take the job over and be a great leader. I think all three of these guys have what it takes."
While the early start to spring has given the staff extra time to evaluate the tape and get players healthy – Dykes noted that all injured players should be at or close to full strength by the time fall camp starts – it also allowed the staff to get an early jump on spring recruiting, a task into which it has leaped with great gusto.
"I think it gave us the chance to really sit down and evaluate a lot of players, map out where we wanted to go, be more efficient in the way we utilized the spring – the evaluation process that we have for choosing these juniors and recruiting these guys," Dykes said. "I thought that gave us a lot of advantages. It gave guys who were injured during spring some time to get healthy before fall camp starts. I was really pleased with going early. I think it fit our schedule. I think it fit the needs of our kids, as well. I think it's something that we all had some concerns, when we started talking about getting it done that early, but I think that, after it was over, we really liked the early part of spring ball."
That recruiting effort has a very narrow focus. With only about 15 spots for the 2014 class, the staff is focused on bringing in two running backs – a big back and a traditional running back – and as many as five defensive backs.
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"I think when you just sit back and look at our numbers, we've got to recruit two running backs," said Dykes, who jokingly suggested before spring ball that he may have to line up in the backfield due to shoulder surgery limitations for Daniel Lasco, the absence of Brendan Bigelow and the departures of Isi Sofele, Dasarte Yarnway and C.J Anderson. "That's going to be really, really important for us to get more backs in the program. That's a position where guys have a hard time staying healthy through the course of a year, those guys get beat up and it's a physical game, and you've got to have a good stable of running backs. That's important for us."
The defensive backfield was thinned by the graduation of Marc Anthony (drafted 247th overall by the Baltimore Ravens), the early exit of Steve Williams (taken 145th overall by the San Diego Chargers), as well as the graduations of Tyre Ellison and Josh Hill.
"The most important position, I think, is on the back end, at defensive back. It's just that our numbers are not quite where they need to be," Dykes said. "It wasn't really the result of going through spring and having a chance to evaluate guys. The good thing is that most of the scholarship players in our program are guys that we feel like are going to contribute either quickly or down the line. We addressed the offensive line issues we had this past recruiting [cycle]. We needed more numbers on the offensive line, and we went out and signed five kids. When you look at our roster, it's a big deal. Roster management and roster development is a huge deal in college football. The numbers are pretty close to being where they need to be. We're probably going to need to sign five DBs and two running backs and then build a class of other good players around there. Obviously, we'll sign offensive and defensive linemen, but those are the two areas where we have to sign a good crop of players and guys that we think can come in and have a chance to get on the field early."
Dykes Talks QBs, Recruiting, Spring Ball
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