NOTE: Above video is from May 18
Countdown to Kickoff: Quarterbacks
During his post-spring sit-down with local media, California head coach Sonny Dykes said that he and his staff "threw poor Jared [Goff] to the wolves," because the offensive line was not a strength of the program. Now, though, things are looking up, and whoever steps behind center for the Bears in Sydney, Aus., to start the college football season is going to have a lot of help, from a veteran offensive line, to all three leading rushers returning.
What's not known, though, is who will be taking those snaps. Zach Kline has transferred once again, to Fresno State, and Luke Rubenzer has moved back to safety in light of what is likely a season-ending knee injury suffered late in spring ball by Damariay Drew. That leaves five total contenders.
"Whoever's the best will play for us; I don't care if it's a walk-on, I don't care if it's a fifth-year senior, or a true freshman," Dykes said, cryptically, before the official announcement that Texas Tech graduate transfer Davis Webb would be coming to Cal this summer. "It's better for your program if a young guy wins the job, but in our business, a year from now, it means you may be getting the next coach ready, if you don't win. We need to win every game that we play."
Sources have said that Webb's arm talent can best be described as "special," and that the Bears will be hard-pressed to find a reason not to start him from the get-go. He was named to the Maxwell Award Watch List earlier this summer, after all.
That said, there is talent at the position, beyond just the two-deep.
"We think we have some quarterbacks," Dykes said. "We have guys that can do the job and help us win. Ultimately, that's the quarterback's job. We're not going to need him to throw for 500 yards to have a chance to win."
Let this be clear: Below is a depth chart as I see it, after spring workouts, and based on what I've heard out of summer passing sessions. This is by no means official.
Look and Feel
With a new quarterback to replace Goff, also comes a new offensive coordinator in Jake Spavital, whose offensive philosophy can best be described as creative, especially in the run game, which molded Spavital's scheme as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator, a scheme descended -- in the run game, at least -- from Dana Holgorsen's offense.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1641719-jake-spavital-name...“You have to establish the run game, just based off of the style of defense that they play [in the SEC]," Spavital said this spring. "Over the last couple of years, we’ve gotten creative with unique ways to run the ball in a spread system, adding certain guys into the box and making it a little bit harder on the defense in run fits. When it comes down to it, you’ve got to score points. The red zone is an area of the field we’re going to have high importance on, and it’s something that we’re going to critique daily.”
That said, there are still quite a few similarities between the new offense and Tony Franklin's Bear Raid. It's close enough that the current quarterbacks on the roster were able to hit the ground running.
"Tony has been a guy that I followed through the years, spoke at clinics," Spavital said. "A lot of his concepts are similar to what we do. That's one of the things I felt was intriguing about this place, because all of the concepts are similar to what I've done in the past. It's all based off of the same principles [as Franklin's offense], but based off of the experience that I've had over the past eight years, you're always going to find added wrinkles that work for different types of defenses."
Spavital's offense is almost identical in many respects to the offense run by one of his mentors -- Kliff Kingsbury -- who just so happened to be Webb's offensive coordinator with the Red Raiders.
Spavital said that red zone efficiency and the run game would be his key focus. He also plans to continue the kick-slide set of the offensive line, as opposed to Franklin's vertical pass set. As for the under-center portion of the offense that was rarely seen with Franklin and Goff? Spavital said that Cal's quarterbacks will be under center more.
"It's basically been off of the quarterback," he said. "When I was at West Virginia, I put Geno Smith under center a lot of times. It really goes down to the comfort of the quarterback. It's essential to have plays under center where you do things with the quarterback."
Spring Game Stats: Chase Forrest, went 16-of-23 for 176 yards and one touchdown. Freshman Ross Bowers went 11-of-21 for 152 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Max Gilliam went 7-of-10 for 80 yards, but did rip off several big runs.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1658890-spavital-breaks-do..."We tried to throw different stuff at them, and what happens sometimes, and I've been guilty of this, is you want the offense to look good," Dykes said. "What you want to do a lot of times is have continuity, so you put the first group together, and put the first-team offense against the third-team defense. You build some confidence, but it's false confidence. What I like about this team, is that we could split them up. The quarterbacks could handle it, and the teams could handle it."
While the offense certainly did look good under Kline, early-enrollee freshman Gilliam, redshirt sophomore Forrest and redshirt freshman Bowers, there is a reason Webb was brought in.
With Kline in the Valley and Rubenzer out of the picture, what once looked like a six-man competition is now down to four. Again, I stress: This is a depth chart based on my own observations and input from sources as to what this group is going to look like when fall camp opens on July 31.
"My dad called me every name in the book and said, 'If you don't try to get this guy, you're the biggest moron on the face of the earth,'" Dykes said.
Hasn't anyone ever told you to listen to your elders? When Spike Dykes speaks, Sonny listens. He did it with Billy McCrary III (who made quite an impression with his speed, over the course of spring at running back), and he did it with Webb, rated by ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., as the top senior quarterback in this year's draft class.
Webb threw for 5,557 yards and had 46 touchdowns (22 interceptions) over three seasons with the Red Raiders, but does have a bit of an injury history.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1672804-cal-officially-ann... Webb enters Cal as the likely frontrunner to replace Goff, himself drafted No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Rams. Again, the offense Kingsbury runs at Texas Tech is nearly identical to the one which will be run at Cal by Spavital. Dykes called the situation a "perfect marriage" because Spavital and Webb "speak the same language."
"From Day One, Davis can sit in the film room, and say, 'Here's the formation, here's the read, here's the drop, here's the protection, here's what the quarterback did, here's who he should have thrown it to, here's where he should have thrown it, here's the coverage,' -- all these things that take years to develop, he can do that today," Dykes said. "He can do that yesterday, and that's what makes this such a unique situation for everybody involved."
