Football: Season review — running back

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.


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.

  • Juancho

    Vereen did a nice job of performing pretty consistently when the rest of the team was constant dissaray.

    I hope he goes pro and makes a little money. He’ll be a good pro.

  • Fair Weather Fan

    Excellent analysis. I agree; Vereen should go pro and the next in line is a question mark. The reason Sofele did not get more carries is that he did not show much when he was given the chance. This position is wide open, just like QB.

  • rollonubears

    i hope he goes pro, too. but not until next year. his numbers were good, but with galas at center next year, instead of tedford’s buddy, he’ll have better protection. he also only made pac10 second team. how can he be expected to be drafted anywhere but late second round? there are lots of cal backs in the nfl, but none of them are premier players. i’d take him in the 3rd round. he can get insurance on his body and play one more season and get a degree. if it doesn’t work out, he’ll still have a few million bucks. if it does, he’s got a shot to go in the first round next year.

  • noduck

    vereen should go pro this year.

    isi is small for an up the middle back and too slow to go around the flank. i’d like to see debo and briggs in the top two slots next year with bridgford, allen and a stronger line providing support.

  • Picard

    Shane should only stay if he can improve his draft status. Given the disarray of the program, the logical choice is to go pro. No one knows who will be QB next year and whether that person will be any good. Another season of poor QB play will severely limit the productivity of our runners because it will be another year of one dimensional football. It’s just too big of a gamble.

  • milo

    I’d love to see Vereen stay but if his draft position is good, he has to take it. RBs just don’t have a long shelf life and he needs to take advantage of youth.

    I think if the o-line improves (new coach or otherwise) the RB string of succession will be fine. Cal’s great running game was a combo of RB talent and line talent/performance.

  • Stay .The next qb cannot be worse .ISI cannot play but the others can.

  • Meep.

    I hope he goes to the Pats, they’d definitely use an all around back like him to his full potential.

  • Mike

    Maybe the O is too complicated for the running backs to grasp? Oh wait, that’s the excuse for quarterback. Is it allowed to be used more than once?

  • Tyler M.

    As much as I would love to see Shane Vereen return for his senior season, he needs to go pro. He can always come back for the degree. Make the million(s) now, return later, have a son and make him commit to Cal in 20 years.

  • Tyler M.

    BTW – It’s a bummer Aaron Green never took a visit out here. I bet he’d be starting next Fall for the Bears.

  • ucbjsc

    FYI Shane is graduating at the end of the Fall 2010 with his BA in Media Studies (formerly Mass Communications)