Simply put, California is starting over. New head coach Justin Wilcox has been given the task of rebuilding a program that stagnated under Sonny Dykes. Growing pains should be expected not only because of the coaching transition, but also due to the fact a total of 10 starters are returning. Statistically speaking, the Golden Bears’ defense really has only way to go, which is up, but the flip side is the offense is all but guaranteed to take several steps backward. A difficult Pac-12 schedule only adds to the challenge facing Wilcox in his first season as a head coach.
Previewing California Football’s Offense for 2017
The Bears, under new coach Justin Wilcox, still will run tempo, but not always at the breakneck pace they tried to generate under former coach Sonny Dykes. The tight end will return, and with it more power-running formations. The quarterback could line up under center at times. The Bears may even huddle now and then. “We’ll do certain things that are a little bit different,” new offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin says. “But it’s not going to be, ‘Holy cow, this is wholesale, night-and-day different.’ ”
The biggest personnel question: Who is the quarterback? The Bears went into the summer without a clear No. 1 after junior Chase Forrest and sophomore Ross Bowers dueled fairly evenly through spring ball. The two did not attempt a single pass between them last season behind graduate transfer Davis Webb, but Baldwin says he will be comfortable with either.
The new quarterback will rely on senior running backs Tre Watson and Vic Enwere, both 1,000-yard career rushers. Watson, a 5'11", 205-pounder, provides a burst. Enwere, at 6'0", 245, brings power. “We’re going to feed off each other — Thunder and Lightning,” Watson says.
Prolific wideout Chad Hansen is gone, but a deep returning group is headlined by Demetris Robertson, who caught 50 passes as a freshman and had at least one gain of 32 yards or longer in seven different games. Ray Hudson, a slot receiver last season, becomes a tight end in Baldwin’s scheme.
Cal faces a major rebuild along its offensive line after the departure of three players who combined to start 103 career games. Center Addison Ooms, a one-time walk-on, is the only returning starter after Dwayne Wallace decided to leave the team in June.
Previewing California Football’s Defense for 2017
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New coordinator Tim DeRuyter must sell his vision of an aggressive, attacking defense to players who were part of a unit that allowed 40 points or more nine times last season. “We’ve got decent talent, probably better than I expected,” he says. “We can be better. A quantum difference? It remains to be seen.”
DeRuyter has switched to a base 3-4 alignment, which will be anchored by senior James Looney, an honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick. But there is little depth in the defensive front.
The senior inside linebacker duo of Devante Downs and Raymond Davison represents the strength of the unit. Cameron Saffle made an encouraging transition from defensive end to outside linebacker last spring.
The Bears have struggled in the secondary in recent years, but seniors Darius Allensworth and Marloshawn Franklin provide experience at cornerback. There is less certainty at safety, where the Bears are hoping talented sophomore Evan Rambo will have recovered enough from an ACL tear early last season to hold down one spot.
Previewing California Football’s Specialists for 2017
Matt Anderson has made 40-of-47 field goal tries the past two seasons and missed only one from inside 40 yards last fall. Junior Dylan Klumph averaged 44.8 yards per punt, although the coverage team was iffy. Cal was 10th in kickoff returns and last in the Pac-12 in punt returns a year ago.
Cal fans will see plenty of changes this season, but Wilcox isn’t resigned to starting from scratch. “We’re not here thinking we’re rebuilding,” he says. “We’ve got some good players. We’re going out to win.” Achieving that in Year 1 may be ambitious. The schedule is tough, quarterback is unsettled and there are big questions along both fronts.
Wilcox is taking a big-picture approach to the assignment. “It’s what you do every day and how you do it that’s the secret sauce,” he says.
For now, the Bears may find themselves thinly spreading whatever secret sauce they devise.