2012 California Preview – Offense
Cal WR Keenan Allen
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - California Golden Bear Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The Bears are going to run the ball, but can they achieve the level of balance and potency that the coaching staff is desperately seeking? The team has been missing its offensive objectives for years now. The ground game figures to be in good shape with the returns of 1,000-yard rusher Isi Sofele and emerging complement C.J. Anderson running behind a physical offensive line. However, the passing attack is a series of riddles. QB Zach Maynard is a returning starter, yet was inconsistent in his debut after transferring from Buffalo. While the corps of receivers has an All-American contender in Keenan Allen, it’s also extremely green after its leading man. And the O-line is sturdy on the right side, yet unproven on the left. No one will be carrying more weight on 2012 than Maynard, who has to evolve in his second—and final—year in Berkeley.
Star of the offense: Junior WR Keenan Allen
Passing: Zach Maynard
231-405, 2,990 yds, 17 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing: Isi Sofele
252 carries, 1,322 yds, 10 TDs
Receiving: Keenan Allen
98 catches, 1,343 yds, 6 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Zach Maynard
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Richard Rodgers
Best pro prospect: Allen
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Allen, 2) Senior RB Isi Sofele, 3) Senior RT Matt Summers-Gavin
Strength of the offense: Running back, run blocking, mismatches at wide receiver
Weakness of the offense: Consistency of the quarterbacks, overall depth, pass protection, turnovers
Head coach Jeff Tedford is looking for his next Aaron Rodgers … still. The quarterback guru hasn’t had a premier passer in years, heaping even more pressure on 6-2, 185-pound senior Zach Maynard to be that guy in 2012. The southpaw was no better than average in his debut after transferring from Buffalo, completing 231-of-405 passes for 2,990 yards, 17 touchdowns and 12 touchdowns. He also showcased his athletic ability by rushing for four scores, and routinely escaping trouble. As a passer, he was highly erratic, despite possessing good zip on his throws. Maynard did show a much better command of the offense in the spring, lending hope that he can turn the corner in his final season of eligibility.
The favorite to be Maynard’s caddy is 6-3, 218-pound junior Allan Bridgford who has just four appearances in his career. Still, he has a great work ethic and a passion for the film room, which ought to help in the event of an emergency. The former blue-chipper from the 2009 class hasn’t quite panned out, but will bring a coach’s demeanor to the bench.
The future at the position appears bright for the Bears. Redshirt freshman Kyle Boehm is a 6-3, 221-pounder from San Jose, with a fullback’s mentality when he leaves the pocket. His objective will be to work on his throwing motion, and become a more comfortable passer.
No quarterback, not even Maynard, has created more of a buzz in Strawberry Canyon than 6-1, 195-pound rookie Zach Kline , one of February’s top-rated recruits. He might already have the strongest arm in Berkeley, and his poise and maturity are already exceptional. Kline is going to be the franchise at Cal; it’s a matter of when, not if it happens.
Watch Out For … Maynard’s grades. The starter missed a few practices in the spring to hit the books, which the program hopes is not a harbinger of things to come. For all of the fans’ gripes about No. 15, he gives Cal its best chance to win in 2012. If he suffers any academic setbacks between now and the bowl game, the Bears will be forced to break the seal on an unproven backup.
Strength: Athleticism. Maynard brings an added dimension to the offense that Tedford hasn’t typically had with his quarterbacks. He’s more than just an agile athlete who can avoid the pressure from the pass rush. No, he’ll be used on designed runs as well, breaking containment and jetting deep into the secondary. Opposing defenses will be forced to respect Maynard’s legs as well as his left arm.
Weakness: Consistency in the passing game. Yeah, the Bears are on more solid footing than last summer, but many of the same problems persist in the passing game. Cal was near the Pac-12 basement in completion percentage and touchdown passes, and an overnight turnaround is not likely.
