THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY: This is the only position on offense that deserves a favorable review. Simply put, tailback Shane Vereen was Cal’s only dependable weapon. And, of course, he was much more than dependable. Vereen proved to be a dyamic, complete running back, capably replacing Jahvid Best as Cal’s featured back and having a very productive season despite defenses keying on him most of the year.
Vereen rushed for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 22 passes for 209 yards and three more scores. He displayed the ability to time and time again make plays after an initial hit or getting past the line of scrimmage. He showed a tremendous ability to keep his feet moving and power his way for extra yards. And he used that feet laterally to consistently make would-be tacklers in the open field.
As explosive as Best was, you could make the argument that Vereen is a more complete back. He doesn’t go down as easily as Best and did a better job fighting for extra yardage. And although Best was a good pass-catcher, Vereen is even better.
The Bears didn’t get much production behind him. Cal’s offense traditionally has depended on the No. 2 tailback to get significant supplemental yardage, but backup Isi Sofele only had 69 carries for 338 yards. But he simply wasn’t used much. He only averaged 5.75 carries per game.
MOVING FORWARD: At this point, I would expect Vereen to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. Most draft projections have him going in the second or third round. That may not seem high enough to leave school early, but the question Vereen has to ask himself is whether he can improve his stock enough in his final year to make returning worthwhile.
There’s no reason to believe Vereen can improve his draft status. With all the questions surrounding Cal’s passing attack — new quarterback, questionable depth at receiver, inconsistent offensive line — opposing defenses likely will gang up on the run even more against the Bears. That’s going to make life dififcult for Vereen. Sure, he still may be productive, but he’s going to get beat up along the way and likely won’t be able to show NFL scouts anything more than he already has.
Vereen can still make a nice living as a second or third round pick, and he likely would go around the same point in the draft in 2012 anyway. Then there’s always the risk of injury. And Vereen either has his degree already in media studies or is very close.
Assuming he leaves, where does that leave the Bears? That’s not a big a question as the quarterback, but it’s still a big one. Sofele would be next in line, but did he do enough as a reserve to make him the frontrunner to replace Vereen? You could make the argument that Sofele didn’t get enough chances to prove his worth, but that being said, expect a pretty hefty competition in the spring and fall camp.
Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson will be a redshirt junior. DeBoskie-Johnson was the No. 3 back this season but looked strong and athletic. He suffered a knee injury late in the season but it isn’t serious. He should be fine by the spring.
Dasarte Yarnway appears to have a good combination of strength and explosiveness, but after making a pretty good push at the beginning of training camp, he fell back to No. 4 this season. He had some problems with ball security during camp and that may have caused him to fall out of favor a bit.
Trajuan Briggs, who redshirted the year, is also a talent who should be in the mix. Briggs is built for running between the tackles but also has athleticism. Many compare style and looks to Marshawn Lynch.
The Bears have two running backs committed for 2011, and could have even more. But even with the tailbacks currently on the roster, there appears to be talent if you believe recruiting rankings. The question is twofold: How good are these backs really, and which one can handle the load of being an every-down back? This storyline will be a fun one to follow in the spring.