Monthly Archives: March 2015

Cal 2017 Football Preview: Hit the reset button. Then taste the pain.

OverviewPhoto Jul 18, 12 06 33 PM

The Sonny Dykes era must have been hard on Cal fans, all 14 of them. Dykes had his name tag on the right side of his blazer, he wore his power tie, and while he was shaking Cal’s hand at the networking event, he was looking over their shoulder for the more interesting people in the room. Also, the Berkeley football program suddenly decided to care about academics. Gross.

 

The decision to hire Justin Wilcox as Dykes’s replacement was curious. He had mixed results at previous stops, particularly at USC. But, sweet Moses, he put together a good staff. Bringing on Eastern Washington’s head coach as Cal’s offensive coordinator was a sleazy move. Just ask Mike Leach and Mike Riley. Wilcox also picked off Oregon’s former offensive and defensive line coaches. They are good and he is going to need them.

Cal returns an impressive group of skill players but their offensive line must be completely rebuilt, their front seven couldn’t pressure the quarterback, Sonny Dykes didn’t recruit particularly well, and whoever starts at quarterback will have little to no experience other than shredding a bad Golden Bear scout team in practice. Also, LOOK AT THEIR SCHEDULE – WHO HAD THE BRIGHT IDEA TO PUT THAT TOGETHER?

It could be a tough year for Cal. Bless Justin Wilcox’s big heart for taking this job.

Quarterback
It is possible that Sonny Dykes was too busy googling college football coaching vacancies to remember to give his backup quarterbacks valuable playing time. Starting quarterback Davis Webb threw 620 of the 621 pass attempts for the Golden Bears in 2016. And that was the secret to Cal’s magical, undefeated season. Cal went 5-7. They started a senior graduate transfer and didn’t have the foresight build for the future. That’s inexcusable.

The joke is on junior Chase Forrest and sophomore Ross Bowers, two unheralded quarterbacks with, basically, zero game experience. Bowers and Forrest will fight for the starting spot through the end of Fall camp. Both quarterbacks have similar skill sets and similar size. Forrest saw the field in spurts during the 2015 season but the coaching change and player turnover make the intervening two years seem like a decade.

Coaches have highlighted Forrest’s poise in the pocket and his ability to scramble when needed. Then he threw two interceptions, completed 50% of his passes, and lost 21 yards on 6 rushing attempts in the spring game. Still his quick release and his ability to move in the pocket are a draw for the staff. Bowers, who has the stronger arm and can also get the ball out quickly, had a more impressive Spring game. He finished 18 of 29 for 168 yards, threw three touchdowns, and had ten rushing yards. He also looked more skittish in the pocket than Forrest.

It could be a rough year for Cal if these guys don’t figure it out quickly.

Grade: C

@WildcatRadioAZ Projected Depth Chart
Ross Bowers, Sophomore: Warmed up in 2016 when Davis Webb took a breath
Chase Forrest, Junior: 10 completions – 18 pass attempts | 55.6% completion rate | 162 passing yards | 9 yards per pass | 1 td | 1 int – in 2015, did not play in 2016

Running Back
The departure of four-year staple Khalfani Muhammad is offset by returning running backs Tre Watson and Vic Enwere who bring the stereotypical thunder and lightning attack. Watson, a 5’11, 205 lb, senior, was basically a co-starter with Muhammad last year. He racked up 709 yards, averaged nearly 5 yards a carry, was fast enough to return kicks, and is a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. Enwere is a pure bruiser. At 6’0, 245 lb (!!!), he rumbled forward for 336 yards and five and a half yards per carry.

Behind Watson and Enwere are two juniors, Patrick Laird and Bobby McCrary who saw limited minutes. They will fend off challenges from unproven underclassmen to see the field.

Overall, this is a decent and proven unit that should see more action under Beau Baldwin who wants to put more focus on the running game.

Grade: B

@WildcatRadioAZ Projected Depth Chart
Tre Watson, 5’11, 205 lb, Senior: 143 carries | 709 yards | 4.9 yards per carry | 4 td
21 catches | 241 yards | 11.4 yards per catch | 4 td
Vic Enwere, 6’0, 245 lb, Senior: 61 carries | 336 yards | 5.5 yards per carry | 2 td

Others in the Mix
Patrick Laird, 6’0, 200 lb, Junior: 8 carries | 59 yards | 7.3 yards per carry | 1 td
Bobby McCrary, 5’11, 210 lb, Junior: 6 carries | 39 yards | 6.5 yards per carry | 0 td

Wide Receiver
Last year, Cal started the top-ranked athlete in the country, Demetrius Robertson, at wide receiver and he was outplayed by a former walk-on. Okay, the walk-on was Chris Hansen who hauled in 1,249 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns, and now plays for the New York Jets.

Even in the shadow of a talented, reliable receiver who seemed to catch everything thrown his way, Demetrius Robertson had an incredible freshman year. He caught 50 passes for 709 yards and 7 touchdowns. Now, as the #1 target, he should have a monster year if his quarterback can get him the ball.

Robertson is not alone. He is joined by fellow blue-chip commit, Melquise Stovall, a diminutive but talented wide receiver who hauled in 42 receptions and 415 yards as a true freshman. JUCO transfer Jordan Veasy saw significant time on the field last year and his 6’3, 225 frame provides a big, physical target. Rounding out the wide receiving corps are Vic Wharton and Brandon Singleton who both caught double digit receptions last year. Finally, look for 6’3, 245 lb, tight end Ray Hudson to have an increased role in the Bears’ offense. Beau Baldwin has spoken often of better incorporating his tight ends.

The Golden Bears have one of the most talented and experienced wide receiving corps in the Pac-12. Cal fans should hope they have an accurate quarterback who can make use of this talent.

Grade: A

@WildcatRadioAZ Projected Starters
Demetrius Robertson, 6’0, 185 lb, Sophomore: 50 receptions | 767 yards | 15.3 yards per catch | 7 td
Melquise Stovall, 5’9, 185 lb, Sophomore: 42 receptions | 415 yards | 9.8 yards per catch | 3 td
Jordan Veasy, 6’3, 225 lb, Senior: 25 receptions | 306 yards | 12.2 yards per catch | 3 td
Ray Hudson, 6’3, 245 lb, Senior: 16 receptions | 165 yards | 10.3 yards per catch | 3 td

Others in the Mix
Vic Wharton, 5’11, 210 lb, Junior: 28 receptions | 293 yards | 10.4 yards per catch | 1 td
Austin Roberts: 6’0, 170 lb, Sophomore: 15 receptions | 110 yards | 7.3 yards per catch | 1 td

Offensive Line
Justin Wilcox hired talented coach Steve Greatwood to rebuild Cal’s depleted offensive line. Greatwood helped place 9 collegiate offensive line players in the NFL and was the mastermind behind Oregon’s talented offensives line for 11 years. He needs to summon all his powers in Berkeley — where he has just ten scholarship players to work with.

Cal loses three multi-year starters from a line that was pretty good at run blocking and didn’t have a lot of problems protecting the passer – likely because the air raid pushes quarterbacks to get rid of the ball early. That philosophy will continue under Beau Baldwin, regardless of who starts on the line.

Greatwood starts with Addison Ooms, a 6’4, 310 lb, junior who started 12 games as a sophomore. After Ooms, there has been a lot of shuffling. While the final depth chart will solidify at the end of Fall camp, it appears that the tackle positions are shored up. Patrick Mekari, who started four games in 2016, has separated himself as the starter on the left side. Jake Curhan, a 6’6, 325 lb, sophomore, seems to have secured the right tackle spot. Curhan came into camp in 2016 with promise, but an injury kept him out his freshman season.

The guard positions are up in the air and Kamryn Bennett, Gentle Williams, and Semisi Uluare are all competing for spots on the two-deep.

Cal struck gold with the hiring of Greatwood. He is a good coach that develops talent. But there isn’t much talent to work with in Berkeley. Sonny Dykes didn’t recruit the offensive line well and, with so few scholarships, injuries could destroy this line.

