We all know who is going to get the bulk of the carries at tailback this season, barring injury. Shane Vereen is a talent, a hard worker, plays through injuries and has a great attitude. With improved offensive line play and a better passing game to provide balance, he could be due for a very big season.
While it remains to be seen if all of those forces converge, Cal coach Jeff Tedford has made it clear he isn’t satisfied yet with the backup job. He had hoped somebody would really stand out in the spring, but that didn’t happen.
It was pretty clear at the end of last season that Tedford and the coaching staff weren’t exactly confident in the tailback depth. That was proven after Vereen carried the ball 42 times in the Big Game win over Stanford. Vereen was a beaten man in the final two games after that, and Tedford is more committed than ever in finding a capable backup who can carry the ball 10 or so times a game.
He has four candidates to choose from — redshirt sophomore Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, sophomore Isi Sofele, redshirt freshman Dasarte Yarnway and incoming freshman Trajuan Briggs. Although Briggs is a talent that reminds some of Marshawn Lynch, the fact that he worked almost exclusively with the fourth team in the spring suggests he’s not realistically in the mix.
All things being equal, DeBoskie-Johnson is the favorite, based on seniority. He had the few carries available behind Vereen at the end of last year (after Jahvid Best went down). DeBoskie-Johnson has a pretty good burst and is a smart player, which will help in the meeting room.
Sofele is one of the fastest players on the team and got significant snaps last year in special packages. He also has a good chance this year to be the Bears’ No. 1 kick returner. The sample size on Sofele is quite small, although he opened some eyes with some pretty good play at the end of the spring. There still is the lingering question about his size — at 5-foot-7, 186 lbs, does he have the durability to be an every-down back; or, in this case, play a series or two at a time?
When Yarnway arrived at Cal last fall, he looked like a star in the making. At 6-0, 223 pounds, he already appears to have an NFL body. And his ability to run makes him an intriguing package. Tedford would like Yarnway to give the Bears a short-yardage, goal-line back they’ve lacked in recent years, but Cal’s coach was disappointed in Yarnway’s inability to get the job done in certain goal-line situations in the spring.
For the last several years, it’s been pretty obvious who the backup running back was going to be (although in 2007, Best took some of those reps away from James Montgomery). Tedford earnestly says the spot is wide open, and that could make for one of the better competitions during training camp.