Passing the torch

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The narrative surrounding Cal football has been remarkably consistent for the last three seasons. The talking heads have recycled the same few bullet points since 2013: poor defense, Jared Goff, even worse defense.

Now, No. 1 overall pick Goff is the franchise hope of the newly minted Los Angeles Rams and desperately competing for the starting job (competing with Case Keenum, a historically mediocre signal caller, though that’s a story for another day). Without Goff — Cal’s best claim to relevancy — where is the 2016 team if not square one? And what exactly does the Bears’ offense have going for it as the season fast approaches?

For one, starting quarterback Davis Webb, a graduate transfer from Texas Tech, will hope to mitigate some growing pains as the Bears adapt to life without Goff. Webb joined the program in May after starting 14 games for the Red Raiders, finishing his career in Lubbock with 46 touchdowns, 22 interceptions and a 138.4 passer efficiency rating. Webb, who ranks 10th in passing yards and 11th in total offense all-time for Texas Tech, was immediately pegged as the likely starter once it was announced that he had chosen Cal over Colorado. Sure enough, Bears head coach Sonny Dykes officially handed Webb the reins earlier this month, pointing to his experience running a similar style of offense with the Red Raiders under Kliff Kingsbury.

“Davis has a lot of experience as a starting quarterback at the collegiate level, and that’s why he separated himself from the others early in camp,” said offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital. “We felt that we needed to start building continuity with the ones and we want to be ready to go once we get on the plane to go to Australia so that sped up the process.”

The hope is that Webb can at least partially compensate for the vacuum of talent and stability that Goff left behind, but the real questions should be directed at the receiving corps. Receiving depth has been one of the Bears’ few strengths over the past several seasons, but Cal’s top six receivers from last season are long gone — including offensive stalwarts Kenny Lawler and Bryce Treggs, who combined for 1,614 yards and 20 touchdowns last year. Redshirt junior Chad Hansen is the only returning wideout who finished 2015 with more than 200 receiving yards to his name, earning 249 yards on 19 receptions along with one touchdown.

All eyes will be on Hansen to lead an exceptionally young group of receivers this season. Redshirt freshman Brandon Singleton and freshmen Demetris Robertson and Melquise Stovall (expected to start in the slot) should all see significant playing time this season, though how well they’ll mesh with Webb remains to be seen. Singleton was listed at X in the newest edition of the preseason depth chart, but Robertson and senior Patrick Worstell are likely not far behind.

The problem is that a jumble of so many talented but inexperienced receivers can be a double-edged sword, especially in the hands of a quarterback in his first year with a new staff and system. Webb will never have a shortage of skilled targets to hit, but he might never have an opportunity to build the necessary rapport with one or two wideouts right out of the gate. After all, those flashy Goff-to-Lawler endzone fades, the SC top 10 highlights and exhilarating crowdpleasers didn’t exactly develop overnight.

The hope is that all these ambiguities will be well and settled by the time conference season heats up, not as it comes to a close. The myriad of questions surrounding the passing game is unavoidable, given the hype that followed this team last year as it boasted a future No. 1 overall pick. If Webb can settle into some kind of groove, and fast, Cal should be serviceable at the very least on this side of the ball as the program adjusts to its new chapter.

Michelle Lee covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @michelle_e_lee.