Tre Watson takes on a greater role with Cal as the Bears shift to a more run-oriented approach

BERKELEY -- Ask Tre Watson, and he'll tell you he's perfect ... as a receiver, that is, and he's not shy about telling his offensive coordinator the same.

BERKELEY -- "You've got to work on the little things; these coaches focus on that," said California running back Tre Watson.

It's appropriate for Watson to note the detail-oriented approach of the Bears' new coaching staff; his full name is John Watson, III -- the name of detail-oriented literary detective Sherlock Holmes's sidekick. This Watson, though, is no sidekick. 

"I think Tre's one of those guys, he's just so versatile," said offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin. "I've had really good backs in the past at different times, but I still felt maybe they were lacking in a certain area -- really good back, but maybe their hands were average, or a really good back, but they struggled in pass pro, or they did a lot of other things, or they ran a stretch play and they got outside, but didn't necessarily run between the tackles -- whatever it might be. Tre truly has so much versatility, in terms of being that every-down back. You can call a lot of different routes with him, you can even split him out at receiver, and he looks very natural, doing that. Then, you can run stuff inside the tackles -- he can handle that well. He can get to the edges well. From a pass pro standpoint, he's competitive."

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Wednesday's practice ended with a cacophony of whooping and hollering, as two graduate assistants competed to see who could catch a punt off of a Juggs machine. Offensive GA Ramsen Golpashin couldn't reel it in, so the offense did wind sprints to end the 10th practice of the spring. Watson is no stranger to vocalizations, particularly at high -- and consistent -- volume. 

"It's exciting to see a lot of competition going on out here," Watson said. "We just have fun with it, guys are out here battling, everybody was watching, so that's why we were really going crazy."

Watson described his running style as vision-based, and boy, he's got vision, and the rest of the world is wearing bifocals. He won't let anyone forget it. Ever since the start of camp, he's been making the case that he not only has the best hands on the team, but the "best hands in the country," a boast he playfully repeated on Wednesday.

"Come on, man, you're cutting me short," Watson laughed. 

He said he hasn't dropped a pass, yet, this spring.

"I'm perfect," Watson said. "Single drop? No. No. Throw me the ball. You're 100 percent going to get a catch."

Last season, Watson -- the Bears' second-leading rusher with 709 yards on 143 carries -- caught 21 balls for 241 yards and 4 touchdowns -- more receiving touchdowns than all but Demetris Robertson (7) and Chad Hansen (11), the latter of whom has been a regular on the sidelines at spring practice, as he prepares for the NFL Draft.

"He's one of those backs, who, I don't have to look at a play chart and go, 'I want to get someone else in for this,'" Baldwin said. "He's going to fit whatever we're trying to call."

He's got a case, indubitably, and he knows it."Tre is a very confident young man, I'll say that," Baldwin said. "That's a good thing. It's a fine line, but man, I want him on that edge, that competitive confidence, absolutely. He believes if you throw the ball to him, he's going to bring it down."

Watson isn't shy about asking for touches, but, Baldwin said, "he's not too bad."

"He makes me laugh -- they all do," Baldwin continued. "That's a good group. He occasionally wants some touches, and who doesn't? Right? But, no, he doesn't handle it that way, in all seriousness. It's not selfish, in that way. Yeah, he wants touches, because he's a competitor, and he wants the ball in that moment, but at the same time, I've never heard one thing out of any of them. That's tough, too. There's seven guys."

Beyond Watson, Cal also returns Vic Enwere, who rushed 61 times for 336 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Patrick Laird, who looks to be the No. 3 back after an 8-carry, 59-yard season with 1 touchdown. Billy McCrary III is also in the mix, after 6 carries for 39 yards and 2 touchdowns last season. Back from inside receiver is redshirt freshman Zion Echols, and having fully recovered from an injury prior to his first year on campus is Derrick Clark.

"They're both doing a good job," Baldwin said of Echols and Clark. "They're a little different, in what they both bring to the table. Echols has probably got more reps to this point, in terms of just fitting in to some of the things we're doing, but DC has gotten some, as well. They'll continue to grow."

Watson has already seen some of that growth, as the Bears move from a four-wide spread to a single-back and occasionally two-back set, with tight end involvement.

"Oh, yes, yes, most definitely," Watson said. "People are getting more experience, more reps, smarter, getting a feel for the offense, and defense, on both sides of the ball. We're just adapting to the new system, and picking it up and going out here and getting better every day. You've got to work on the little things, and these coaches focus on that. We have a lot of individuals and we go through the motions of what they [the coaching staff] want the play to look like. It's definitely helping us out a lot, and when we come together, we just compete."

The change from the spread to a more multiple offense has been a shift for Watson and the rest of the running backs. As Baldwin alluded to, the backs are more involved in more facets of the offense.

"This one is more mental, if anything," Watson said. "Running back is a running back. Footwork is a little bit different on certain plays, but really, it's all more mental now. We have a lot more that we have to pick up on, so it definitely helps us expand the game, and get ready for the next level ... Not more responsibilities, but everybody had one play on offense, and we would run that play. Now, it's this play can be different things, and you have to know what you're doing in this play ... It's different branching points, little things. You've just got to know the signals, and be on top of your studying." noted that the Bears have been running the ball "a lot more than we usually do," and that's cause for excitement in the running back room.

"He definitely likes to switch it up," Watson said of Baldwin. "Depending on where we're doing, if we're scrimmaging, he's going off personnel, but if not, he likes to switch it up and get a feel, and have us all experience everything."

As the top returner, Watson takes over from Khalfani Muhammad, who burned a 4.35-second 40 into the Memorial Stadium turf on Pro Day, after rushing for 827 yards on 152 carries, with 2 touchdowns last season.

"Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes, this offseason was definitely key," Watson said. "After this spring ball, we've got to get ready for season, and I'm definitely excited. I'm ready, man. I've put on some weight, I'm faster, stronger, and smarter, really. It's become more mental. The game is slowing down to a whole different level. It's just like high school."

Watson called having Baldwin double as running backs coach "the greatest situation."

"He sees it, he sees us putting in all the work, and he tells us how he wants things to be run," Watson said. "We get the one-on-one action, rather than having a position coach and having to go through the OC. We hear all the changes when they happen, how they happen, and it's definitely amazing." Top Stories