Cal Athletics

ANALYSIS: What positions are up for grabs when Cal starts spring ball on March 15?

Cal and new head coach Justin Wilcox begin their search for a new quarterback when the Bears start spring practice on March 15. We take a look at the positions that will be up for grabs.

New California head coach Justin Wilcox will open his first spring as the Bears' skipper on March 15, and this spring will bring a marked change from the past four years.

Only three of Cal's 15 spring practices will be open to the public -- Friday, March 24 (3:30 p.m.); April 8 (11 a.m.) and April 22 (11 a.m.) -- whereas in the past, most -- if not all -- of the Bears' spring workouts were open to the public under former head coach Sonny Dykes. "We're all excited and ready to get spring ball started," Wilcox said in a statement. "We have been putting the foundation in place with our off-season strength and conditioning program and getting on the field will signal the next step in our preparation for the 2017 campaign."

Cal will hold its spring game on April 22, at 11 a.m., and it will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Wilcox has yet to complete his coaching staff, still needing running backs and linebackers coaches, though it's expected that offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin will coach running backs in the case that a coach is not hired by the start of spring ball. Wilcox coached linebackers at Cal from 2003-05, and could very well take that spot if a hire is not made.

Having just hired former Arizona assistant Charlie Ragle as special teams coordinator and tight ends coach -- the same role he filled in Tucson -- Wilcox could wait until April, when the NCAA may add a 10th assistant coach, allowing him to add coaches for each individual position, rather than have members of his current staff -- Baldwin, Ragle, Marques Tuiasosopo (QBs), Steve Greatwood (OL), Nick Edwards (WRs), Tim DeRuyter (DC), Jerry Azzinaro (DL) and Gerald Alexander (DBs) -- double up on responsibilities.

However, an amendment to that NCAA legislation proposed this week by the Division I Council (the Football Oversight Committee), citing budgetary concerns for some schools about the April 1 start date for the new assistant, may push the addition of a 10th assistant to January 9, 2018. The proposed amendment still needs to be approved by the Division I Council in April.

Positions Up For Grabs


Cal will enter spring needing to find a quarterback, after the departure of grad transfer Davis Webb. Baldwin will have the task of sifting through Ross Bowers and Chase Forrest -- each of whom have limited game experience -- and redshirts Victor Viramontes and Max Gilliam.

"I'm excited," Baldwin said. "Obviously, there's not game footage that I've gotten to see, but I've gone back and been able to watch not just practices with true cut-ups of an individual guy, watching clip after clip after clip after clip, and I think two of them are on film a lot more, in terms of Ross and Chase. They got more of those reps, and Vic and Max, I'll evaluate more when I get into spring and I see it more live." Forrest, a redshirt junior, completed 10 of 18 throws in 2015 for 162 yards and one touchdown in three games of action. Bowers played in just one game last season -- the finale against UCLA -- but did not throw a pass.

"What I've been able to see is very capable, very capable," Baldwin said. "I'm excited about what they bring, in terms of what we do, offensively. You have to see them live, but what I like about it is, it's going to be very competitive, and they all can make the throws that you need to make, and they're very athletic, to where you're going to have the opportunity for them to hurt you, in my opinion, within the QB run game. It doesn't mean [we'll use it] a ton, but there is that ability to keep the defense honest. Both those guys that I've gotten to evaluate a little bit more, in terms of Ross and Chase, give you that."

Offensive Line

Aside from the departures of Chris Borrayo (left guard), Dominic Granado (center/guard) and right tackle Steven Moore, the Bears have also lost starting left tackle Aaron Cochran, who has decided to play his final year of eligibility elsewhere.

Super-sub Patrick Mekari is likely to take one of the two tackle spots, and redshirt freshman Jake Curhan enters his second spring ball with a lot of upside. Curhan profiles more as a left tackle, given his length, but Mekari is one of the most polished -- if not the most polished -- lineman on the roster. Kamryn Bennett got game experience at right tackle last year, so he will be in the mix, as well.

