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After hours upon hours of interviews over two media days, where do we stand on California’s top 10 storylines heading into fall camp? Let’s take a look at the first five story lines. Come back later today for the second five, and then for practice at 3:30 pm at Memorial Stadium.
MORE SEASON PREVIEWS
Bay Area Media Day: Swagger Games, Depth and Remembrance
Williams: Doing the Job
Pac-12 Media Day: Sonny, McLovin and McClure
FEATURE: The Doctor Is In
Preseason Depth Chart
1. Wide receivers galore: Sophomore quarterback Jared Goff said it best: “Best in the conference, if not the country. They’re a group of studs.”
It’s hard to disagree. California returns Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs, Maurice Harris, Darius Powe, Kenny Lawler, James Grisom, Bryce McGovern and Stephen Anderson, while adding speedy outside threat Trevor Davis, who redshirted last season due to his transfer from Hawaii.
For those playing the home game, that means the Bears return 233 of 287 catches made by receivers last season, 2,609 of 2,855 receiving yards and 17 of 20 touchdowns.
“Sometimes, you go, ‘Can I have just one of these guys I can focus on?’ but, no. I mean, they’re all great,” Goff said. “They all understand that they all can’t get the ball every play. I’m excited to get to throw. I’m so lucky to get to throw to one play, Chris Harper, the next play, Kenny Lawler, the next play, Bryce Treggs. It can go on and on for seven, eight guys, we’re so deep. I think we’re two-deep at every position, with NFL talent, honestly. It’s crazy.”
Top-four prediction? Harper, Treggs, Davis and Anderson, with Lawler and Harris pushing hard to be in that group.
2. What will the run game look like? Last year, the Bears got a bit thin at running back, as Daniel Lasco was never 100% healthy during the course of the year, Brendan Bigelow was shifted to inside receiver, and Jeffrey Coprich and Darren Ervin were pressed into service. Lasco enters 2014 on the Doak Walker Award Watch List, and behind him will be Khalfani Muhammad and a pair of freshmen in speedy Tre Watson and battering ram Vic Enwere.
Enwere certainly looks the part, and has impressed during summer sessions with the offense, but can he continue to impress with pads on? That will be one of the big questions of camp.
“We should have a good stable, yeah, with about four or five deep there,” Goff said. “I think Vic’s, I mean, he’s big. He’s huge. I can see him being more of a power guy. I haven’t watched enough film on him, just from what I’ve seen on the field. Vic’s a very strong, powerful guy. He’s similar to Lasco, I think, but a little bigger, but they’re both big, strong dudes who can run downhill, and I think Khalfani’s obviously the fastest kid on our team, if not in the state of California. He can fly. Tre is kind of a mixture. He’s fast, but I think he’s strong, too. He’s got good moves, and Jeff Coprich, you saw what he did in the spring. He brings something to the table, as well.”
Watson’s record of big numbers against stiff competition at Corona (Calif.) Centennial certainly gets Goff to perk up.
“Very encouraging,” he said. “A guy like that, in a league like they play in, they play in a tough league, and if you’re going to put numbers up like that, that’s very encouraging.”
Lasco has gotten a lot of hype, and it’s justified. The rare combination of speed, size and power, the redshirt junior rushed for 317 yards on 67 carries with two touchdowns, while playing in just eight games. Now completely healthy, he could give the running game the hard-nosed edge it needs.
Towards the end of last season, when the offensive line was able to solidify, Cal finally was able to put together a consistent running game, averaging 144.2 yards per game, compared with an average of 106.4 over the previous seven games. Over the course of the season, due to injuries to center Chris Adcock, guard Matt Cochran and guard Mark Brazinski, no fewer than 12 different men played on the offensive line.
The pre-camp depth chart lists the starters as redshirt sophomore Steven Moore (LT), sophomore Chris Borrayo (LG), redshirt senior Adcock (C), redshirt senior Alejandro Crosthwaite (RG) and redshirt junior Jordan Rigsbee (RT). Moore and Rigsbee started a unit-best 11 games last season, Borrayo five, Adcock four and Crosthwaite nine.
