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Position Preview: Running Back

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JULY 18, 2011

The Year That Was

Shane Vereen was very good, as everyone expected. At times, he was Cal’s only semblance of an offense. Those times increased in frequency after October, after senior quarterback Kevin Riley’s season-ending injury at Oregon State.

He scored 13 touchdowns on the ground and added three more as a receiver out of the backfield. The Valencia, Calif., product also became the Bears’ eighth 1000-yard rusher in nine years. (The lone outlier season was 2009, when Jahvid Best only played nine games until a frightening fall into the end zone — also against Oregon State — ended his season. Best still rushed for 867 yards, while Vereen netted 952.)

Key Changes

Vereen is gone now, and for the first time in what feels like forever, there is no clear successor. Before Vereen, there was Best. Before Best, there was Justin Forsett, Marshawn, Arrington. The running game was never a cause for concern because Cal consistently utilized a two-back system that saw the No. 2 tailback ascend after No. 1 left.

The No. 2 last year was Isi Sofele, who stands at 5-foot-7, 188 pounds. Short backs can be just as successful, as LaMichael James and Jacquizz Rodgers proved one state north over the last two years.

More troubling is that Sofele only received 69 carries, compiling 338 yards. In 2008, Vereen’s backup role resulted in 715 yards and 142 carries. In 2006, Forsett churned out 626 on 119 touches behind Marshawn Lynch. Sofele can perhaps look to Best for an encouraging precedent: The now-Detroit Lion had 221 yards on 29 carries. He did, however, show off a much deadlier burst, averaging 7.6 yards per carry to Sofele’s 4.9 last year.

Keep an Eye

Mike Manuel, a JC transfer out of Huntington Beach’s Golden West College, turned a few heads during spring camp. True freshmen Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco could also see reps, although the former is coming off two major knee injuries and may or may not be ready for fall camp.

It’ll be interesting to see where Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson and sophomore Dasarte Yarnway go from here. Both have spent at least two years in the Cal system, but injuries and other issues have limited their on-field performance.


This should be the biggest challenge that running back coach Ron Gould has faced in years. Unless a workhorse emerges from the carousel, expect him to piece together a some sort of timeshare between the backs. Given his track record, Gould should probably put together something at least reasonably effective.

Image source: Emma Lantos, Daily Californian Senior Staff

Contact Jack Wang at 


JULY 18, 2011