CULVER CITY, Calif. -- While California head coach Sonny Dykes has yet to see tailback Brendan Bigelow suit up for anything more than a uniform unveiling, he knows that the junior playmaker could very well be key to the Golden Bears' 2013 season, after finally being a full-go following knee meniscus surgery sidelined him for spring.
"You watch the Ohio State game last year, and you go, ‘Wow, this guy's pretty special,'" Dykes said. "Then, he disappears, for whatever reason. You don't really know. Maybe it was, he wasn't healthy, or maybe he didn't grasp the offense or whatever. We're at a little bit of a disadvantage, because we didn't have him in the spring."
Sophomore wide receiver Bryce Treggs, for his part, said in no uncertain terms that he wanted Bigelow to get more touches last season.
"That's a first down every time he touches the ball," Treggs said. "I think he should have gotten a lot more carries last season, but that's just my opinion. I think he's going to open up the passing game. Once we establish the passing game, that's going to open more windows for him. We're going to work collectively to make each other successful."
Dykes tempered expectations a bit, saying that Bigelow was still "an unknown commodity," but the tape – and Bigelow's 9.8 yards per touch – speak for themselves.
"He's a hard guy to not be excited about," Dykes said.
Freshman running back Khalfani Muhammad is expected to play at least some sort of role in the offense, though he did not know yet if the state 100m champion will be a situational athlete.
"We hope so," Dykes said. "Part of it is how quickly he picks things up, if he can stay healthy, how well he catches the ball. Those are all things we think we know the answers to, but we don't. We know he's very fast, and that he's not very big, and he's a nice kid. Other than that, I don't know much."
Outside receivers will not flip-flop sides of the field. Bryce Treggs (X) will be on the left and Chris Harper (Z) will be on the right.
Treggs said that he and the receivers were able to learn the whole offense in a mere 15 minutes, and that there are only 20 signals each of them have to know when looking to the sidelines.
"There was not once [in summer] when anyone ran the wrong route," Treggs said.
In contrast, last season, Treggs said, there was still installation of plays going on during Thursday practices – two days before a game.
"That was kind of confusing for us young guys," Treggs said. "We didn't really like it."
Jeffrey Coprich -- who got reps at running back during the spring – is likely to see some sort of role, but how big, Dykes is unable to say.
"He's not very big, but he's an explosive, fast guy," Dykes said. "I liked his toughness in the spring. He's not very big, but I thought he played tough and ran tough. He had some ball security issues he needs to get worked out. He had more fumbles than he needed to. He's fast. He's elusive. He catches the ball pretty well coming out of the backfield. He gives us a little bit of depth back there, at running back. He'll be battling for playing time with several other guys."
Darren Ervin will also be in the mix in the backfield, Dykes said.
"The more consistent backs we have," Dykes said, "the better off we're going to be. In college football, now, when I was at Arizona, the best year we finished, we had our third-team tailback. One year, we finished with our fourth-team, and the other year we finished with our sixth-team [tailback], and that's just the nature of that position."
Offensive tackle Bill Tyndall will be slowed by an injured hand (suffered at the end of spring ball) early in fall camp, but Dykes said that he will be "ready to go by Week One."
As for the rest of the offensive line, it's one of Dykes's main priorities this fall.
"We want to come up with five that we feel good about, and then develop a backup center we feel good about, a backup guard we feel good about and a backup tackle we feel good about," Dykes said. "If we can get eight guys that we think we can win with, then we'll be in a good spot. I don't know if I've ever been anywhere where we had eight we felt great about. Typically, you have four you feel pretty good about and the rest of them, you're like, ‘Eh, I dunno.'"
One of Dykes's main concerns is the lack of experience along the front. Other than left guard Jordan Rigsbee and right guard/center Chris Adcock, no other lineman on the two-deep has any starts under their belts, save for Tyndall's five.
"That's the one position on the field where experience has so much to do with your performance," Dykes said. "So, that's scarry. We don't have a ton of experience. We think, from a talent standpoint and a work ethic standpoint, we're in a good spot. We've got to continue developing toughness and strength, and that will be a little bit of a process."
Dykes said of projected starting left tackle Freddie Tagaloa that he underwent "a great transformation in the spring," and by the end, was relying on doing things "the right way," as opposed to just using his size to toss opponents around. Dykes mused that Tagaloa could probably throw Muhammad a few yards using just one hand, if he didn't rip the 5-foot-7 tailback's arms off in the process.
Last season, the Bears allowed 33 sacks – the most in the conference. Dykes said that sacks aren't just on the offensive line, but on the quarterback and the coaching staff, as well.
"I always think a third of the sacks go on the coaching staff, by asking someone to do something they can't do," Dykes said. "A third of it goes on the quarterback, and a third of it goes on the offensive line, because those are the three [groups] that, in my estimation, really control it. If you're throwing the ball 60 times a game and your quarterback's getting hit 25 times a game, you've got to rethink what you're doing as a coach: Maybe this isn't the best position to be putting these linemen and this quarterback in."
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