“All those young guys, from where they started to where they are now, it’s a complete turnaround,” Adcock said. “They weren’t horrible when they got here, but anyone coming in, I mean, I remember my first game against Presbyterian, way back, watching that film, I’m embarrassed for myself. Not that those guys should be embarrassed, at all, but they just made such huge gains in the weight room and conditioning-wise and mentally. We know what’s coming this year, with the offense. No more surprises. I think we’re going to be in a lot better place coming into camp.”
3. How will the Cal offensive line re-shuffle with the return of Chris Adcock at center? Adcock has been snapping at center during the entirety of summer with the first-team offense, and barring any more mishaps, will be brought along slowly with the goal of being completely ready to go by the opener against Northwestern.
“It’ll be interesting when we get Rigsbee back, to see where he ends up,” Adcock said, referring to Jordan Rigsbee’s minor meniscus tear suffered during the spring game. “I know that he’s going to play wherever they want him to play, and he’s excited to get back. He’s looking really good, working out.”
The right tackle spot will be up for grabs, and while Rigsbee – who started at center the majority of the season after Adcock went down, and at left guard before that -- is there for the moment, don’t discount incoming JuCo transfer Dominic Granado, redshirt sophomore Christian Okafor (nine games, five starts) or redshirt freshman Aaron Cochran. Brian Farley notched two starts and four games of action last year, and is listed as the second left tackle, though right tackle isn’t out of the question. With the guard spots probably the most solid with veteran Crosthwaite and freshman phenom Borrayo holding down the fort, the run game – particularly the interior run game – could be much improved.
“That’s really hard, even switching one guy on the line,” Adcock said. “With all the switches we were making, it’s a difficult thing to overcome, especially with guys that aren’t as experienced. They learned a lot from it, and we did start gelling towards the end, there. The goal, obviously, is you can switch up whoever you want, and not have a drop-off. I think we’re working up to that point, and that’s the end goal. As far as run-pass, it’s give-and-take. We want to be able to do both, and the thing with coach Franklin is, if it’s working, we’re going to do it. If we can run for 500 yards a game, we’ll do that.”
However it shakes out, there will be some folks who aren’t too happy, given that there finally appears to be some experienced depth along the offensive front. Someone is going to have their job taken, as happened with Freddie Tagaloa -- who has since transferred to Arizona – last season.
“I think in one sense, that’s great. In another sense, that means you have to tell one of your buddies, ‘I’m taking your spot.’ That’s difficult on a day-to-day, player-to-player basis,” Adcock said. “As far as a team goes, I think that’s a great problem to have. We always want to have competition and guys fighting for spots.”
4. How much of a leap will Jared Goff take after missing time with a dislocated shoulder? Goff refers to Nov. 28 as ‘Surgery Day,’ the day when he got his injured wing repaired after Shayne Skov laid him out during the Big Game. Following that day, it took a little less than three months before he started throwing.
“Coming back from surgery, there was some atrophy involved, and it took me about a month or so to get back into it. Once I hit spring ball, I was totally acclimated to my new shoulder. It felt great,” said Goff, who was fairly lucky with the extent of the injury. “I had a shoulder separation, and it was a very simple procedure. They just cut it open, pushed the bone down, tied it up, and that was it. Nothing torn, nothing damaged. Very simple procedure. It was mild, very mild. It was an injury that a lot of people don’t have surgery on, because they don’t have to throw with their right shoulder. It was an injury that Maurice had, and he never got surgery, and he’s fine. It’s a very common injury. It’s an A/C joint. It’s not very heavy, at all.”
That said, there was some rust to knock off, as Goff was unimpressive early in spring ball before finally getting back to square one at the end of camp.
“I feel great. I don’t feel like I lost anything,” Goff said. “I felt like you need those days in spring where you’re kind of figuring stuff out. That was probably going to happen regardless, where we all come back out there, and are just getting back into it, and it may have taken a day or two longer, but it was nothing to be concerned about. Throughout the summer, me and the receivers have gotten tremendously better, and we’re ready to go, come August 30.”
Also helping the sophomore signal-caller? Some much-needed muscle added to his frame. Goff said that he came to Cal at 185 pounds, soaking wet, and now tips the scales at 205.
“It all came in actually this past summer. I’ve put on 10 pounds since spring ball,” Goff said. “I wasn’t able to really heavily work out in the period of rehab. I was really just focused on keeping that healthy and trying to get that as healthy as I could. I was running just a little bit, and then once spring ball hit, I had to focus on spring ball. Right when spring ball ended, I just hit the grind, working out, protein, eating right, and all that stuff, eating a lot.
