Cal football receiving corps shines as team’s strongest component

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It’s natural for a team with a trigger-happy quarterback in a trigger-happy offense to pass the ball often at a highly efficient clip. Because of this, it’s not surprising the Cal football receivers last year finished 10th in the country for most receiving yards.

With 4,152 yards on 329 receptions, most of the Bears offense last year came through the air. On Cal’s receiving corp, there is a mix of personnel, where a handful specialize as speed threats and the others are bigger and more physical targets. Because of the mismatches the Bears receivers present to opposing defenses, they were often able to create separation, and quarterback Jared Goff was usually alert enough to hit his open men.

Most of the squad that was so successful last year will be returning this season. With Goff entering his junior year and most of the key returning receivers entering their senior seasons, the receiving numbers might even go up from last year, so 2015 could potentially be a historic year for Cal in terms of offense.

“This is going into year three for us (since the coaching and offensive change), so our players are their own coaches a lot of times,” said Cal inside receivers coach Jacob Peeler. “That’s kind of the mold that we instill in them. We want them to be coaches on the field when we can’t be.”

Although the Bears won’t have Chris Harper because of his departure to the NFL, everybody else will be back. Last year, Harper had the third most receiving yards on the team with 634 and the second most receiving touchdowns with six. Although Harper’s route-running and reliable hands as a receiver will be hard to replace, Cal still has immense depth, and Goff still has a multitude of options.

What made Cal’s offense so interesting last year was that there was no clear No. 1 receiver on whom other teams could lock in, because throughout the whole season, there were always multiple guys on a hot streak. Of the top 10 teams in receiving yards, Cal is the only team to not feature a player that had more than 800 yards. In fact, the Bears’ leading receiver in Kenny Lawler had just 701 yards.

The lack of a true No. 1 option at receiver does not necessarily mean the Bears are lacking a star player who demands extra coverage. There are multiple players capable of being the No. 1, depending on the game. As a result, Goff has the luxury of being able to throw to several hot spots on the field, which prevents teams from locking on and committing to one specific player.

“Throughout the game, it’s all about constant communication,” Peeler said. “Our receivers come on the sideline and they say, ‘Coach, I can run right by him. I’m telling you, the safety is coming up. He’s cheating up. I can take the top off the defense.’ ”

The outside receivers will feature primarily seniors Trevor Davis and Maurice Harris and junior Lawler. On the inside will be a rotation of seniors Bryce Treggs, Stephen Anderson and Darius Powe.

Cal will be dangerous when it uses its slot receivers to exploit mismatches, because Treggs along with Anderson and Powe compose the two ends of a spectrum. Treggs is the speed threat, while Anderson and Powe are both 6-foot-3 targets who can play physically and win jump balls.

“(Treggs is) a guy that’s a mismatch regardless who he’s going to be lined up against,” Peeler said. “Then you talk about Stephen Anderson and Darius Powe, who are bigger, stronger guys. They’re just going to out-physical the guys that they’re going against.”

A result of Cal having so many weapons is that there likely won’t be a 1,000-plus yard receiver again, because Goff will be distributing the ball evenly up and down the depth chart. Whereas other quarterbacks will have one obvious area to go to, Goff has the entire field at his disposal.

Ritchie Lee covers football. Contact him at [email protected].