Newcomer Brandon Singleton prepares to adapt to Cal offense

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As Cal football prepares to start year three of head coach Sonny Dykes’ tenure, one of the few bright spots of the program has been its ability to consistently showcase depth and talent at the wide-receiver position. With the addition of incoming freshmen such as Brandon Singleton, the Bears have bolstered this unit even further in the short term and hope they have found one of the building blocks of Cal’s future deep-receiving corps.

“Brandon is tremendously fast and gives us the speed and big play ability that we need. He has great explosiveness and just eats up the cushion on defensive backs,” Dykes said to Cal Athletics. “He plays the ball very well when it’s in the air. He is a very productive receiver that knows how to play the game.”

Singleton, who is 6 feet tall and only 165 pounds, might find some playing time early if the Bears are looking for a pure speed threat. Along with playing football, Singleton was also a track star in high school, with Louisiana state championships in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles.

Singleton, however, has a huge obstacle in his way that will likely limit his early playing time before he can thrive at Cal. He will have to make a substantial adjustment if he wants to learn the Bears’ air raid offense — Singleton comes from a high school that ran the triple option. In the triple option, receivers are usually relegated to running deep routes, while the Bears expect their receivers to do everything. Teams that run the triple option also rarely pass, whereas it is not uncommon to see Cal pass 40 times a game.

Singleton is learning to crisply run shorter routes before he can thrive in Cal’s offense and is confident that the adjustment is going well for him.

“My biggest strengths will be stretching the field with my speed and my route running,” Singleton said. “I feel like I can get in and out of breaks and create separation from defenders.”

The ability to stretch the field will be enormously valuable because it can result in huge plays down the field. In addition, a player such as Singleton — a threat to run past the cornerback on every play — will occupy one of the safeties’ attention as well. This gives other receivers an advantage as they try to get open closer to the line of scrimmage and means the quarterback won’t have to worry about a safety lurking in his shorter passing lanes all game.

Singleton should really be able to make his mark when he has the ball thrown his way. The Bears’ receiving corps, however, will be so stacked with upperclassmen in the 2015 season that Singleton most likely won’t see significant playing time until his sophomore year. But when that time comes, he has a few things going for him that indicate he could be a very successful receiver.

One skill that will surely work in Singleton’s favor is that he is accustomed to helping in the run game by blocking, as this was a large part of his role in the triple option. Another one of his strengths will be tracking the long ball when it’s in the air — a strength Dykes pointed to when Singleton signed and one that will help the smaller receiver be competitive on throws down the field.

But it won’t all be easy for Singleton. He will need to bulk up to avoid being at constant risk for injury. Another problem is that his hands haven’t been tested much. While he managed to pull in 50 catches in his last year of high school, that was the only year that Singleton spent as a wide receiver, having moved to the position from quarterback. He also needs to make sure he gets enough practice to have confident, steady hands whenever he does step into a bigger role for the Bears. Singleton thinks the last missing piece will be learning the new offense, after which he will be ready to contribute in a big way.

“Physically and mentally I feel like I’m ready, but a lot of things have been thrown at me, so I just feel like I’ve got to adjust,” Singleton said. “I feel like I can blossom in this offense.”

Hooman Yazdanian is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @hoomanyazdanian.