Grade: C-

@WildcatRadioAZ Projected Starters
Addison Ooms, 6’4, 310 lb, Junior: 12 starts at center in 2016
Patrick Mekari, 6’4, 300 lb, Junior: 4 starts at tackle in 2016
Jake Curhan, 6’6, 325 lb, Sophomore: Promising underclassman who was injured in 2016
Kamryn Bennett, 6’3, 310 lb, Junior | Likely starter at left guard – played four games in 2016
Semisi Uluare, 6’5, 345 lb, Redshirt Senior | Massive man – arrived at Cal with lots of hype

Defense
Words cannot describe how terrible Cal’s defense was last year. The Golden Bears need help at defensive line, linebacker, and at secondary. They also need a hug.

Defensive Line
In 2016, Cal fielded one of the worst defensive lines in college football. The Golden Bears were 121nd in the country in tackles for loss (51 total), placed no pressure on the quarterback (18 sacks), and they ranked 127 out of 128 teams in rushing defense. This was a disaster.

It will continue.

The biggest news along the defensive line was the hiring of new defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, another former Oregon coach who built the sneaky good Duck defensive lines that helped Chip Kelly win a national title get a job in the NFL.

Like Steve Greatwood, however, Azzinaro has little to work with. Returning nose tackle Tony Mekari is undersized. He is flanked by James Looney, a legitimate defensive end, and sophomore Zeande Johnson, who only notched four tackles all year. On top of that, if the injury bug hits – and it always does— there is little depth, little experience, and no pedigree.

Jerry Azzinaro will likely improve the defensive line over time but quarterbacks will have the opportunity to sign autographs and take selfies with fans in the backfield while Cal’s defensive line tries to operate.

Grade: D-

@WildcatRadioAZ Projected Depth Chart
Tony Mekari, 6’1, 295 lb, Junior: 33 tackles | 4.5 tackles for loss – started 10 games in 2016
James Looney, 6’3, 280 lb, Senior: 54 tackles | 8 tackles for loss | 2 qb hurries | 1 forced fumble
Zeande Johnson, 6’4, 280 lb, Sophomore: 4 tackles — special teams standout – had a great Spring

Other Players in the Mix
Rusty Becker, 6’4, 280 lb, Senior: No stats in 2016
Chinedu Udeogu, 6’4, 250 lb, Freshman: No stats in 2016
Chris Palmer, 6’2, 320 lb, Junior: 2 tackles

Linebackers
Cal returns their top four linebackers from last year’s team. They also pushed their talented defensive ends to the linebacking corps. It makes sense. Would you want to play defensive end on this team?

Like the defensive line, this group of linebackers found little success in stopping the run, or in pass coverage. They also didn’t disrupt the backfield. Look for Justin Wilcox to challenge the returning starters.

Cal’s top returning tackler, Devante Downs, should be safe and keep his spot inside. Downs had 3.5 tackles for a loss and 3 pass breakups. That’s about as good as it got for this team but he did bring down 84 tackles. Senior Raymond Davidson, also an inside linebacker, could also keep his starting role if he fends off blue-chip commit Russell Ude. Davidson tallied 69 tackles and three pass breakups.

The outside slots should be up for grabs. Already, returning junior Jordan Kunaszyk, who had 52 tackles last year, is fighting for a backup role as converted defensive end Cameron Saffle moves into the top spot on the edge. Saffle had the most success in the Bear front seven in 2016 with 8.5 tackles for a loss and 4 pass breakups. JUCO transfer Alex Funches and others will fight for the last starting position – both are undersized.

Moving Cameron Saffle to outside linebacker should provide much needed help to this corps. Still, who cares?

