Cal football practice notes: How's running back depth looking?
Cal has its top two settled. Who comes next?
Cal’s offense needs to improve to offset for defensive losses this season, and the good news is the depth is strong. Cal has a pretty settled one-two punch at running back going into 2020. Junior Christopher Brown, Jr. and senior Marcel Dancy are likely to win the majority of the starting snaps this season.
Both are settling in with a new coach. Christopher Brown Jr. seems extremely focused on becoming a more well-rounded running back. Here’s Cal running backs coach Aristotle Thompson talking about Brown:
“He’s moving really well, doing some good things catching the ball, he’s been banging to get some different routes in there and wants to do it all. Chris wants to split out there at receiver, I’m like ‘hey, we’re going to crawl before we walk, let’s keep doing what we do in the run game and in the pass concepts that are driven for us with the complimentary part of it."
Brown caught 22 passes for 166 yards and four touchdowns last season. If Musgrave’s offense could get Brown even more active in the passing game, it opens up a lot more options for Cal downfield.
With Marcel Dancy, Thompson commented that he’s “dialed in on the details, doing a much better job with his run reads and seeing how the defense is going to fit things and giving himself a chance to be successful.”
Dancy started strong, scoring all of Cal’s touchdowns against Washington, but only saw a handful of snaps at the end of last season as DeShawn Collins took over most of the second-string snaps. Collins is not on roster this fall, so Dancy will likely step into that position.
Also likely to enter into the rotation: Wisconsin running back transfer Bradrick Shaw. Cal lacked punch on short-yardage situations last season (1.94 yards per rush attempt on 3rd-and-short situations really sticks out), and Shaw can provide some of that additional punch.
Thompson elaborated: “In this game, we want to be in a situation that when we’re getting into 3rd and 1s, 4th and 1s, you’re going to be able to convert those first downs, and having another big body back who can lean in there and just by stature alone is going to fall for yard and a half. “
More from Shaw: “I'm a downhill runner, and I feel like in normal down and distance, 3rd downs, they will be able to use me to relieve some guys and to run hard."
Well, Cal does like to play with H-Backs, so expect a lot of Zach Angelillo on the field. Angelillo couldn’t break the linebacker rotation, so converting to fullback this spring has provided him an opportunity to make an impact early.
Thompson on Angelillo: “One of the things he has been able to do is use his knowledge of the defense and help the guys understand what the defense may be doing. You’re really seeing Zach convert his body much better, he’s not really having the linebacker body he had going and he’s running so much more fluidly.”
Kentucky transfer Drew Schlegel is likely to slot into the rotation.
"Musgrave’s offense is a dream for me," Schelgel said, "I’ve watched Andy Janovich (Broncos fullback) for years, and while Musgrave was at Denver, Janovich made himself a Pro Bowler and got a nice contract and that I-formation offense is beautiful for fullbacks."
With Cal’s likely three-deep at running back settled, who would likely be next in line?
DeCarlos Brooks might be the guy who gets more of the late reps as he comes along. More from Thompson:
“One of the big things there is being able to speak the same language, with a new offense, a new system coming in, you want to get everybody talking the same language. Now we’re communicating with each other, we’re not trying to stop and figure out the word association as opposed to talking directly to each other and that’s a big part of seeing DeCarlos take his next steps.”
Cal has two true freshmen coming in Chris Street and Damien Moore. Both are getting their first real practice reps this month though, so I’d imagine Cal would like to keep them out of the rotation if possible.
Finally, walk-on Ashton Stredick has impressed with early reps, according to Thompson. Expect both Stredick and Schlegel to start out on special teams to make early impact!
Interviews with Thompson: