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April 20, 2012
BT breaks down the Cal football spring game, unit-by-unit
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On Saturday, April 21, the California football team will host its first ever true spring game under head coach Jeff Tedford.
The Bears will be split into two teams: the Blue, helmed by starting quarterback Zach Maynard, and the Gold, helmed by No. 2 signal-caller Allan Bridgford.
To prepare you for the day of football, BearTerritory presents this Spring Game Breakdown, looking at each of the teams, position by position, telling you what to look for at Edwards Track Stadium. This first article will focus on the offense for the Blue team.
Blue Team: Offense
Tailbacks: Daniel Lasco (RS Fr., 6-foot-1, 204); Brendan Bigelow (Soph., 5-foot-10, 188); Isi Sofele (Sr., 5-foot-8, 183)
BT's Starter: Sofele will likely start the game for the Blue, but given his production last season, he's pretty much a sure thing, so there is no reason to burn him out or risk getting him injured behind a patchwork offensive line. Expect Sofele to get the token start, but the real show here will be the 2011 tailbacks.
What to Watch For: Lasco and Bigelow. Lasco is a load to tackle, runs hard with great pad level and has been a breakout star this spring. Bigelow is no longer hampered by the psychological scars of having a twice-operated-on knee, and has really come on strong in the most recent practices, going between the tackles and running with authority. He tweaked his ankle last Thursday, but with a few days off, he should be ready to go. If these two are going right, this is your preview for the tailback tandem of the future. This is the thunder and lightning combo not seen since Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen, with one addendum: Lasco isn't just a banger. He may not fly like Bigelow can, but he's plenty fast, which means he carries a lot of momentum (remember freshman physics, anyone?) when he's blasting a defender, and he's not shy of contact.
Quarterbacks: Zach Maynard (Sr., 6-foot-2, 185); Kyle Boehm (RS Fr., 6-foot-3, 221); Austin Hinder (RS Soph., 6-foot-4, 194)
BT's Starter: Maynard. Not going out on too much of a limb here. Maynard has missed several spring practices because of academic concerns, but, Tedford says, he has been "night and day," from last season, when he was completely new to the offense. He's gained a bit of muscle, and is as mobile as ever, with a better grasp on the complexities and intricacies of the Tedford offense. With a ball-hawking secondary on the other side of the ball and precious few experienced receivers, things could get interesting for Maynard very quickly, especially without his little brother Keenan Allen, who, though on the Blue roster, is still laid up after a pick-up basketball ankle injury.
What to Watch For: Boehm is a big, powerful runner, who played mostly in a run-first offense at Archbishop Mitty. He runs like a deer, and his arm has shown a lot of growth this spring. The real question will be how he functions in a game scenario, with live bodies coming his way. The same can be said of Hinder. Hinder throws a nice ball -- probably one of the better touch passers among the signal-callers, but he's still a bit spindly. He's put on muscle, but on his lengthy frame, it doesn't really show as much as Boehm's gains in the weight room. Hinder has a plus mind for the game, but when the bullets are flying, he pulls his eyes down. This spring, in the practices the media were allowed to see, it appeared as though Boehm -- who, frankly, has more physical tools -- had surpassed Hinder.
Offensive Tackles: Matt Williams (Jr. 6-foot-6, 303); Matt Summers-Gavin (Sr., 6-foot-4, 293); Christian Okafor (Fr., 6-foot-6, 315); Tyler Rigsbee (Sr., 6-foot-5, 290)
BT's Starters: This is where things start to get interesting. The odds-on favorites on the outside would have to be Rigsbee and starting right tackle Rigsbee. Okafor is in his first spring of college action, and Williams is still a question mark.
What to Watch For: Rigsbee has made great strides in transforming his body, and is going to be one of the headier veterans, despite precious little game experience. Williams was plucked out of North Dakota State College of Science in the 2011 class and came in early, so this isn't his first rodeo, but the point of taking offensive linemen out of junior college is so that they can come in and play right away. Williams didn't play a down last season. A basketball player for much of his life, he's a plus athlete, but that just hasn't translate, at least as of now. If he's made a leap this spring, this is when Cal fans will get to see it. A subplot will be just how many snaps Okafor gets. Tedford has said that Okafor's hands are even bigger than Alex Mack's pair of frying pans, and he uses them very well. Physically, he's a monster, but the outside is a dangerous place, especially against this Bears defense. The Gold squad will throw playmaker Cecil Whiteside and dynamic Jalen Jefferson at him, if he gets on the field, so that could be a match-up to pay attention to.
