With Fall Camp nearly upon us, it's time for BearTerritory to break down the positional battles that – for the first time in years – fans of California football will be able to see, in-person, at Memorial Stadium.
Leading us off as we go unit-to-unit, position-by-position, is the most important position on the field for the Golden Bears, the one position that can make this offense truly sing and dance: Quarterback.
6-foot-4, 200 pounds
As a recruit: Three-star prospect, No. 34 quarterback, member of the Elite 11, U.S. Army All-American.
6-foot-4, 185 pounds
As a recruit: Early-enrollee this spring, four-star prospect, No. 21 quarterback, member of the Elite 11, Semper Fidelis All-American.
6-foot-2, 210 pounds
As a recruit: Early-enrollee in the spring of 2012, four-star prospect, No. 4 quarterback, member of the Elite 11, Under Armour All-American, Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year.
THE SITUATION: For the first time since before Jeff Tedford first arrived in Berkeley (even Reggie Robertson had four games of prior experience when he lost the job to Aaron Rodgers in 2003), Cal's starting quarterback will -- without a doubt -- be a player with not a single snap of Division I game experience. Allan Bridgford left partway into spring camp, leaving the three leaders, as well as wildcat option Kyle Boehm, to slug it out for the job in the fall. The top three mentioned above were the top three at the end of spring camp, and according to head coach Sonny Dykes – heading into his first fall camp after replacing Tedford – those will be the three that will contend for the starting job.
Whoever wins the job will be guiding a whole new offense. Kline's and Hinder's experience under Tedford's old offense will have no impact. Both of them started learning the system at the same time as newcomer Goff, putting all of them at the exact same level of understanding. What that gives us is the purest competition one could hope for: It'll all be based on talent, not service time.
TALE OF THE TAPE: Kline has the gun. Hinder has the legs. Goff's arm strength is not as impressive as Kline's, and his legs aren't as much a part of his game as Hinder's, but he throws better than the latter and runs better than the former.
The Bear Raid offense depends on speed, timing and efficiency. Kline has the edge on the shorter throws because of the kind of velocity he can get on the ball, and he's shown a great knack for fitting the ball into tight windows. Kline also has the edge on down field throws because of that arm strength, but this offense doesn't rely on stretching the field.
Goff is not the gambler or the gunslinger that Kline is. Instead, he's more deliberate and tends to play things safe. He won't try to fit the ball into tight windows like Kline will, and will instead pull the ball down and run if he doesn't see a sure thing. While Kline didn't throw many picks in the spring – despite his tendency to gamble – as a freshman quarterback, he's bound to try and overstep his bounds at times and could get burned. That won't happen nearly as much with Goff, all things being equal.
Both Tony Franklin and Sonny Dykes have said that they would ideally like to have a more mobile signal-caller run this offense, which would seem to favor Goff over Kline. However, this offense is flexible, above all else, and last season at Louisiana Tech, it turned out a 1,000-yard rusher as well as a 4,000-yard passer.
"Our whole deal is, ‘Let's find some grass,' so it depends on where the defense gives you grass or how you create grass," says Franklin. "Sometimes you can create grass deep down the field by lining up in a power set and running the football, and when you get the match-up that you want if you have a really good receiver, you can throw the ball down the field. You can do the same thing to throw the ball in the middle of the field in the linebacker lanes, and that's using play-action and crossing routes where you make the linebacker flip his hips one way and you have a guy behind him the other way. It's not something that I do, to say that we're going to throw the ball over the middle. The main thing is that we just want to throw the ball successfully, so wherever it is that we can create grass, that's what we'll take."
In fact, Franklin says, most of the quarterbacks he's had in this offense "have not been runners."
"Most of our quarterbacks have been guys that were good athletes, but not great runners," he says. "I've had a couple of pretty good runners at some of my stops, and Sonny's been places where, most of the time, they haven't been good runners. That's something that you just adjust it to what they can do. If the guy's a great thrower, can move well in the pocket, then you adjust to that. If the guy can run, then you adjust to that."
What does that mean for what – by all accounts – is really a two-man race between Kline and Goff?
Conventional wisdom says that if you have two players at the same position who are of equal talent, but different ages, you go with the younger player because he has more upside. This offense – and this staff, for that matter – are anything but conventional. That said, Goff made the top group for a reason: He hung with more experienced signal callers throughout spring, and beat out a QB with starting experience (Bridgford) and redshirt sophomore Boehm. The fact that Kline wasn't able to separate himself enough during the spring from the fresh-faced Goff speaks volumes about the simplicity of the scheme and Goff's talent.
Because the Bears will play out of the shotgun up to 99% of the time, according to Franklin, a quarterback's height doesn't factor into the equation, and we've seen that bear itself out with the offer and commitment of Luke Rubenzer, who's under six feet. It also erases the 2-3-inch height gap between Kline and Goff.
WHO GETS THE NOD AGAINST Northwestern?
Observers of summer workouts – including skeleton work, 7-on-7 competition and routes-on-air – said in mid-July that Kline has distanced himself from the pack. I think Goff – because of his versatility – may be a better fit for this offense in the long term, but Kline's arm is exceedingly rare, and wasting it would be a crime, especially if naming Goff the starter causes Kline to bolt for another Pac-12 program. This, however, is not a decision that should be made out of fear. Kline may not be a typical mobile quarterback, but he'll move if he's chased. He can also move the pocket and slide around within the pocket.
When it comes to intangibles, Kline and Goff are both exceptional leaders, but they lead in completely different ways. Kline is a rah-rah, Brett Favre-type quarterback who wears his emotions on his sleeve and is possessed of a boundless reservoir of enthusiasm. Goff is cool, calm, collected and understated. He leads through quiet confidence and a steady demeanor. The decision really comes down to what personality this team has, and which QB is a better match for that personality. The staff itself is a high-energy, overflowing-passion-bucket group, and if that filters down through the rank and file, then Kline is the best fit -- a quality which Dykes has routinely cited as paramount in everything from personnel decisions to recruiting.
If Kline has indeed surged ahead, then once the bullets start flying in fall camp, his experience with the team, his additional year in the weight room and his year of going to class and traveling to road games will only enhance that lead. He'll be used to the day-to-day grind of being a Division I football player, and Goff will just be getting his sea legs.
In the final analysis, our pick to take the helm of the Bear Raid on Opening Day is Zach Kline.