For Cal football, the good news is that the 2017 season doesn’t start until Sept. 2, leaving the team with almost seven months to get ready for its opener against North Carolina. The bad news? Every other team has those seven months, and almost none of them will have to break in a new coaching staff as late as the Bears will be forced to.
The Cal athletic department will be expecting a true overhaul of the football program under Justin Wilcox, but if its short-term expectations have not adjusted to the dicey situation it put Wilcox under by hiring him almost two months after most new coaches are hired, they are bound to be disappointed. The 2017 recruiting class stands at an astonishingly low total of 14 players, clearly hampered by Wilcox’s incredibly narrow window of time to recruit players since his mid-January hiring.
That recruiting class is currently ranked worst among teams in the Power Five conferences, so without an at best middling influx of new talent, Wilcox and the rest of his staff will be looking to both reconfigure the current roster and teach 110 players new schemes on offense and defense.
Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will taking up the eternal task of his job position, moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme. It’s hard enough to teach freshman players new terminology and defensive concepts, but DeRuyter will face the Sisyphean task of having to teach all current players, who already have a defensive system (if former coach Sonny Dykes’ defense can generously be described as being organized in anyway) ingrained in their minds.
“We can actually take some classroom time out of the (NCAA allotted) eight hours in the offseason,” DeRuyter said. “We’ll start football 101, ‘this our terminology, these are our expectations.’ And once we establish that, once the new guys come in the summer, the older guys will take them under their wing.”
On the other side of the ball, new offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin may not be facing as stark of a contrast in scheme as DeRuyter, but he will have to install new terminology all the same. Wide receivers coach Nicholas Edwards, who played and coached under Baldwin at Eastern Washington, could prove to be crucial in helping players learn Baldwin’s scheme and terminology, from firsthand experience.
“(Baldwin’s offense) is not too bad (to learn),” Edwards said. “When you’re a football player it comes with the territory. The hard part is just changing lingo. We’re going to try and make it easy on the players. Our guys should be able to pick up on it a little bit easier.”
The new class will have to pick up these new schemes quickly, because they will not be exempt from competition once practices start.
“I tell every freshman, ‘you’re coming in with the mindset to start,’ ” Baldwin said. “You’re not coming in (to camp) in a red-shirt mode. You’re able to see, over 29 practices, where you’re at. The only way you can give yourself the best chance to win is give everybody a fair look in terms of what’s going to really give Cal football the best chance.”
In the Bears new time crunch, they can’t afford anything but the very best chances if they are hoping for meaningful 2017 season.