a) Who wins the third starting linebacker role?
Collin Ellis and Drew Smith continue their intense battle for the third spot. Both are capable of handling the starting spot; only one will be on the field for Cal's first offensive snap. This could begin as a rotation, but I don't expect it to end with 50-50 splits. One or the other will become the starter, and the fight continues at Northwestern's practice complex this week.
b) How does the backup arrangement look?
It appears as though Leadership Council member Jaylen Prater has continued his rapid ascent in relevance. The former two-star recruit followed his effective redshirt season by settling in behind Damien Proby at middle linebacker. At the outside linebacker positions, the Ellis/Smith non-starter, Timmy Vernon and Joseph Jones all fight for an enhanced role.
2) How good is the offensive line, really?
The test continues for this starting five—nearly set after two solid weeks. In our eyes, they're only as good as their most recent outings. Ian Park and Geoff Mogus need to build on strong play in the first stages of training camp. (They were often unnoticeable, which is a positive.) What a plus it would be for Pat Fitzgerald to undergo the least dramatic O-line transition possible. They might have nailed down the perfect five immediately.
3) Who are the real featured pieces on offense?
Offensive coordinator Mick McCall had the entire offseason to scheme. Even with several weapons, the Wildcats occasionally struggled to attain the perfect balanced attack. Now, he's loaded with many of the same playmakers and new ideas to implement. One focus appears to be junior wide receiver Tony Jones, whose speed makes him nearly impossible to bring down in the open field. As for running backs, Malin Jones and Stephen Buckley look to make themselves useful in 2013. Training camp gives them ample time to make an impression.
Northwestern returns to practice on Tuesday afternoon. Stay tuned to PurpleWildcats.com for more subscriber-exclusive practice notes and team stories.