Running Back U

Despite popular belief, California does not run a pass-happy offense. Head Coach Jeff Tedford's offense is predicated upon a strong ground game. New offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti has the same philosophy. The Golden Bears have had six straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher, and four days into fall camp the quest to find the back to make it seven is underway…

Some times conferences or teams are stereotyped into being great at one phase of the game. The University of Miami is known as Quarterback U. USC is known as Running Back U. Miami has not had a good quarterback since Ken Dorsey, but whatever quarterback is named the Hurricanes' starter in any given year fans expect him to be among the elite at that position in the country.

The Pac-10 has a reputation of being a pass happy league that does not play defense. The Big Ten is thought of as a very physical conference with punishing offensive lines. When you think of the California Golden Bears automatically most people think about the quarterback position.

Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers are former first round picks in the NFL, but in the last six years, the Bears have had more running backs drafted. Marshawn Lynch, J.J. Arrington, and Justin Forsett all gained over 2,500 yards in their careers before they entered the NFL.

The Bears have played physical upfront against good defensive teams. In 2007, against the Tennessee Volunteers, the Bears had 37 rushing attempts for 230 yards. Later in the year, against a very good USC defense, Cal had 45 rushing attempts for 200 yards. The Bears were the only team to rush for 200 yards against the Trojan defense in 2007. Last season, the Bears rushed for 200 yards or more on five different occasions.

With the departure of Justin Forsett (3,220 career rushing yards) can the Bears still punish teams on the ground?

Over the years, Cal has shown the ability to find various players at running back that have been productive. Looking back at the 2003 season, Adimchinobe Echemandu and J.J. Arrington combined for 1,802 yards. In 2004, the Bears had a different duo at the position in Arrington and Lynch. They teamed up for 2,646 yards. Arrington gained 2,018 of those yards.

After 2004, it seemed Arrington's production would be hard to replace. In 2005, Forsett replaced Arrington and a two-back system featuring Lynch and Forsett combined for 2,245 yards.

Over the last five years, Cal has proven it can develop quality players at running back and keep up the production after a player graduates or moves on to the NFL. Now that Forsett is in the NFL, Cal will count on Jahvid Best to pick up the slack at running back.

Best averaged a staggering 7.6 yards per carry last season in a limited role last season. He finished with 221 yards and two touchdowns while he missed the last three games of 2007 with an injury. Competition this season will come from redshirt freshman Shane Vereen, sophomore Tracy Slocum, and true freshman Covaughn DeBoskie. Four days into camp, Vereen has emerged as the clear No. 2 back.

Coach Tedford noted at the Bay Area College Football Media Day last month that Best and Vereen were unlike any duo in his tenure. "They're very talented, very diverse, they can do it all," Tedford said of Best and Vereen.

Over the years the Bears have been good at getting production from two backs. Moreover, new offensive coordinator successfully used two backs in 2003, 2004, and 2005 while the offensive coordinator at Fresno State. In 2004, Cignetti had two backs rush for at least 995 yards. His offense uses a power run game, and employs the use of a slot receiver and/or an H-back.

Best's versatility to line up in the slot could open the door for a third back to get his share of carries between the tackles. Look for the Bears to see who emerges between Tracy Slocum and Covaughn DeBoskie to become the team's power back.

From looking at the history over the last six years, it is likely that the running back position will continue to succeed in 2008.

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