Bears’ Lineup Has Grown More Settled Since Spring
Cal hits the field Monday for its fourth training camp under Sonny Dykes with far less drama than was expected back when the team concluded spring practice.
The Bears can thank Davis Webb for their lurch to the mundane. The former Texas Tech quarterback announced in May that he would transfer to Cal and play this season as a graduate student.
Immediately, a red-alert situation at the most important position turned manageable. Instead of a bevy of inexperienced quarterbacks competing to replace Jared Goff, the Bears have a senior who tossed 46 touchdown passes in the Big 12.
Davis isn’t guaranteed to win the starting job. But he’s the overwhelming favorite to beat out sophomore Chase Forrest and freshman Ross Bowers.
“The very moment somebody separates themselves,” Dykes said, “we’ll name a starter. I’m hoping that happens the first practice ... Then we’ll build the scheme around him.”
Webb’s presumptive ascent to the starting job doesn’t mean training camp will be devoid of intrigue. The Bears have questions to resolve at the skill positions, along the offensive line and on all levels of defense before they depart for Australia to begin preparations for the Aug. 26 season opener against Hawaii.
Let’s take closer look at the issues: Catches as catch can The Bears didn’t suffer attrition at wide receiver. They were gutted. The departure of the top six pass catchers, who combined for 265 receptions, leaves an inexperienced unit behind to fuel the Bear Raid.
The top returnee, based on production, is junior Chad Hansen (19 catches). Freshman Melquise Stovall was impressive in the spring game, and newcomer Demetris Robertson is highly touted. Both excel at making plays after the catch.
Fellow freshmen Greyson Bankhead, Carlos Strickland and Brandon Singleton could see the field early in training camp, as well.
“They’re really talented ... but we’re not quite sure what they can do when the lights come on,” Dykes said of the group. “We think it’s going to be very good, but they still have to do it on Saturdays.” Holes up front The Bears expect to field their most formidable offensive line of the Dykes era -- one capable of creating running lanes and protecting the quarterback against the toughest defenses in the Pac-12.
Three of the five spots seem set: Steven Moore is one of the top right tackles in the conference, while guard Chris Borrayo and tackle Aaron Cochrane should control the left side.
But center and right guard are open competitions. Look for Addison Ooms, Patrick Mekari, Dominic Granado and Jeremiah Stuckey, a transfer from Texas A&M, to duel at center.
Dwayne Wallace, a transfer from Riverside City College, is the early frontrunner at right guard, but he will have to fend off Semisi Uluave and perhaps Stuckey, who can play multiple positions.
“We have much more depth,” said Dykes, recalling how the Bears struggled to find five healthy linemen in his first season. The defense -- all of it The Bears lost five of their top seven linemen and six of their top eight linebackers and must replace their top three defensive backs, with veteran safety Damariay Drew likely lost for the season.
Then again, maybe the turnover isn’t such a bad thing given that Cal’s defense finished in the bottom half of the conference last season in most major statistical categories.
The Bears need breakout seasons from three veterans along the defensive front: James Looney, Noah Westerfield and DeVante Wilson. Redshirt freshman Russell Ude, one of the top defensive recruits of the Dykes era, is also in the mix at end.
An overhaul is required at linebacker after Hardy Nickerson and Michael Barton transferred to Illinois and Arizona, respectively.
The bad news is the preseason depth chart lists 12 players competing for three starting linebacker spots. (Junior Devante Downs is the frontrunner in the middle.) The good news is the Bears have 12 players worth listing on the depth chart.
The secondary has its share of uncertainty. Cornerback Darius Allensworth and nickelback Cameron Walker are proven. But the safety spots are in flux due to Drew’s injury-related absence and Griffin Piatt’s retirement (for medical reasons).
Senior Khari Vanderbilt and sophomore Evan Rambo are the tentative starters in a highly fluid situation. For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner’s College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports . Contact him at 408-920-5716.