Making the Grade: Offense

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Offensive Line:

There’s a column already on the Daily Cal website talking about Maynard’s potential, and surely there will be many more on the way. Bottom line, however, is that Maynard looks like he’s taken a significant step forward in his development in the offseason. He should provide average to above-average production out of the QB spot and at the very least competently manage the game.

He really came on in the second half, giving Cal fans a bit of hope that he’d be more than just another Joe Ayoob. His 20-for-29, 2 touchdown performance against Stanford in particular stood out as hopeful encouragement.

Maynard had a tendency to force balls to his half-brother Keenan Allen last year, and overthrew his targets a little too often earlier in the year. If he can cut down on the mental mistakes and make throws, however, he should be a vastly improved quarterback. Reports from Tedford in spring and fall practice both support this assertion.

The offensive line, on the other hand, is probably the biggest question mark for the Bears. Anchoring the line are seniors Matt Summers-Gavin and Brian Schwenke, who share 68 games of experience between them. Both should perform adequately at the right guard and center positions, respectively.

Save for the two veterans, however, the rest of the line is relatively inexperienced. Left guard Chris Adcock played in just three games in his freshman campaign, and is playing a new position. Left tackle Tyler Rigsbee is a senior, but has played sparingly in his Cal career. His brother Jordan, a highly touted recruit, begins his freshman season at left guard after redshirting last year.

This unit possesses the potential to perform at a high level, but there is just too little experience to say for sure whether it will happen. The Rigsbee brothers could range from decent to disastrous, and an injury to either Summers-Gavin or Schwenke would be a devastating blow.

The depth on the line is average at best. Matt Williams has displayed signs of competency as the backup right tackle, and would be the likely replacement if either Summers-Gavin or Schwenke went down. Alejandro Crosthwaite, besides having an unpronounceable name, is just a sophomore but has received praise from Tedford and will be one of the eight traveling offensive linemen. He will back up the younger Rigsbee at left guard.

Tedford really preaches the importance of the offensive line on the offense’s fate. A fantastic offensive line can cover up for the shortcomings of average backs and receivers, but a leaky offensive line destroys any chances of skill players making an impact. With Allen, Richard Rodgers, Isi Sofele, CJ Anderson, and Brandon Bigelow all serving as above-average weapons at the skill positions, it will be up to this offensive line to make sure holes will be created and to make sure Maynard doesn’t get destroyed by lines like Utah’s, which includes All-American Star Lotulelei. If they can’t, it’s going to be a long season for the fans at Memorial.

Grade: B-
Michael Rosen

Receivers:

Receiving hasn’t been much of a problem for Cal in the last few seasons, and 2012 looks to be no exception. Leading the way again will be junior Keenan Allen, playing in what will likely be his final season with the Bears. In just two seasons at Cal, Allen has already lived up to the hype surrounding his last minute switch from Alabama to Berkeley three years ago. In his sophomore campaign, he snagged 98 catches for 1,343 yards and six scores to lead the Cal passing attack. He should be poised to surpass those numbers given that Cal should see more consistent quarterback play out of Zach Maynard.

Allen did have surgery on his ankle in early spring, which forced him out of most of spring training, but appears to be back to full strength. If he stays healthy, Allen should challenge USC’s Robert Woods for the title of top wide receiver in the Pac-12, and could be a serious candidate for the Biletnikoff Award, given out to the nation’s top receiver.

On the other side of Allen will be a handful of freshmen looking to replace Marvin Jones. While redshirt freshman Maurice Harris had been listed as the starter throughout most of spring, freshman Bryce Treggs recently surpassed him on the depth chart and should get the start against Nevada week one. Harris has shown off great hands to go alongside with his 6’3 frame, but has looked raw in his route running. Treggs has already looked like a polished starting receiver, showing a precise attention to detail in his routes to go alongside with his blazing speed.

Freshmen Chris Harper and Darius Powe should also see a good deal of playing time this fall. Harper might have the best speed out of all the wide receivers, while Powe is probably the most physically imposing.

“They’re talented, but they’re young,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “There’s going to be a learning curve there, but I have a lot of confidence that they’re going to be really good. “

At tight end, sophomore Richard Rodgers looks poised for a breakout year. At 6-4, 265, Rodgers has incredible speed for a guy his size, but has really started to make a name for himself in practice with a handful of circus catches. In June, Tedford spent some time with Bill Billechick and the New England Patriots to try and pick up some tips on how they use their tight ends. Given that and how high Tedford is on Rodgers, it’s safe to assume that the tight end position will see a much larger role in Cal’s offense this season.

“He runs really well and he catches the ball really well,” Tedford said. “You can have him in on every play — he’s not just a specialized guy that can’t block. He can do it all. He may be one of the best tight ends I’ve been around.”

Grade: B

Connor Byrne

 

Running backs:

The running back position was one of the biggest question marks going into the 2011 season. How things have changed in one year.

Shane Vereen opted to forego his senior year in favor of the NFL, in which he was picked in the second round by the Patriots and left Isi Sofele as an inexperienced an unproven starter.

Sofele didn’t just exceed expectations — he blew them out of the water. The Salt Lake City native rushed for 1,322 yards (101.7 per game), 155 more than Vereen the previous year.

With an inconsistent Zach Maynard at quarterback and double coverage on Keenan Allen on the end, Sofele emerged as the anchor of the offense.

The 5-foot-8 speedster has bulked up to 200 pounds, thicker than he was as an underclassman, according to head coach Jeff Tedford.

“He’s a very tough guy,” Tedford said. “He can take the pounding pretty well. Now that’s he’s even thicker, that lends to more power.”

Critical to Sofele’s success was the arrival of junior transfer C.J. Anderson, creating a dynamic one-two punch in the backfield. Anderson would bulldoze his way through defenders to the end zone, tallying eight touchdowns (to Sofele’s 10) in just 72 carries. He averaged 4.8 yards a carry over the course of the season and even had a 74-yard touchdown reception.

“C.J. has really done a nice job of getting himself in shape over the last year and a half,” Tedford said. “He really understands what we’re doing, a very dependable guy.”

The Bears have a history of top-notch running backs, but their running game has always been predicated on having two quality backs. They had Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, they had Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen— now it’s Sofele and Anderson.

“The optimal situation is to have two to kind of feed off one another, keep them fresh, support one another,” Tedford said. “Guys that are similar in what they do so you’re not having to change the game plan on having a real big back as opposed to a scat back.”

This year, though, the running back corps go four-deep. Sophomore Brendan Bigelow and redshirt freshman Daniel Lasco will spell the seniors. While Sofele and Anderson will take the majority of snaps, Tedford said all four will play.

“As a group at one time, with four guys playing, is probably the deepest we’ve been and the most talented we’ve been,” Tedford said.

Bigelow was a high-prized recruit despite missing his entire high school senior season due to a knee injury. He only took six carries last season for 25 yards but has the experience of being the primary kick returner.

The 6-foot-1, 206-pound Lasco was ESPN’s No. 17 running back coming out of The Woodlands High School in Texas.

But the unit starts with Sofele. The 18th-leading rusher in the country last season, Sofele should be even better as a senior with a year as starter under his belt.

“We’re in pretty good shape at the tailback position,” Tedford said.

Grade: A-

Jonathan Kuperberg