Your Cal football 2021 spring game preview!

What should we expect from the Bears in their final live action before the fall?

The California Golden Bears return to the gridiron as a team this Saturday for the last time for the next five months for their Spring Game. The game will be Saturday at 2 PM Pacific on the Pac-12 Networks.

As always, the spring game is nothing more than a fun exercise in seeing what our talent could look like over some random collection of 100 likely vanilla plays. Making season predictions are pretty pointless.

But there are a lot of newcomers we should see get their chance to shine, and that’s where most of the attention should probably be focused on Saturday.

Some questions to ponder as we’re watching Saturday’s action.

Can Chase Garbers get things to click?

With the transfer of Jaden Casey and the emergence of Zach Johnson, it’s clear that the Bears seem to have their 2022 plan in place. But might it even be a 2021 plan? Johnson seems to be hitting all his strides in spring practice.

From the QB1 side, Chase Garbers has had some struggles in his spring scrimmages, with low completion rate and low yards per pass attempt—the latter a pattern we saw during Cal’s 2020 abbreviated campaign. Bill Musgrave’s offense is not an easy one to master, and it certainly seems like Garbers is adapting during his first full camp. The good news is he seems to be gradually improving, and Musgrave has indicated Garbers is solidly the starter.

Several things to keep in mind: Johnson is usually playing against Cal’s defensive backups in scrimmages, who are talented but lacking in the experience part. Garbers is playing against a first-team Cal defense that is quite loaded, perhaps just as talented as its 2018 peak unit, so he’s definitely going to have a tougher time of it.

How will Cal’s deep linebacking corps upgrade our defense?

There’s been some shuffling on Cal’s linebacking corps, and they come into 2021 with a new look. Kuony Deng has shifted to outside linebacker now that he has the necessary weight and versatility to play there. Cameron Goode found his stride near the end of last season and is ready to find his super senior groove. Muelu Iosefa showed breakout potential during his true freshman campaign (10 tackles in the final two games and the hidden star of Cal’s upset win over Oregon) and seems set to be another anchor.

Then there’s a host of young and new faces to jostle for that fourth spot in a 3-4 scheme. Trey Paster has moved from safety to linebacker to provide even more depth on the inside. Evan Tattersall and Braxten Croteau have gotten their fair share of reps. Blake Antzoulatos and Orin Patu are expected to leap into the discussion.

There are a lot of options for Cal’s deepest linebacking group in some time. Can that depth provide the Bears with more scheme flexibility they couldn’t quite employ in 2019 due to depth issues and 2020 due to lack of practice?

Can young Cal playmakers bolster a sluggish offense?

While Cal returns a senior-laden offense, the Bears offense is clearly in need of improvement, and it’s hoping that the next set of skill players can be a panacea.

Running back Damien Moore had some promising moments in his abbreviated 2020 campaign (he was arguably Cal’s best player in the Big Game), and could continue to climb up the depth chart if Christopher Brown Jr. and Marcel Dancy can’t provide explosiveness. Moore has had a promising spring camp and is likely to run neck-and-neck with Brown for the starting spot.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jeremiah Hunter missed last season due to injury, but he’s been putting in the work in practice. Hunter has shown off a catch radius not seen since the Bear Raid days—and should upgrade a pass attack in deep need of explosiveness.

Other players to watch out for include Tommy Christakos, a coach’s favorite who shined out in one scrimmage with two touchdowns; Justin Baker should get a chance to make some plays as he did in high school; Chris Street and Ashton Stredick are looking to jostle for that second running back slot in 2022; Monroe Young is also emerging, showing off his ability to make plays to complement his blocking skillset.

If the Cal seniors struggle, there are backups who might be ready to pick up the slack.

What other youngsters look ready to make an impact?

We’ve heard several names shouted out through fall camp, all of whom together can alter the trajectory of Cal’s 2021 season based on the impact they can provide.

True freshman tight end Jermaine Terry seems ready to play, being constantly heralded for his athleticism by the coaching staff. Don’t sleep on Nick Alftin either, who has seen a lot of time in the H-Back spot this spring.

Sophomore cornerback Collin Gamble keeps on getting a mention each practice, particularly for switching between slot and corner, and seems to be on track to fill in the vacant corner spot that Cam Bynum left behind. It might depend on whether Josh Drayden wants to stick to his nickel position in his final season.

Florida State transfer Raymond Woodie III and sophomore Miles Williams figures to enter into the mix for a safety position, and has gotten a lot of kudos for his output in camp. Although Daniel Scott and Elijah Hicks will be tough to dislodge, the Cal defensive staff is happy to rotate good talent in.

Defensive tackle has been a tough spot for Cal to figure out the last few seasons, and that sore point has translated into a slight dropoff in defensive performance. However, it seems like Stanley McKenzie and Ricky Correia have made the most of their spring reps, and they’ll get to battle it out with Aaron Maldonado for the starting nose slot when he returns from injury. If BRETT JOHNSON is allowed to spend more of his time at defensive end, suddenly Cal’s defense could return to the top-15 level they showcased during the home stretch of the 2018 season.

A lot to look forward to on Saturday. Who’s ready for a taste of the Bears before hibernating?