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Football: Training camp storylines — Who will get in line behind Shane Vereen?

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.

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.

  • abe

    i think it is safe to say that for the first time in the JT era we will have a RB by committee situation in the back up role. Deboskie has the seniority and understanding working for him, but it would be hard to imagine that Sofele wont get a few carries, sweeps, end arounds,…etc, with his speed and elusiveness but then we also have a plowing machine in Yarnway, who is well suited for short yardage situations, 3rd downs, goal lines…etc, and also probably the best blocker in pass protection of all backs so it would hard to keep him off the field also. so yeah expect to see all of them and lovin’ it.

  • Yoda

    I think Tedford would far rather have one guy step up and take the job, but if that doesn’t happen I suppose it will be a committee. Just pray Vereen stays healthy.

  • Rocko

    If they get the job done when asked and don’t fumble they will all get playing time. If anyone can’t, they will be riding the bench.

  • Rey from Napa

    The larger question is which guys are going to help pave the way for the RBs. We have 2 holes/question marks

  • Bears

    Rocko
    You got it.
    There are four/five (if the frosh does not RS) really talented guys and the ones who produce and don’t fumble will play. The ones that don’t will sit.
    I hope all four are able to find a role and contribute a lot to the team and make the offense great. I’m sure if the offense is humming they way we know it can that all will play a big part in making that happen.

  • jpf

    I’m concerned about the backups being overly typecast. If Sofele is on the field, you can pretty much forget anything up the middle. Yarnway? It’s coming downhill. Deboskie-Johnson hasn’t shown down-to-down consistency or an ability to catch the ball well in space (unlike Shane). I fear that our run game will be VERY predictable and/or ineffective this year. It’s going to be really easy for defenses to key in our play calls based on the packages. Ludwig hasn’t shown enough creativity and flexibility to mask his play-calling. This puts a lot of pressure on Riley to make his throws (and we all know what Riley + Pressure yields).

    This has the potential to be a real disastrous year for the Bears. I hope I’m wrong.

  • Cal93

    History shows that we’ve been the best with a good 1-2 punch on the running backs. How many dual 1,000 rushers did Tedford have early on? How many have we had lately? If we rely on Vereen just as much as we relied on Best the last couple of years, we’ll get the same. The back-ups need 10, better yet, 15 touches per game. Ideally, we’ll see Vereen with 20-28 carries and a back-up with 10-15 meaningful carries. Those carries need to come in the quarters 2 and 3. Then you have two somewhat fresh sets of legs in Q4.

  • CALfansincebirth

    I think Shane will get 25 carries a game and is fast strong and durable. here a look at the back up options:
    Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson: He is an all around rusher but does not excel at much.
    Isi Sofele: Fast, good agility, and is very elusive.
    Dasarte Yarnway: Strong pretty fast, will truck guys and can get the yards you need.
    Trajuan Briggs: Great potential, fast, strong and built a lot like lynch.

    I think the depth chart should read, Vereen, Yarnway, Sofele, DeBoskie-Johnson and Trajuan Briggs will redshirt.
    Because CDJ isn’t really anything special, he’s good at best while the others excel at what they do.

  • Fair Weather Fan

    I’m not worried about finding a #2 RB that can spell Vereen – I am worried about finding an RB/FB that can pick up a blitz. We got blitzed like crazy by everybody last year because we had no effective counter. No RB/FB who could block a 240 pound LB, no effective screen pass, and no effective “hot” read short passes to take the pressure off. It seemed like the only thing we tried was holding in an extra TE to block or a QB draw – and nobody feared Riley’s legs.

    These blitzes made the OL look bad and made Riley look even worse. Tedford even said Utah was blitzing Cal’s run packages. Why not? If you can’t make a defense pay for blitzing, then there is little downside

  • Tedhead94

    Interesting that Yarnway did not do well in short yardage and goal line situations. From the videos that I have seen of him in high school he ran far too upright for me to be convinced that he would be a beast in this role. All I keep hearing from people is how great he will be in these scenarios. I’ll believe it when he lowers his center as he hits the hole. He certainly has the body to do it, he just needs to put the mechanics into it.

  • dball

    Pretty excited about Will Kapp starting at FB, and Stevens backing him up…they’re both close to 230/240lbs and have the ability to block. Debo’s no slouch at TB either, he’s big guy and if he works on his blocking will provide the QB some solid protection.

  • abe

    …jpf…

    i don’t necessarily think that our running game will be predictable. With Vareen, well nothing needs to be said, he can ran it inside, has the speed to burn you on the outside or can catch the ball out of the back field. Sofele, yes inside running doesn’t look probable but there is a variety of ways to to run the ball on the outside, sweeps, reverses, double reverses, end arounds, especially with two back sets…etc. Yarnway, sure short yard situations seems to be the best fit but then dont forget about the play action pass, remember its not about the predictability of the run but rather the offense as a whole. so if you have an effective short yardage running game with Yarnway then you got the defense guessing b/c you can run it or pass it.

  • rollonubears

    if our fat guys can make a hole or two, for once, sofele can slip through. the great thing about him is, he can adjust to the play when the hole closes up because he still has enough speed to make a secondary dash outside. he can also catch, as can vereen. we have a massive amount of offensive weapons. i just hope tedhead doesn’t make the offense so confusing, that nobody knows what the hell is going on. it sounds like he’s saying he’ll do all the things we wanted him to do last year, finally. pressure the qb and let riley throw more short passes. if we can execute, we’ll be solid. i still think the first 3 games mean nothing, though, and i hope a lot of guys get a shot to play. davis doesn’t suck. they’re better than sac state, almost every year, and even beat stanfurd a couple years back. remember that? colorado will probably suck. nevada will be decent, but they have no defense, so we should win that one 55-21. go bears.

  • charlie

    If Sofelel hits the hole hard and fast, why couldn’t he run between the tackles? He weights 186 lbs. That is 9 pounds less than Vereen and Best weighted last year. However, at 5’7, Vareen packs a lower center of gravity that a 5’10 – 5’11 RB. Sofele is not much smaller/lighter than Igber or Forsett.

    Please explain why we are assuming he can’t run between tackles? Last year Sofele weighted 176 lbs and was inexperienced.

  • ddc

    I still believe Yarnway should be the fullback — like when Greg Zomalt blocked for Russell White, but but was a threat in his own right. If he can’t block, he won’t get on the field anyway, right?