BERKELEY -- After a busy day that saw a morning full of NFL Pro Day workouts, California got to business with its sixth spring practice of the season, featuring several long 25-plus runs by Vic Enwere and Patrick Laird. After practice, we caught up with new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital for a progress report on what he's seen through the first six practices.
"We've put in, overall, probably about 80% of the offense in right now, and we're moving at a decent pace, right now," Spavital said. "It's not as fast as I would like it to be, but that's kind of expected from your first two weeks of installation, and the more we're going to rep it, the more they're going to become familiar with it, the faster we're going to play. So far, I'm very pleased with how they've adapted. There's a lot of similarities, but they've adapted well to the tempo. You can tell that they're just going to keep learning, and keep getting better at it."
In particular, Ross Bowers, who was absent with a sinus surgery that should be healed in time for him to return after the Bears' spring break, has said that Spavital's practices move at a much quicker pace than his predecessor, Tony Franklin's practices.
"This is on hyperdrive," Bowers said. "With coach Franklin, we would always look to the sideline, and act like we were going to snap it, and then look to the sideline for the play, and that takes a really long time. Then, when you have Jared [Goff], who's a veteran, he's going to change a lot of plays, so that takes time. Now, we're focusing on, 'Let's get the play call in, and let's go, go, go.' Watching all their film, from the past, with A&M, West Virginia and Houston, half their plays, the defense is all not in a stance, walking around. It's snapping it when no one's even ready.
"The nicest thing with coach Spav, he's really not making us change a whole lot," Bowers said early last week. "We're learning new signals and calls and stuff like that, but it's all stuff we know. It's all concepts we know."
Instead of trying to learn Russian or Mandarin, it's more akin to learning Spanish -- same letters, just in a different order.
"It's actually a lot smoother than I thought it was going to be," Bowers said. "[The first week] it felt like we were not on the same page as an offense, yet. [Now], when we do mess up, we correct it, and don't let it happen again. It's all about getting reps. And, as you see, with this offense, we run about 600 plays a day. It's awesome."
That's by design, says Spavital.
"I think that's a lot about player development, and something we've done in this system for a long time, and it's all about reps," Spavital said. "I think if you throw guys out there and rep 'em and rep 'em and rep 'em, you're eventually going to make it muscle memory, and those guys are going to be pretty efficient with what they do. It also gives opportunities to build depth, and you're going to put your starters out there, but if one guy goes down, you've got to be able to put a guy in who knows what he's doing and keep a thing running when it's not going the way you want it to."
As for Bowers and the rest of the quarterbacks, Spavital will be watching a lot of film over the week of spring break, trying to figure out how to divvy up reps when the team returns.
"They're all pretty similar, right now," Spavital said. "A lot is the learning curve. Some guys get some part of the scheme, and other guys don't."
Bowers, who said the scheme is almost identical to the one he played in, in high school, has looked particularly strong, as has Chase Forrest.
"Right now, I think they all bring something different to the game," Spavital said. "You can kind of see that when we scrimmaged on Wednesday. Some guys I give a lot of freedom to to the quarterback, and some guys are guys that are going to go deep with the ball a lot of times, and other guys are going to take conservative throws and try to march them down. I think it's going to be a great competition with all of them. We're going to have to start cutting it down here pretty soon, so we can start building continuity with the guys that we think are going to be the ones who are going to compete for the job."
Twice in Friday, freshman Max Gilliam made things happen with his legs, once on a scramble right to find Bug Rivera about 25 yards down field, and another to pick up six or seven yards in full 11-on-11.
"I think what I've always done with the quarterbacks in the past, I give them a fair opportunity to compete," Spavital said. "After Johnny [Manziel] won the Heisman, I let Kenny Hill compete just to see if he had any capability of running the offense. Probably, in reality, he wasn't going to get the job, but I think it's a good opportunity, and a fresh slate for all of them to go out there and compete. I think you find a guy who's going to move the ball the best, and you adapt the offense around it. You talk about how Max can run the ball a little bit, and if he can be efficient that way, then you'll probably see a little more quarterback run game."
More From Spavital on Cal Offensive Progress
On Billy McCrary III: "I actually recruited Billy for a while, when I was at Texas A&M, so I'm pretty familiar with his skill set. He was a quarterback in high school, and was very athletic. He's just one of those dynamic guys that, you know that he's a good player, but where does he fit? I think just over the past year, he's been playing all these different positions where I think we finally found a spot where he's going to be comfortable with."
Was the decision to move him to offense made before you got here? "It was in the transition, and I think they discussed it over the bowl prep, and I was completely fine with it, because I was recruiting him as an athlete. He's very talented. He ran a 4.4 in our camp at Texas A&M, so I thought that was, if a guy can run that fast, you put him somewhere to do it."
What do you want to see out of the last 9 practices of spring: "I want to eliminate mental mistakes. That's the thing that we've done for the past two weeks -- there's been a lot of mental busts. For example, when you see Max [Gilliam] run, that wasn't a designed run play for him, but that happens, and it's just part of the repetition. Once we can play at a fast pace and eliminate mental mistakes, I think it'll become second nature to the guys."
Spavital on the offensive line (which has since added Jeremiah Stuckey to the mix as a grad transfer): "I think coach [Brandon] Jones does a great job with those guys. He shuffles them around, and keeps it a close competition at all times, where everybody is playing for their job every single snap. That also goes back to building depth, and he's moving people around. They're playing all different positions. You're seeing guards play tackle, and centers, and they're just moving all around. When you look at it, when an offensive lineman goes down, you've got to put your next best guy in, and shuffle them around to fit accordingly."
Note: Last year's starting center Dominic Granado has played tackle, and run with the second-team as a center. Redshirt freshman Ryan Gibson has played guard and center, Patrick Mekari has played guard, center and tackle.
Who's been the most pleasant surprise from the receivers: "Man, there's a lot of them. A lot have been jumping off the tape right now, but [Brandon] Singleton and Chad [Hansen], and [Greyson] Bankhead and Melquise [Stovall], they're doing some good things out there. Even Ray [Hudson]. Ray's been doing a good job. I'm excited. I think we've got a lot of depth at that position, and they're different types of guys. When you think of Ray and like Bankhead playing in the exact same spot, they're just two different body types, which, I think you can get creative from a play calling standpoint, when you have those different types of bodies there."