The issues surrounding Cal football’s offense in the Justin Wilcox era became completely undeniable in the close of last year’s season and at the Cheez-It Bowl. The questions about how that was going to change in 2019 haven’t been answered yet, but Saturday’s Spring Game could go a long way toward providing some much-needed clarity.
“Each and every position, you’re just looking for the next step in each player’s development and each position’s development,” Wilcox said. “We’ve got to keep that going because that’s what’s necessary for us to get better, and then we’ve ultimately got to produce.”
For one, Cal is again without a clear-cut first-string QB, and although a starter is unlikely to be officially announced until shortly before the regular season begins in late August, this will be the biggest test the competitors have faced so far. The primary candidates are the incumbent Chase Garbers, who “lost” last summer’s competition before quickly replacing the “winner,” Ross Bowers — who has announced his intention to leave the program — and junior transfer Devon Modster.
Garbers’ numbers from last season were alarming, but he did preside over some big wins, and it’s difficult to tease out what of the offensive collapse was his fault and what of his terrible passing lines was the fault of the offensive collapse. Modster was a four-star recruit out of high school who signed with UCLA but left for Palomar College after it became clear that he was not going to be the heir apparent to Josh Rosen.
Modster doesn’t have the same threat to run as Garbers but likely has the edge in arm talent. He only saw the field a few times at UCLA, and one of his very best performances came against Cal, in 2017, when he went for 191 yards in just 18 attempts on a 78 percent completion rate.
“It’s been a work in (progress), definitely,” Modster said. “I’m still not where I want to be, but it’s just taking each day and getting better.”
With the departure of Patrick Laird, the Bears are also in need of a new starting running back. That is presumed to be sophomore Christopher Brown Jr., but there’s always the possibility that Cal rolls with more of a back-by-committee approach and gets a lot of players touches at that position. Derrick Clark and Biaggio Ali Walsh, who could have contributed to the position, both transferred at the end of last season, so Marcel Dancy and Alex Netherda are next up in that group, with a lot they can prove during the Spring Game.
On the defensive side of the ball, it’ll be important to see how outside linebacker Cameron Goode, who was only able to play in one game last season, looks in his return from an injury. He looked to be on the track to becoming a defensive star, and if he can get back on that path, it will be a huge plus for the Bears.
The other defender looking to make waves on Saturday will be junior college transfer linebacker Kuony Deng, whose 6’6” frame makes him an intriguing prospect all over the field. He’s primarily practiced at inside linebacker so far after playing outside at Independence Community College, so Saturday will be a milestone for his adjustment to the position.