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Cal Spring Game: Bears See Progress But Know There Is Much Work To Do

Bears land talented transfer safety Patrick McMorris of San Diego State as the portal opens.

A Memorial Stadium crowd estimated at just over 3,000 fans saw new quarterback Sam Jackson V complete a 37-yard pass to Jeremiah Hunter on the first play of Cal’s Spring Showcase scrimmage on Saturday afternoon.

Mostly, however, they got just glimpses of the team the Bears hope to be next fall.

The Bears didn’t have all their players, didn’t show all of their offense and did not look ready for their Sept. 2 opener at North Texas.

It wasn’t a bad performance, more like a work in progress. Which is what you’d expect on April 15.

A expected, sophomore-to-be star running back Jaydn Ott did not play, merely as a precaution against potential injury.

Jackson, the first-year transfer from TCU, showed some of what made him a sought-after dual-threat quarterback out of suburban Chicago a couple years back. He completed 8 of 11 passes for 88 yards and ran four times for 42 yards, including a 27-yard dash.

As spring practice ends, here are three things (we think) we know about the Bears and three things we don’t yet know:

— We know Cal has lots of work ahead to improve on last season’s 4-8 record, their third straight losing campaign. Coach Justin Wilcox, in the video at the top of this story, admits as much.

“I think the football got better each Saturday. Not that we’re where we need to be,” Wilcox said of this spring. “We have to make a big jump before we play on Sept. 2.

“The good thing is, we’re going to have opportunities to do that — spring and summer workouts, fall camp. We’re going to need that.”

— We know Jackson has the confidence of his teammates — even those on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

“I feel very confident,” safety Craig Woodson said. “Coach Wilcox and those guys brought in the right guys to turn this program around when it comes to offense. I think we’re going to do some big things in the fall.”

Jackson has been hard on himself throughout spring ball, always looking for ways he can improve. In the video above he assesses how he and the offense performed in Saturday’s sometimes controlled scrimmage.

— We know that the team we watched Saturday won’t be the same one that takes the field in four-and-a-half months. The transfer portal opened Saturday and by 6:30 p.m. more than 80 players nationwide made themselves available to other schools.

“We’ll be involved in the transfer portal,” Wilcox said. “Whether that’s three, five, seven, eight players remains to be seen. . . . It all depends on what happens in the next day, two days, three days. A lot can happen. It’s a dynamic environment.”

In fact, the Bears added a significant talent before Saturday ended with news that San Diego State safety Patrick McMorris, a two-time first-team All-Mountain West selection, entered the portal and committed to Cal hours later. McMorris, a 6-1, 210-pounder, has played 42 career games.

In other words, how many players the Bears attempt to add depends to some degree on how many they may lose.

— We don’t know what the Bears’ health situation will be in August, when fall camp gets under way. The team’s top defensive and offensive linemen — Brett Johnson and Matthew Cindric — sat out spring practice while allowing injuries from last season to heal.

Two receivers the Bears hope will be in their rotation — Mason Starling and Mason Magnum — continue to mend after fall ailments. Cal also brought in a pair of transfer running backs — Byron Cardwell (Oregon) and Justin Williams-Thomas (Tennessee) — who were damaged when they arrived and remain uncertain.

— We don’t know who will be the Bears’ No. 2 quarterback in the fall. Fernando Mendoza, who did not take a snap as a freshman last fall, is the team’s only scholarship QB other than Jackson. He played well Saturday, completing 9 of 15 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, drawing praise from Wilcox.

But the coaching staff acknowledges it wants to find a veteran quarterback in the transfer portal to provide depth and/or insurance.

— We don’t know who will augment the core receiving trio of Hunter, Mavin Anderson and Monroe Young — whether it’s a player the Bears secure from the portal or perhaps Starling, the former JC star, is he can get healthy.

But we saw consistent progress this spring from 6-foot-4 wideout Trond Grizzell, a redshirt sophomore from Park City, Utah. In the scrimmage, Grizzell caught three passes for 41 yards and a touchdown.

Cover photo of quarterback Sam Jackson V by Catharyn Hayne, KLC fotos

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo