Yuen’s Quarterback Camp: Evaluating Cal’s options in 2019

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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In between his two stints as commander in chief of the Oakland Raiders, Jon Gruden was a busy guy. On top of his duties in ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast booth, “Chucky” kept his name afloat by drilling future NFL quarterbacks on the ins and outs of life under center. His lab, famously called Gruden’s QB Camp, became a popular pit stop for analysis, advice and friendly banter.

Early on in the 2018 season, Cal quarterback Chase Garbers called the team’s quarterback room one of the best in all of college football. But fresh off a combined 16 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, a 60.0 completion percentage and a 5.7-yard average per pass attempt, the team’s holistic performance by its signal callers was a far cry from preseason expectations.

For years, there was no college equivalent. But at least for a day, we’ll give Jon Gruden our best shot.

Welcome to Yuen’s QB Camp. In true Gruden style, here are the midsummer evaluations of Cal’s optimistic quarterback group:

 

Chase Garbers (redshirt sophomore)

2018 statistics: 159-260 (61.2 completion percentage), 1,506 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, 10 interceptions

98 rushing attempts, 420 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns

Prevalently viewed as the best long-term option at the position, Garbers had a Cheez-It Bowl to forget but a season to remember in 2018. After a strong fall camp, he earned the starting role in week two and received the majority of offensive snaps while overcoming anticipated growing pains as a redshirt freshman.

At 6’2”, Garbers stands tall in the pocket but also possesses an eye-opening ability to extend plays with his feet and escape pressure with an elusiveness similar to that of a true dual-threat quarterback. Head coach Justin Wilcox has stressed that Garbers’ ability to scramble out of the pocket makes him a tough assignment for opposing defensive coordinators.

The Newport Beach product has also shown significant strides as a leader, and being more vocal is a notable step for Garbers. His father Grant calls him a true “flatliner,” with a calm and often emotionless personality, a trait that helped him get through adversity in tough situations last season.

Garbers is far from a finished product — three interceptions in a disastrous bowl performance and a significant shortage of explosive plays all year certainly raised frustration levels up a notch late in the year.

Yet Cal fans often forget that even golden boy Jared Goff struggled mightily at times during his freshman year under center. With Chase Forrest graduating, Ross Bowers transferring and Brandon McIlwain shifting into a tailback role, Garbers is now the undisputed returning vet at the position. That alone is a huge plus that separates him from Devon Modster, the former UCLA quarterback who is here for a fresh start at the collegiate level.

 

Devon Modster (redshirt junior transfer)

Collegiate statistics (UCLA): 51-79 (64.6 completion percentage), 671 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions

10 rushing attempts, 34 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns

While Garbers may be the favorite after competing for a full season within Cal’s system, Modster didn’t transfer to UC Berkeley to take in games from the sideline. In limited action with the Bruins, Modster flashed the soft touch in his deep ball that landed him a scholarship in Westwood as a four-star recruit out of high school.

With Dorian Thompson-Robinson adopted as the better fit for Chip Kelly’s system, Modster departed for Cal with a goal of being the answer to the team’s well-documented struggles at the quarterback position. Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin noted in spring practices that Modster was growing more and more comfortable in navy blue, but his practice performance to date hasn’t unseated that of Garbers at this point.

There’s a lot to like about Modster, and it’s certainly a fair point that he throws a better deep ball than Garbers and City College of San Francisco transfer Jack Newman. Only time and in-game performance will tell if Modster can play a role in moving the chains this fall.

 

Jack Newman (redshirt sophomore transfer)

Junior college statistics (2018 season): 212-347 (61.1 completion percentage), 3,468 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, 12 interceptions

101 rushing attempts, -149 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns

CCSF has always been a funnel for future Division I talent, and the Bears are no exception to benefiting from this budding source of young stars. Newman and tailback DeShawn Collins were a force to be reckoned with as Rams last season, and both come to Berkeley eager to supplant more experienced players at their respective positions on the depth chart.

Newman’s numbers at the junior college level are fantastic on a number of levels. He won’t give you much in the run game, but he has a natural release and a feel for distributing the ball to his playmakers. With Newman at the controls of a high-flying attack that was the CCSF offense, five Rams caught at least 17 passes, as the team scored less than 20 points just once (in a game it ultimately won) and averaged more than 35 points per contest.

As a preferred walk-on who will likely serve as the emergency quarterback, it’s likely that Newman won’t see the field on Saturdays all year, but he’s certainly a nice addition to a group that struggled to pick up its defense in big moments in 2018.

 

Others (Robby Rowell, Spencer Brasch, Brandon McIlwain)

Like Rowell last year, the true freshman Brasch is expected to be a key component of Cal’s scout team, running the opposition’s plays during practice and learning from the aforementioned three names competing for first-team reps. Rowell still seems at least a year or two from garnering any consideration of perhaps taking on the backup role, although stranger things have certainly happened at the collegiate level.

As for McIlwain, it remains to be seen how involved he will be in his second year with the Bears, now in a “slash” role as a runner and receiver.

Josh Yuen covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020.