Beau Baldwin coaches up Cal's running backs during Cal's spring practice

Beau Baldwin's directive has been to run the ball more, and we take a look at just what the running backs are doing in order to up their production in 2017.

California offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin hasn't coached running backs since he was a head coach at Eastern Washington in 2011. Given the directive that this Bears team will run more, the results that season aren't entirely encouraging, in that regard. That season, the Eagles ran for just 869 yards, while throwing for 4,052. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, a SMU transfer, threw for 4,009 of those. Levi Mitchell wound up in the Canadian Football League the next season, and has since picked up records for consecutive wins by a starting quarterback and the best record for a rookie quarterback (12-1), while winning the CFL MVP award in 2016.

Baldwin's offenses, though, have been nothing, if not adaptable. It's one of the main reasons why head coach Justin Wilcox brought him on to his first staff as a head coach.

"I’ve known about Beau Baldwin for a long time," Wilcox said. "There was one degree of separation from knowing each other. We knew a lot of the same people, who thought very highly of him as a coach, seeing what he’s done there on the offensive side of the ball, his program at Eastern Washington, and people that I knew that knew him, just the type of person he is, there’s one.”

If he has a quarterback, he'll throw it. If he has running backs, he'll run it. He's a bit of a magpie -- pulling parts from different offenses and cobbling them together into what's been one of the top offenses in the Football Championship Subdivision for the last nine years.

"You know, it just became evident that, if you decide that whatever you're doing is the only way to do it, whether you're running a business or whether you're running an offense, if you decide that, you'll start to get passed up," Baldwin said. "Over the years, and you've got to be careful -- you can't try to run too many things and not run anything well -- we've been able to decide to pull different things that we feel like will give us an advantage. I've never been a name guy for our offense. I don't have a fancy name for it. I think of it as a multiple offense.

"It evolved. My whole tree goes back to one back, and if you really want to go all the way back, it goes to the Mike Price-Dennis Erickson, the WSU [tree]. My quarterback coach was a guy who came from that tree, and he's now been in the NFL at different times. It all started with that one-back philosophy, and that single-back. A lot of what we do is still very similar to the stuff I was doing 20 years ago, and even playing in, but then, you evolve. You take advantage of certain situations where you can involve more play-action by involving more tight ends. I can take advantage of this RPO, and what that gives you."

So, while the former Central Washington quarterback hands over that side of the equation to former NFL signal-caller Marques Tuiasosopo, Baldwin will deal with a running back corps that hasn't ever rushed for over 2,000 yards. Cal, as a program, hasn't rushed for over 2,000 yards since 2012. For seven straight years, from 2003-09, the Bears rushed for at least 2,100 yards.

"Aw, yeah, I don't look at it as 'dealing with it.' It's a joy, man," Baldwin said. "Great group of running backs. It's a great group, not only with what they can do on the field, but they're a smart group that, again, has taken to everything we're teaching."

The directive from on high is to get back to that kind of running game, and with the addition of Derrick Clark -- healthy after redshirting last season -- and Zion Echols, who was moved to inside receiver by the last staff -- this group could be very dynamic. Even without Khalfani Muhammad, who, after running a 4.35 40 time at Cal's Pro Day, is looking to hook on at the pro level, the Bears do return 1,143 of 1,970 yards rushed by running backs from 2016.

"They're coming along fast, with new terminologies," Baldwin said. "To me, it's fun. It's just fun, because as a head coach, you don't end up in a lot of position [coaching] situations like that, so to get back to that and have a position group like that, it's been a blast."

The returners are led by Tre Watson, the only running back other than Patrick Laird to play in all 12 games last season. Watson rushed for 709 yards -- raining 720 and losing just 11 -- on 143 carries, with a team-high four rushing touchdowns. He still maintains that he has the best hands on the team, and since the running backs will be a part of the passing game, he'll get to prove it. All of the running backs -- from Watson to Vic Enwere -- are bigger and stronger, visibly so. Pass protection has been a major part of training, through the first two weeks of spring practice. While Billy McCrary III was used sparingly last season, he's gained size, and along with his speed, has been one of the most consistent pass blockers during individual drills.

"It takes time, and it takes the guys to be able to handle that, mentally and physically, to be multiple," Baldwin said. "I feel like, when you are multiple, it gives you a lot of those advantages -- you're not dictated. In certain years, you might have personnel, and it allows you to shift more towards being more wide-open, like we were last year. Other years, you might have more tight end play. Also, it gives you more advantages when you get into those red zone situations, third down situations, short-yardage situations, to be more multiple and to give defenses different looks."


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