Outlook: Maynard is going to be improved, but by how much? The answer will go a long way to determining the ceiling on the 2012 Bears. Fortunately, the staff walked away from spring ball encouraged that the game and the system had begun to slow down for the incumbent. Unless Kline is markedly better than his competition, Cal is likely to redshirt him this fall, and hope that his reign will begin in earnest in 2013.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Few schools in the country reload faster at running than Cal, a credit to its long-time and underrated assistant Ron Gould. Witness last year. After Shane Vereen got drafted by the New England Patriots last April, unassuming senior Isi Sofele took over and exploded for 1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns on 252 carries. While just 5-8 and 183 pounds, this Mighty Mouse is extremely tough, and plays much bigger than his size. He’s an unlikely workhorse, ferretting between the tackles as he hides in the shadows of his massive blockers. More than just productive, Sofele is frustrating to opposing defenses, because he’s so tough to hit straight on.
The complement to Sofele in the running game will be 5-11, 214-pound senior C.J. Anderson , a second-year transfer from Laney (Calif.) College. He showed flashes in his debut, rushing for 345 yards and eight scores on 72 carries. However, it’s been during the offseason that he really turned the heads of the coaches. Slimmed down and motivated, he routinely showed a great burst to go along with his natural power and ability to impact the game on passing downs.
After Sofele and Anderson, it’ll be very tough for other backs to earn snaps in games other than blowouts. One possible exception might be 5-10, 188-pound sophomore Brendan Bigelow , a key recruit from a year ago. Provided nagging knee problems don’t flare up, he has the speed and big-play potential that could entice the staff to get him on the field at select times in the game.
Senior Eric Stevens figures to be back in a familiar position, as the Bears’ starting fullback. The 6-0, 242-pound veteran is a blue-collar blocker, with soft enough hands to catch defenses off guard from time to time.
Watch Out For … Anderson to steal carries from Sofele in the fall. He’s been that good since the end of the 2011 season, getting in tip-top shape, and running like anything but someone else’s apprentice. Sofele is the man in the running game, but Anderson has moved up to 1A, with a summer of practices still left to impress the staff.
Strength: The one-two punch. Okay, so the Bears don’t feature an embarrassment of riches in the backfield, but they do have a complimentary pair, both of whom warrant a go-to workload. Sofele has already proven that he can handle 20-plus carries a game. With a chance, Anderson thinks he can prove the same thing in his finale.
Weakness: Big plays. Sofele and his caddies were more methodical than meteoric a year ago, averaging a modest 4.2 yards a carry as a team. In fact, Sofele produced the Bears’ only run of more than 50 yards in 2011 on 484 carries.
Outlook: Barring a need to go real deep into the depth chart, Cal is pleased with its situation in the running game. Sofele has proven to be the program’s second-coming of former 1,500-yarder Justin Forsett, and Anderson is a late-bloomer who has a lot of people around campus excited. The tandem is capable of combining for nearly 2,000 yards on the ground, while scoring at least 20 touchdowns.
Unit Rating: 8
On the outside for Cal, there’s junior All-America candidate Keenan Allen … and a whole lot of uncertainty. The good news is that Allen is back for another year, likely his last as an amateur. Despite getting tepid support from his quarterback—and brother—Zach Maynard, he still ended up with 98 receptions for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns. The 6-3, 206-pounder is a big and physical target, with the long arms to go up and make grabs high above defensive backs. More than just fast in a straight-line sense, he also explodes off the line and out of his breaks. A possible first round pick next April, Allen faces an additional challenge of not having Marvin Jones on the opposite side of the line this fall.
The favorite to land the other starting spot is Allen’s—and Maynard’s—cousin, 6-3, 206-pound redshirt freshman Maurice Harris . The top recruit from 2011 is at his best on jump balls, when he can elevate high enough to pluck the ball out of the air. He has big hands and the body control to consistently make plays in traffic. If the spring was a good indicator, Harris has a Freshman All-American ceiling.
The successor at tight end will be sophomore Richard Rodgers, a 2011 recruit from Massachusetts. After getting a small taste of action as a rookie, he’s poised to make a statement this fall. The former wide receiver has bulked up to 6-4 and 265 pounds, giving Cal a formidable and physical presence running routes through the seams of opposing defenses. Rodgers has progressed so fast this offseason that he’s passed the more seasoned Spencer Hagan, who caught 12 balls for 94 yards and two touchdowns last fall.
Watch Out For … the cavalry. Few programs were more successful in February at signing elite wide receiver prospects than the Bears, which inked gifted four pass-catchers. All of them will get a chance to play right away. The gem of the quartet is five-star playmaker Bryce Treggs followed closely by four-star leaper Kenny Lawler . Three-star recruits Chris Harper and Darius Powe will be redshirt candidates if they struggle to climb the depth chart.
Strength: Size. Allen and Harris are cut from a very similar mold, 6-3, 200-plus-pounders who will use their long frames to create mismatches with opposing defensive backs. Both players do a nice job of getting proper position on the defender, and extending their catch radius to essentially block out the other guy. Particularly near the end zone, the cousins are going to enjoy a distinct advantage when Cal calls a passing play.
Weakness: Proven depth. How dire is the situation? When the Bears posted their post-spring two-deep at the end of April, it didn’t even include the names of backups at wide receiver. Heck, besides Allen, there isn’t a single wide receiver on the roster who has caught more than three passes in his entire career.
Outlook: Cal is facing an interesting dichotomy at wide receiver heading into 2012. On the one hand, it has Allen, one of the country’s premier playmaker, and a likely next-level star. On the other, however, the cast in charge of absorbing some of the heat from No. 21 is comprised of rookies and journeymen. The ultimate grade for this ensemble will depend on how quickly Harris, Treggs and Lawler are able to blossom into dependable weapons for Maynard.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Cal must replace a pair of starters up front, most notably First Team All-Pac-12 LT Mitchell Schwartz, who was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the second round of April’s draft. Penciled in for the time being to succeed the star is 6-5, 290-pound senior Tyler Rigsbee, who has never fulfilled his four-star hype. The career backup has appeared in just eight career games, four in 2010 and four a year ago. Rigsbee is getting challenged by Bill Tyndall, the 6-4, 282-pound junior best known for his play at Monterey Peninsula (Calif.) College.
The Bears are in a far more stable situation with 6-4, 293-pound senior Matt Summers-Gavin at right tackle, which happens to be the blind side for left-handed QB Zach Maynard. The versatile Summers-Gavin has earned three letters, starting games in each of the last three seasons. While not the line’s biggest member, he finishes his blocks, and has a nasty streak.
The biggest offseason move has been the shift inside to center of former LG Brian Schwenke . The three-time letterwinner started 24 games over the last two seasons, bringing toughness and some much-needed swagger to the front wall. So far, he has adapted nicely to the switch, taking on more of a leadership role, and working hard to perfect the shotgun snaps that plagued this team in 2011.
Leading the way at Schwenke’s old position, left guard, is 6-4, 306-pound redshirt freshman Jordan Rigsbee, whose older brother lines up next to him at tackle. One of the nation’s top recruits at the position, he’s expected to showcase athleticism and dominant run-blocking skills to the line once he earns some reps.
After starting 13 games at center in 2011, 6-1, 286-pound Dominic Galas is moving to right guard. While he missed spring practice with a shoulder injury, and struggled with shotgun snaps last fall, the staff feels that the senior possesses the right amount of physicality and attitude to be effective in his new station along the front wall.
Watch Out For … more juggling of the starting lineup. The coaching staff has been treating its two-deep like a chess board, and might not be done yet. The summer is going to be a crucial time for this unit and its slew of competitors, including the incoming rookies, like C Matt Cochran and gifted tackles Christian Okafor, Freddie Tagaloa and Steven Moore.
Strength: Run blocking. The Bears offensive line does its best work when it’s able to tap into its blue-collar mentality, winning the line of scrimmage, and opening holes for a quality stable of backs. The fact that Cal finished 62nd nationally in rushing last fall is a little misleading since the team’s two primary backs averaged well over five yards a carry.
Weakness: Pass protection. Yeah, some of the blame fell on the shoulders of new starting QB Zach Maynard, but the Bears still had problems consistently keeping the pocket clean. And now they must move forward without top blocker Schwartz. Summers-Gavin will be fine on the right side, but that left side of the line could wind up being a season-long sore spot.
Outlook: A marginal group in 2011, the Cal front wall will have a difficult time raising the bar any higher this year. While it’ll be a gritty, no-nonsense group of blockers, it also lacks an obvious anchor or All-Pac-12 performer. The right side is where the veterans reside, but the left could be an issue if the Rigsbees fail to deliver up to expectations.
Unit Rating: 7
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