“There’s some sacks I took last year that I shouldn’t take this year, because I only got hit with one arm, or stuff like that. I think, just as far as physical presence and stamina, it’ll go a long way.”
Goff has also done a lot of studying, and has watched every inch of tape he can get his hands on from last season, when he broke the Bears’ single-season records for passing yards (3,508), most yardage gained (3,508), total offense (3,446), passes completed (320) and passes attempted (531), and became the first true freshman quarterback in school history to start a season opener.
“I’d be watching the film, recently, and I’d go, ‘This is what I do here,’ or I watch it and go, ‘Woah, why did I do that?’ That kind of stuff,” Goff said. “There’s stuff in the UCLA game that I looked at recently, that I went, ‘What am I thinking?’ I think more early on, though, rather than Stanford, where I was pretty comfortable with it, at that point. Colorado, same thing. Washington, very comfortable. It was more so Northwestern, Ohio State, Oregon.”
5. How does the tragic death of defensive lineman Ted Agu affect the defense, the staff and the entire team? “That’s a very difficult hole to fill, replacing a man like Ted,” said defensive end Brennan Scarlett. “But, he’s still with us, as a defensive line. We keep him in our prayers and our thoughts, and he’s looking over us. He’s going to help us from above. We use that as a huge motivation, his work ethic.”
Cal will be led out of the North Tunnel this season by Agu’s No. 35 jersey, and the team will wear a memorial patch to honor their fallen comrade, but beyond that, Agu will live in the strength to finish every last rep and get up one more time after being knocked down.
His death, said Scarlett, brought the team together “more than I’ve ever seen before.”
“It’s crazy how that can happen, how something like that, a tragedy like that, can bring a team together, a group of people together, just because it’s hard to shoulder something like that, individually. You lean on each other to do it,” Scarlett continued. “It will be huge for us. It’s one of the biggest motivational factors for us. I don’t think that will fade away, for years to come.”
Beyond his presence on the field, Agu was an off-the-field leader, as well, and, said defensive back Stefan McClure, a role model.
“He was full of joy,” McClure said. “He was always smiling. He always looked at the positive side of everything, whether we had a 6 am (workout), he found some way to get to that 6 am smiling, and being positive: Let’s dominate this workout, let’s go to work.”
Agu’s impact will be felt everywhere, on the field and off, and on both sides of the ball.
“The offense worked a lot with him, too, because he was in a scout role for a little while,” said Adcock. “He was the hardest-working guy there was, when he was down there. He was such a team player. He never took it begrudgingly. He wanted to work harder to make us better. I think the offensive guys had a lot more experience [with him] than people realize, sometimes. Moving forward, it’s hard. Everyone’s taking it differently. Everyone’s taking their time to get over it, in their own different way.”
For Adcock, who, like Agu, is on track to attend medical school, the loss was keenly felt not for the friendship the two had forged, but for the closeness the two were just starting to enjoy.
“I knew him from when we first came in, Summer Bridge, and I knew we were kind of pursuing the same thing, and recently, right before he passed away, it was kind of like, ‘Hey, are you still doing the doctor thing?’” Adcock said. “That’s kind of how our conversation started, about the whole continuing with the MCAT and the application process and all that stuff. He was like, ‘Yeah, we should have a study hook-up, figure out what we’re going to do.’ That’s when the tragedy happened. I was just going to get to know him on an even deeper level through that whole process, the process I’m doing now.”
“It goes a lot past just football,” said Scarlett. “He’s affected us as a team and as players. It’s football, obviously, in workouts and on the field, but Ted was a great student. Ted was going to go to med school; he was a pre-med student, so it goes to that – we work harder in the classroom. It’s just being a great person off the field. He was a really good person, and friendly to everyone, so I think that’s taught a lot of people, influenced a lot of people on our team to be more like that. For me, personally, and I can speak for a lot of the players, it was life-changing, as far as who I am as a person, and who we are as a team, definitely.”
Stay tuned for the second part of our Top 10 series, when we discuss the return of Scarlett, the new defensive coaches, the depth on defense and head coach Sonny Dykes’ future.
Top 10 Story Lines Revisited: Part 1
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