Spavital coming on board was "a huge part," of coming to Berkeley, said Webb, who, at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, has prototypical size for the position.
"Spav is the biggest part of this whole thing -- his relationship with Davis," Dykes said. "They were familiar with each other. He did a great job of recruiting him and making him feel comfortable ... Jake was the most critical part of this."
"I've put in hard work for three years learning this offense, and I didn't want that to go to waste," Webb said.
“Davis Webb is the hardest working individual I've ever had the privilege of coaching," Kingsbury said in a December 2015 news release when Webb announced his intent to transfer. "He's a fierce competitor and an extremely talented quarterback. Wherever Davis lands, he will immediately change the outlook of that program."
Dykes said that Forrest is the "most consistent" of the signal callers this spring, and he looks every bit the confident veteran. He has an easy delivery, smooth footwork and an air of confidence.
The front-runner headed into spring, Forrest has been compared to Josh Rosen by former OC Franklin. While he's accurate, and has good arm talent, Forrest isn't Rosen. He's a solid Pac-12 quarterback, he's added some size, he's seen live bullets and he has good feet, but he doesn't do any one thing great.
He is a steady presence, a very good leader and someone who can move the chains, but he's not overly mobile, and still needs to develop a more feel for the pocket. None of this is to say he's not going to be a starter down the road, but he needs another year of seasoning to get there.
"I think he's a very intelligent kid," Spavital said. "I think he thinks everything through. He understands what we're doing. He studies it and takes a lot of pride in it, and you can see that he's got that game experience. Like I've said, he's very calm out there, and that's probably the reason why you don't notice him. Whether it's good or bad, he stays the same, here a lot of kids, like Ross, is emotional when good things happen, or bad. That's just who they are, as kids, and you want them to be their own man when they're out there, and be their own personality. I think he's coming along. I think he's a very intelligent kid, who can get us in the right spots."
Physically, I don't think Forrest is the most gifted of the non-Webb quarterbacks, but I do think he's got the mental makeup to be a competent starter, and to lead a team down the field in crunch time. If Webb goes down, this is where Cal goes.
Bowers missed a portion of spring getting surgery, but once he came back, he really took a jump.
By the end of spring ball, Bowers showed very deft footwork (leaps and bounds better than last year, and even his first practice this spring), and a consistent ability to drive the ball down field.
"I've felt very confident," Bowers said. "I have a pretty good grasp of the new offense, and a good relationship with [Spavital] ... It's the same offense, and more importantly, the same mechanics. All the footwork and stuff that requires you to be on-time and accurate, I'm used to all that. With coach [Tony] Franklin, the hot feet is great, but it was hard to learn, and then I got the hang of it, and I have to change it right back."
His footwork is vastly improved from a year ago, his arm strength has taken a major step forward and his accuracy has increased, as well. Still, at times, Bowers does look very much like a freshman. We saw enough out of Bowers during the latter part of spring, and especially during the spring game, to show that he's going to be a solid Pac-12 quarterback in the future, and honestly, the addition of Webb is the best thing for Bowers and Max Gilliam, who now have another year to develop without the pressure of having to be put into the fire right away.
Bowers has all of the fundamental elements you want in a young quarterback: Quick feet, a developing feel for the pocket, good arm strength and accuracy. He's athletic, but he won't be a runner like Gilliam. He's just quick and mobile enough to get himself out of jams, a lot like Goff. He just needs to develop more presence and command in the pocket, and add some more weight -- all things that come with having another year before he has to face live bullets.
Gilliam, I think, is the most exciting prospect Cal has waiting in the wings. As a senior at Thousand Oaks (Calif.), Gilliam completed 224 of 302 yards (74.2%) for 3,484 yards, and 40 touchdowns to 5 interceptions. He also rushed 146 times for 666 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Gilliam put up 7,624 yards of offense in two seasons for the Lancers.
When he's comfortable, he's remarkably accurate, and there was a clear inflection point over the course of spring, where he turned from robo-QB into a real boy, and that's when we got to see a bit of what Gilliam could be.
"I think the speed is starting to slow down, and in this system, we put so much on the quarterback," Spavital said. "They've got to communicate everything out, get the right checks, make us right at times, and it's taken him a little bit, but you can see it's starting to slow down for him.
"A lot has to do with his thinking too much. He's just not confident, and he just doesn't understand what to do yet with certain things. I try to make certain adjustments, because you can make one scheme look 50 different ways, and his head was spinning a little bit on that. When he did look good, it was on things that he's very comfortable with, and that he's repped."
"I'm really excited to see Victor Viramontes," Dykes said. "I think he'll come in, the one thing about that kid: He's not scared of anything. He's got a spirit and a will about him that's pretty impressive. It'll be fun."
Viramontes will get his first snaps in the fall, and played last year at a hulking 240 very mobile pounds. His build may say 'linebacker,' but the Bears will put him back of center to see what he can do.
"You watch his tape, and you're just kind of like 'Wow,'" Dykes said. "He played this year at 240 pounds. He's a great leader. He plays with tremendous enthusiasm and toughness, can throw the football, has a big arm, and is obviously a very good runner. I think the kid's got a lot of upside. I think he's a really interesting prospect, and he's definitely a quarterback."
Viramontes is a dynamic athlete on offense, completing 144 of 246 passes for 2,085 yards and 21 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, along with 148 carries for 1,112 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground, with five 100+ yard games.
"Some of these guys you watch are chasing them, you can tell they don't want to catch him," Dykes said of Viramontes as a runner.