Greatwood will also be able to get his hands on 2016 signee Daniel Juarez for the first time, after he delayed his enrollment to this spring.

As for the interior, Borrayo leaves a big hole, but one that should be ably filled by 6-foot-5, 345-pound Semisi Uluave, who's got seven games of experience under his belt over the past two years. Other candidates would be 6-foot-3, 295-pound Gentle Williams and center prospect Ryan Gibson.

Tight End

The switch to an offense more closely resembling a pro-style attack means that Ray Hudson will bulk back up and put his hand back in the dirt, but there is a paucity of true tight ends on the roster. Kyle Wells also fits the bill, at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds. 6-foot-3, 235-pound Matt Laris could also be in the mix, as he profiles more as a true tight end than the slim-built Logan GambleJake Ashton is also now listed as a tight end at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds.

"More will be known when we get to spring, because those guys haven't necessarily been put in those situations on film," Baldwin said. "I've been able to go back and watch film, not only of games, but there have been some things that I could watch from fall camp or last year's spring. Some of those guys, you're still projecting, but I do think, from a body-type standpoint, from an attitude standpoint, from a mentality standpoint, just being around them, seeing them in conditioning and other things, I think that will give us a chance to utilize [them]. We could go into spring with anywhere from four to six tight end-type guys. There are two to three on the roster, but there could be the potential for two to three more, depending on who we move and who we shift, and get a feel for that in spring."

Cal will add Ben Moos and Gavin Reinwald to the mix in the fall. Former defensive end and fullback Kennedy Emesibe is no longer listed on the official roster.

Outside Linebackers

Cal will base out of a 3-4 defense under DeRuyter, which means some defensive ends are going to have to drop back to outside linebacker. The Bears currently have six scholarship linebackers on the roster, and have added a walk-on in former Washington hand Gerran Brown, the cousin of 2018 Cal offensive line target Tommy Brown. In total, the Bears have nine players listed at linebacker, but that's going to change. 

Some of the quicker, rangier, more athletic defensive ends are expected to move to outside linebacker, including redshirt sophomore Trevor HowardEvan WeaverCameron Saffle and JuCo early enrollee Alex Funches. The biggest question will be which of those can play well in space, and are fluid enough in the hips to drop back into coverage. 

"[Funches has] got the skill set that we typically look for in that position," DeRuyter said. "Size-wise, we're looking for guys with length. We're looking for guys who were high school defensive end-tight end-type bodies, but they're going to be, No. 1, tasked with rushing the passer, which is what his forte is."

Defensive Tackle

Cal has no shortage of defensive tackles, with seven listed on the roster, but they are traditional 4-3 defensive tackles, not true nose tackles.

Given their quickness and athleticism, it's easy to see both Luc Bequette and James Looney move to end. Sophomore defensive tackle Chris Yaghi is no longer on the roster.

The real challenge will be in finding a run-plugging defensive tackle required by the 3-4. The largest defensive lineman Azzinaro will have is early enrollee Gabe Cherry, who checks in at 6-foot-5, 260. The 3-4 nose is the most physically demanding position on the defensive side of the ball, and he certainly fits the bill, though he's very raw. Another option could be 6-foot-4, 250-pound redshirt freshman Chinedu Udeogu, but his length would be ideal for a 3-4 defensive end, as well.

"When you take a team that's been based primarily in a four-down front, trying to figure out who those guys are who have the skill set that you can move to outside 'backers," DeRuyter said. 

Having Azzinaro -- who, like DeRuyter, is a longtime 3-4 adherent -- will help the transition.

"He's as good a defensive line coach -- particularly in the 3-4 -- as there is in the business," DeRuyter said. "He's done it at a high level, at a number of different places. He knows exactly what he's looking for, the type of player and how to develop them. You look at his track record, and it's pretty obvious that he's doing something right ... He's got an energy about him ... He's got an edge about himself that's going to resonate, and it'll resonate with our players."

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