The 2020 football season was a lost year for Cal running back Christopher Brown Jr.
Injury limited him to playing in three of the Bears’ four games and to a total of just 29 rushing attempts. None of that helped as Cal went 1-3 in a season ravaged by side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2019 season is a much better measuring stick for Brown’s value to the Bears. And it’s a gauge that reveals him to be one of the most important players on the roster.
In six games that season where Brown ran for at least 55 yards, the Bears were 6-0.
In wins over UC Davis, Washington, Washington State, Stanford, UCLA and Illinois, Brown averaged 21 carries for 110 yards on 5.2 yards per attemp . He had 95 yards or more in four of those games.
In the other seven games in 2019, Brown averaged 12 carries for just under 37 yards on 3.2 yards per try. And, without a running attack to balance their passing game, the Bears were 2-5.
Yes, Brown played at least some of all of those games. But it was well known — and at times, obvious — that he was not physically at his best.
“Chris has been very productive. He’s a very talented guy,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox says in the video above. “He’s a tough guy. He runs physical. He loves to train. He loves that part of football.”
Brown’s training regimen — in the offseason and once the games begin — will be critical. New strength coach Brian Johnson will oversee his program, but Brown must take responsibility as well.
“We’ve got to make sure . . . that the training program is really important, that he stays with that,” Wilcox says. “That once we get to fall camp we give him the appropriate amount of repetitions. And once we get into the season, the same thing.”
Brown, entering his senior season, is Cal’s biggest back at 6-foot-1, 235 pounds. He is a load and Wilcox was only half-joking when he suggested Brown would probably like to carry the ball 40 times a game.
But the Bears won’t risk that. His durability is too important.
Cal also has other options, including sophomore Damien Moore, a 5-10, 215-pounder who introduced himself to fans with a 121-yard rushing performance against Stanford in the Big Game.
Sixth-year senior Marcel Dancy is a versatile back, able to run and catch the ball effectively, and the Bears are excited about the potential of sophomores Chris Street, DeCarlos Brooks and Ashton Stredick.
Wilcox believes the Bears have more depth at the position than at any time since he and his staff arrived on campus before the 2017 season.
“Having more than one running back is really important. It’s good for him, it’s good for the other guys, it’s good for our team,” Wilcox said. “They’re all a little bit different, which is good. They all have different strengths, and we can utilize those. I think Bill (Musgrave) and the guys on offense do a really nice job of those guys complementing each other.”
Wilcox knows Brown occupies a special niche among the Bears’ backs. He is the biggest and most physical player in the running back room, the one opposing defenders are least excited about trying to tackle.
“Unfortunately, he’s had some bumps and bruises along the way that have kept him out of some games,” Wilcox said. “I know he really wants to sustain and play a full season.
“When he does that, which I think he will, he’s going to have a really productive season and be a really important part of the offense.”
Cover photo of Christopher Brown Jr. by Troy Wayrynen, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo