The start of spring usually signals the dawn of new beginnings, and that couldn’t be any more true for Cal football. Nearly two thirds of its starters have left the blue and gold.
An offense that struggled last season is now dealing with the losses of quarterback Chase Garbers, leading rusher Christopher Brooks and starting receivers Kekoa Crawford, Nikko Remigio and Trevon Clark. A defense that has historically been a strength of the team lost two key players in the secondary: Elijah Hicks and Josh Drayden.
That being said, the Bears did add 17 players to their 2022 recruiting class, including running back Jaydn Ott and offensive lineman Trent Ramsey, both of whom rank in the top 30 on Rivals’ position-based recruit rankings. The recruiting class also included a number of transfers who will be expected to make an immediate impact come spring.
When spring practice kicks off on April 6 — in what will be the first of 14 practices before the spring game on April 30 — the most pressing question will be who is in line to receive the starting nod and replace Garbers. The top two candidates are most likely transfer Jack Plummer and second-year signal caller Kai Millner. While Plummer is the favorite to land the gig, head coach Justin Wilcox emphasized the nature of an open competition.
“Everybody is going to get reps,” Wilcox said. “The way we are structuring practice is that we are going to manufacture those as needed, whether it’s one-on-one throws or routes on air, three over twos, four over threes or seven on seven. We’re going to make sure that all those QBs get the necessary amount of reps so we can evaluate them the way we need to.”
In a way, Plummer already shares similar characteristics to Garbers. The Purdue transfer has similar dual-threat instincts as the former Cal quarterback, who finished the season second on the team in rushing. His ability to get out of the pocket is something the Bears will need, especially since crucial offensive tackles Valentino Daltoso and McKade Mettauer have parted ways with them.
The quarterback battle is undoubtedly the driving force as to whether Cal can climb the offensive ranks of the Pac-12. Junior Damien Moore is in line to spearhead the backfield in Brooks’ absence, but the Bears will need more from their passing attack. While they ranked in the top half of the Pac-12 in rushing offense, they were near the bottom in passing efficiency. Of course, the emergence of new wide receivers is paramount to facilitate an improvement, and junior Jeremiah Hunter will have a chance to take the reins as the number one option.
While the offense is looking to make strides in 2022, the defense hopes to continue its strong showing from last season, where the unit ranked second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense. It will not be an easy task, but Cal hopes newcomers such as inside linebacker Jackson Sirmon can help the team maintain defensive production. Additionally, the blue and gold are awaiting the return of defensive lineman Brett Johnson, who sustained a hip injury in 2021 after a car accident.
As changes abound in the program, including the split of special teams duties on offense and defense to fill the void of former coordinator Charlie Ragle, the Bears will have an extended opportunity this month to see how new and old pieces coalesce. While the roster has undergone change, the return of Wilcox after reportedly nixing Oregon’s offer represents some stability in the program. Throughout spring football, it will be notable to see if that stability translates to positive change — and perhaps new beginnings — for Cal.
Ali Fazal covers football. Contact him at [email protected].