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Ten Cal football spring practice 2023 thoughts
Some thoughts on the new look California Golden Bears during their spring practice trials.
Cal’s spring practice provided a significant amount of pep and freshness, but there is definitely a lot of work ahead to really determine or project anything about the on-the-field product we will see on Saturdays.
This team is miles from a finished product. Jake Spavital has had a few months into the new Cal coaching room and Sam Jackson V is also new to the rhythms. But there was definitely a focus on getting the basics down this spring.
The Cal offense isn’t fully installed. The Bears ran a good part of Spavital’s offense, but it’s clear there’s still a lot of shifting the team has to do to move from Musgrave’s west coast stylings to Spavital’s more freewheeling spread. Cal focused heavily on outside passing routes this spring and a good set of short routes as well, as well as inside run games. But a lot of the offense just wasn’t in place. This unit is far from its final form.
There were lots of new faces. Many Cal starters sat out the spring due to various injuries, and a host of starters also played sparingly. That allowed a lot of young faces to make gains that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Perhaps it was partly by design to get younger players more chances. It’s unclear how much of this will transfer as the starters return in the fall, but it’ll be nice to have a deeper set of players who knows the playbook in and out.
The transfer portal starters are already circling the two deep. UNLV transfer defensive back Nohl Williams, Clemson transfer linebacker Sergio Allen, and Florida transfer linebacker David Reese got their fair share of chances to contribute and all had standout moments against the first unit offense.
The Cal offensive line got crucial reps. One of the relatively healthy units that had most expected starters playing was the starting offensive line, and most of the Bears got useful action this spring. This unit struggled heavily in 2022. Any additional experience the Bears get will be critical. They still have a lot of improvement ahead, and a talent infusion is probably necessary to get them back to a top-tier unit.
The Cal quarterback battle is not over. Sam Jackson V has by far the best skill of either quarterback—his legs move when the play collapses and he can pick up yards in a hurry. He also has a great deep ball that gets the football out to receivers in catchable positions downfield. But Fernando Mendoza has also shown off his skills. He throws an accurate ball and at times can be just as effective at executing the offense. There’s a lot to like from both players.
The practice drills were more varied. After a relatively dull 2022 practice set, Cal was running a stronger variety of practice drills that tested a larger set of skills. The Bears practiced more situational 4th down work, they moved at a faster pace to get plays in, and got far more done in scrimmage work than previous incarnations. This will hopefully bode well for Cal’s versatility.
Portal updates will come fast and furious. As Cal changes schemes, attrition is inevitable. Plenty of changes came at the end of the last season, particularly on offense as the staff turned over. Now as the defense has adapted to the new offense, it appears a few scholarship athletes have fallen down the depth chart. Expect a few Bears to seek new places in the coming weeks.
Expect Cal to keep landing more portal impact players. As a result, we should see more scholarship spots open up. Spavital has already indicated he wants to find one more portal quarterback to increase. Cal is still struggling to replace the vertical space J.Michael Sturdivant produced—Jeremiah Hunter is working hard but the Cal offense just doesn’t have that deep kick it seemed to show at times last season. And then there’s the critical need for a true offensive tackle, Cal’s shallowest position.
There is absolutely zero way to project how good Cal will be off of spring practice. The Bears did not play half their team, have only installed the basic sets of their offense, and likely have several more impact contributors coming via the portal in the coming months. The Cal team we watched this spring is not going to be the Cal team we watch this fall.
These Bears are a complete blank slate this year. It’s refreshing, even if it’s probably causing Justin Wilcox and company a decent amount of anxiety.