Interior Linemen: Brian Schwenke (Sr., 6-foot-4, 312); Alejandro Crosthwaite (Soph., 6-foot-4, 304); Mark Brazinski (Jr., 6-foot-3, 306)
BT's Starters: Schwenke will start at center, and Crosthwaite at one of the guard positions. Brazinski is on the shelf for the entire 2012 campaign with an ACL tear, so he'll just be window dressing on the sidelines. I wouldn't be shocked to see offensive line coach Jim Michalczik move one of the tackles in to guard, in accordance with his "best five on the field" philosophy.
What to Watch For: Schwenke has been playing center all spring, even before Brazinski went down. He was right next to last year's starting center Dominic Galas during all of the errant shotgun snaps, so he knows that, with a QB like Maynard, he has to be on the money. Schwenke has spent time after and before practice firing extra shotgun snaps, so this will be Bears fans' first chance to see if he can hit Maynard in the chest consistently. If he can, it wouldn't be surprising to see him go into fall as the starting center.
Tight Ends: Richard Rodgers (Soph. 6-foot-4, 265); Nathan Phillip (Jr., 6-foot-2, 237); Jake Davis (Jr., 6-foot-4, 214); Brett Buchanan (Soph., 6-foot-3, 227)
BT's Starter: Not much to see here, other than 6-foot-3, 265-pound Rodgers, who has doubled as a punter this spring because of the graduation of Bryan Anger and the transfer of Jed Barnett. Don't recognize the other two names on the list? Phillip is a junior out of San Francisco City College, and Davis is a junior out of Monterrey Peninsula College. Buchanan is a transfer from San Diego, and was an All-Coastal League selection as a right tackle as a senior at Encinitas (Calif.) Santa Fe Christian. Expect Rodgers to see the lion's share of the snaps and not too much multiple-tight end sets.
What to Watch For: Rodgers has come on strong this spring and, Tedford says, could turn into "a force" in the offense. His size, speed and wide receiver's hands are all plusses, and he should be something to behold. The scrimmage should test his knowledge of the playbook, a lack of which hindered his playing time last season as a true freshman.
Fullbacks: Kameron Krebs (Sr., 6-foot-1, 227); Tanner Mohr (Jr., 6-foot, 235)
BT's Starter: Krebs, a converted linebacker, was moved to fullback this spring because of lack of depth at the position. Tedford has been complimentary of Krebs's work thus far.
What to Watch For: Can Krebs truly make the switch? Lowering the boom as a linebacker would seem to translate well to the fullback position, but the key will be whether he can tote the rock when needed, as well. Blocking assignments on offense are also a lot more complicated than just letting it loose on defense. Given the shuffling along the offensive line and the lack of viable tight ends, Krebs's role will be magnified. Mohr is a junior, hailing from Davis (Calif.) High School. He does not have any collegiate football experience, but has served as a prop on the Cal rugby team, so sticking his nose into the fray isn't going to be foreign to him.
Wide Receivers: Maurice Harris (RS Fr., 6-foot-3, 6); Keenan Allen (Jr., 6-foot-3, 206); Bryce McGovern (Soph., 5-foot-10, 208); Stephen Anderson (RS Fr., 6-foot-2, 2089); Kaulin Krebs (Sr., 6-foot, 188); James Grisom (Soph., 5-foot-11, 173)
BT's Starters: Harris, McGovern and Anderson, if the Bears go three-wide to start. Allen is still recovering from ankle surgery, and shouldn't be available to play, as he hasn't seen a single snap all spring.
What to Watch For: McGovern and Harris have some of the best hands on the team. Harris is a big target who should help to approximate Allen's size, which proved to be a security blanket for Maynard last season. However, there have been concerns that Harris hasn't been quite as sharp or as disciplined as expected in his route-running, and that he has not developed into the kind of receiver he needed to be given the lack of depth this spring. Can he break out and have a light bulb moment in front of a crowd? We'll find out on Saturday. Anderson is also a tall drink of water, but his hands are a question mark.
Stay tuned for more PREMIUM breakdowns as we gear up for the Blue vs. Gold game.