Grade: B+

@WildcatRadioAZ Projected Starters
Devante Downs, 6’3, 245 lb, Senior: 84 tackles | 3.5 tackles for loss | 3 pass breakups |
Raymond Davidson, 6’2, 235 lb, Senior: 69 tackles | 1.5 tackles for loss | 3 pass breakups | 1 int
Cameron Saffle, 6’3, 250 lb, Junior: 57 tackles | 8.5 tackles for loss | 4 pass breakups
Alex Funches, 6’2, 230 lb, Junior: #12 JUCO weakside linebacker

Other Players in the Mix
Jordan Kunaszyk, 6’2, 235 lb, Junior: 51 tackles | 1 tackle for loss | 1 int
Hamilton Anoa’i, 6’2, 250 lb, Senior | 15 tackles | 1 tackle for loss
Russell Ude, 6’3, 245 lb, Sophomore | #20 defensive end of 2015 class
Cameron Goode, 6’3, 225 Freshman: Word

Secondary
The best unit in the Cal defense was their secondary, which placed 7th in the Pac-12. Injuries plagued this unit in 2016, allowing basically everyone to see the field. Few players seized the opportunity. As the 2017 season approaches, three returning starters will likely defend their spots on the roster, leaving two positions up for grabs.

Cornerback Darius Allensworth is the most interesting player in the secondary. He could be a late-round NFL talent but has been inconsistent. He will be joined by fellow senior Marloshawn Franklin, who broke up 8 passes last year. At safety, capable senior Luke Rebenzer returns and it looks like junior Quentin Tartabull impressed enough in camp to snatch at least a share of the second starting spot. Look for blue-chip freshman Elijah Hicks to make an immediate impact – he had a great spring session and will compete at multiple corner spots.

Overall, there are a number of younger players who have game experience. If the injury bug doesn’t hit look for this unit to move to the middle of Pac-12 pass defenses but that is likely their ceiling.

Grade: C+

@WildcatRadioAZ Projected Starters
Darius Allensworth, 5’11, 195 lb, Senior: 12 tackles | 4 pass breakups
Marloshawn Franklin, 5’11, 190 lb, Senior: 46 tackles | 8 pass breakups
Luke Rebenzer: 5’11, 200 lb, Senior: 58 tackles | 2.5 tackles for loss | 2 int | 1 pass breakup
Quentin Tartabull, 5’11, 205 lb, Junior: Impressed in spring camp

Other Players in the Mix
Evan Rambo: 6’4, 210 lb, Sophomore: 10 tackles | 1 int | 1 pass breakups
Jalinn Hawkins: 6’2, 200 lb, Sophomore: 29 tackles
Elijah Hicks, 6’0, 185 lb, Freshman: #22 athlete in 2017 class – had great Spring
Traveon Beck, 5’9, 160 lb, Sophomore: 9 tackles
Camryn Bynum, 6’0, 180 lb, Freshman:

Conclusion
Coaching and skill players make this team nominally interesting but it’s likely that the Cal’s quarterback, front seven, and gauntlet schedule will doom the Golden Bears to the bottom of the Pac-12. Looking towards the long term – academic recruiting restrictions, a small fan base, and lack of funding should kneecap any momentum that Justin Wilcox brings to Berkeley. Look for him to pull a Sonny Dykes and try to grab a better job if he finds any success. Also, Cal’s athletic department is, like, a zillion dollars in debt.

Cal Schedule
Sat, September 2 @ North Carolina (result: .1)
Sat, September 9 vs Weber State (result: .9)
Sat, September 16 vs Ole Miss (result: .1)
Sat, September 23 vs USC (result: 0)
Sat, September 30 @ Oregon (result .3)
Sat, October 7 @ Washington (result: 0)
Fri, October 13 vs Washington State (result .2)
Sat, October 21 vs. Arizona (result .4)
Sat, October 28 @ Colorado (result .2)
Sat, November 4 vs Oregon State (result .3)
Bye
Sat, November 18 @ Stanford (result .1)
Fri, November 24 @ UCLA (result .1)

@WildcatRadioAZ Season Win Total Over/Under
2.7

Pre-Season All Pac-12 Nominees
Demetrius Robertson
Cameron Saffle

Rick’s Five Newcomers to Watch
Biaggio Ali-Walsh, 5’10, 190 lb, Running Back
Taariq Johnson, 6’2, 220 lb, Wide Receiver
Elijah Hicks, 5’11, 175 lb, Defensive Back
Chase Garbers, 6’2, 210 lb, Quarterback
Poutasi Poutasi, 6’4, 310 lb, Offensive Lineman

 

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