Cal football has some huge spring practice questions to answer
The California Golden Bears will have a new look to them in 2023, with open issues at quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver.
There are a few things we’re certain of going into this season on the offensive side of the ball.
Jaydn Ott is the starting running back.
Jeremiah Hunter is WR1 on the outside.
Mavin Anderson is our starting inside wide receiver, with Monroe Young likely to become our fourth WR when Cal goes into its 4 WR splits.
Elijah Mojarro likely is our top tight end.
But everything else is very unsettled. Many questions surround the new-look offense.
Here are some things for us to consider going into our first look at a very new look Bears.
Who will be the next Cal quarterback?
This appears to be a two-pronged battle between TCU transfer quarterback Sam Jackson and Cal redshirt freshman Fernando Mendoza. There is approximately zero relevant tape on either player to make a firm determination who the favorite is going into camp, and it’s quite possible that we won’t have an answer until the autumn.
If I had to guess, Jackson probably has the slight edge, given he has a little bit of Power 5 game experience and he also ran a similar scheme to the ones new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital frequents. Mendoza’s high school offense was a bit of a jukebox that favored the run, so it will all depend on what type of scheme the Bears aim to go into.
What type of offense will Jake Spavital install?
It’s unlikely we will see the full-on Bear Raid that Spavital pushed out with Sonny Dykes in 2016. Spavital was more balanced at Texas State, featured tight end play, and provided more scheme flexibility than the all-out pass attack that the Bears showcased in his first Berkeley stint.
Expect a blending in of the schemes of offensive line coach/run game coordinator Mike Bloesch as well, as his North Texas offenses ranked top 20 in the nation in running. When Jaydn Ott is in your backfield, you have to feature him. Could Cal tilt toward a run attack for the first time in a long time?
Who is backing up Jaydn Ott?
Speaking of which. Ott will get the bulk of the carries, but he’s going to need some support. Byron Cardwell has the best experience from his days at Oregon and could be a solid number two. but injuries pushed him out of the rotation in Eugene last year. Justin Williams-Thomas was a gift late in the cycle, giving the Bears the potential to have one of the best three-pronged attacks in the Pac-12. It’ll be interesting to see how Aristotle Thompson can balance carries in a way that satisfies the triumvirate.
Who becomes the second outside receiver?
The departure of J.Michael Sturdivant to UCLA was a heavy blow to a Cal offense that had solid starting talent. The Bears were top-heavy at wide receiver and will now have to rely on a host of new faces to make up the difference.
Burl Toler will have options to help out Jeremiah Hunter on the opposite side of the field. Illinois transfer Brian Hightower is the likeliest to slot in, having the most game experience and coming off a 37-catch campaign in 2022. Mason Starling struggled with injury last year but had some nice performances against Washington and Colorado when he played. Youngster Javien Plummer will also want to get into the mix, and Tommy Christakos is still looking for a breakout season.
Can the offensive line be even passable this year?
The million dollar question lies in the trenches. After losing two starters in Ben Coleman and Spencer Lovell, Cal has a lot of young talent to develop that they’ll need to rely on this year.
The interior seems to be settled with the return of Matt Cindric. Brian Driscoll likely sticks at center and Sioape Vatikani will almost certainly be one of the guards alongside Cindric. The open ended questions come at tackle, where Brayden Rhome, T.J. Session, Jackson Brown, Ender Aguilar, and a host of others will be battling.
The good news is the Bears will have a new offensive line coach and a more unified offensive front, so it’s the hope that the new look Bears can execute better in a scheme emphasizing quick plays and faster tempo. But there are a lot of pieces that need to be secured before we get to that.