Cal’s spring football practice begins Wednesday, and there are several things the Bears want to address during the 15 practices of a spring session that will end March 20, the day before spring break starts.
The Bears are looking to bounce back from a COVID-19-affected 2020 season in which the Bears went 1-3 while paying just four games in Justin Wilcox’s fourth year at the helm.
Among the key issues of the spring are the further development of the offensive Bill Musgrave is installing, the replacement of cornerback Camryn Bynum, offensive tackle Jake Curhan, wide receiver Makai Polk and defensive end Zeandae Johnson, the development of a backup quarterback and the infusion of new assistant coaches.
A truncated 2020 spring practice session and the virus-related restrictions of the 2020 season made it difficult to get Musgrave’s system installed entirely. He said he wants to take the training wheels off this spring.
Finding a way to create more explosive plays remains a high priority for the Bears, who have been lacking in that category in recent seasons.
Another priority will be finding a fullback, a position that is critical in Musgrave's offense. Both of last year's fullbacks, starter Drew Schlegel and Zach Angelillo, entered the transfer portal after the 2020 season.
Quarterback Chase Garbers will hope to improve on a 2020 season that was solid but not as productive as some had expected. He did not get injured during 2020 season, though, and that was a positive. Nonetheless, the Bears need to find an adequate backup quarterback after Devon Modster entered the transfer portal last month.
Spencer Brasch and Robby Rowell as well as true freshmen Zach Johnson and Jaden Casey will be competing for that spot.
A number of players will compete for the spot vacated by Bynum, who chose to enter the 2021 NFL draft instead of returning for another year of college ball. The same is true for the position left open by the departure of Curhan. The Bears seem well stocked in defensive backs and offensive linemen so competition will be fierce.
Replacing Zeandae Johnson will be more interesting. Brett Johnson is better suited to the defensive end spot, although he played nose guard primarily the past two seasons. Aaron Maldonado, who missed the 2020 season with an injury, or Stanley McKenzie, who also was injured, will get a shot at the nose guard spot. Effective nose-guard play is critical in Cal’s 3-4 defensive alignment.
Polk transferred from Cal to Mississippi State, but the Bears still have Kekoa Crawford and Nikko Remigio as experienced wide receivers. Injury prevented freshman wide receiver Jeremiah Hunter from making an impact in 2020, but he is one of the prime candidates to get the reps that went to Polk.
Tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo, outside linebackers coach Tim DeRuyter and defensive backs coach Marcel Yates all left for other jobs since the end of the 2020 season. Keith Heyward came over from Oregon to handle the outside linebackers, but Wilcox has not yet named a new tight ends coach or defensive backs coach.
It remains unclear what kind of restrictions the team will have in terms of virus-related limitations. The spring practices will not be open to the public.
Cover photo of Justin Wilcox by Justin Ford, USA TODAY Sports
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