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Pre-fall Unit Confidence Rankings
Which units are poised for big seasons, and which units have major departures to fill?
With spring camp in the rear-view mirror and a better sense of the roster Cal will carry into fall camp in August, now is as good a time as any to survey the relative strengths and weaknesses of each unit headed into 2022.
I probably wouldn’t have had this unit first immediately following last season, but now that Daniel Scott is confirmed as a returner, Cal now has four returners with proven on-field bona-fides (Scott, Lu-Magia Hearns, Collin Gamble, Isaiah Young) and a host of intriguing prospects to fill in behind those veterans. Between that and a strong track record of secondary play throughout the Wilcox era, there are plenty of reasons to expect continued excellent performances from Cal’s DBs.
2. Running Backs
Damien Moore is a legit lead back, Jaydn Ott is the most talented RB recruit to come to Cal in some time, and DeCarlos Brooks and Chris Street have both looked solid in their back-up appearances. If you’re looking for growth you’d like somebody to emerge as a solid pass catcher out of the back-field, but I don’t think there are any concerns about this group when they’re running the ball.
3. Defensive Line
Ranking the defensive line 3rd isn’t entirely about the return of Brett Johnson, but it’s true that he might be Cal’s single best player and his return should transform a defensive line that was solid but not consistently disruptive last year.
Replacing JH Tevis and Luc Bequette isn’t trivial, but there’s reason to expect improvement from younger players like Ethan Saunders and Jaedon Roberts, and the addition of Utah transfer Xavier Carlton should make a difference. In short, there’s a big collection of possible contributors after Johnson, and it’s very likely that multiple somebodies will emerge to take advantage of the space they’ll have when opponents double team Johnson.
Again, this is a strength in numbers situation. Last year, Cal got solid contributions from four young inside linebackers, then added another inside linebacker in UW transfer Jackson Sirmon, which means that Cal will have an impressive FIVE players competing for playing time across just two positions.
There are more concerns at outside linebacker, where only Braxten Croteau returns from players who got significant snaps last year. There was no indication in the spring that Cal would move any of their many ILBs to OLB. Maybe Orin Patu will have a break through season, maybe a redshirt freshman like Patrick Hisatake or Myles Williams is ready for immediate playing time, maybe Odua Isibor does his best Marqez Bimage impression, but either way Cal’s edge rush is an unknown at the moment.
5. Special Teams
Dario Longhetto and Jamieson Sheahan are back as specialist with a solid track record behind them. Cal’s return specialists will likely be a fall camp competition with Nikko Remigio gone, but there’s enough intriguing speed and athleticism that you would expect Cal to replace Nikko’s return production.
6. Wide Receiver
We’re betting on talent at spot #6. Cal only has one returning wide receiver who got much playing time, but Jeremiah Hunter was maybe Cal’s best WR on a per-snap basis (and unless there was some kind of undisclosed injury, should’ve gotten more playing time). Justin Baker saw spot duty, and the rest of Cal’s young WRs got a smattering of snaps in low leverage moments.
The future is now, and it’s time for the most talented group of WRs in the Wilcox Era to translate that talent into catches and yards.
7. Tight End
Cal’s three main tight ends (Tonges, Moore, and Reinwald) have graduated, so again it’s time to turn things over to the youngsters. The presumption is that true sophomores Keleki Latu and Jermaine Terry will get the lion’s share of playing time, though Elijah Mojarro could be part of the rotation as well. Watch early to see if Cal uses tight ends on as many snaps this year as they did last year for an early indication about the depth of this position.
8. Offensive Line
Losing three starters off of a line that often struggled last year isn’t encouraging. But the critical additions of ASU transfer Spencer Lovell and Montana State transfer JT Session go a long way towards stabilizing a group that needed bodies. There are still plenty of questions about who ends up starting and where, as Cal still doesn’t have anybody with on-field experience at left tackle, but there’s enough on-field experience now that there’s room for optimism amidst the uncertainty.
Maybe last place is harsh for Cal’s quarterbacks, but this is partly a reflection of the fact that there are only three scholarship QBs on the roster, and two of them don’t have ANY on-field experience.
Thus, unless Cal add somebody late there’s plenty riding on good health for Cal’s scholarship trio. Meanwhile, presume starter Jack Plummer isn’t hugely mobile and playing behind what will be a restructured offensive line. The simple reality is that Cal is limited in both raw numbers and on-field experience, meaning there’s plenty of doubt with fall camp not far away.
There’s one man’s ranking - feel free to drop your own (or, if you prefer, just let me know where my rankings are wrong) in the comments.