At last month’s Tiny Award banquet, Cal coach Jeff Tedford was asked by a fan how he is going to determine the No. 1 tailback. His response?
“We have a No. 1 tailback. It’s Isi,” he said.
That came somewhat as a surprise for a couple of reasons. Yes, Isi Sofele was the No. 2 tailback last season, so it does seem logical that he could be next in line to start with Shane Vereen heading off to the NFL. But unlike Vereen, Sofele didn’t get much action as a backup.
Sofele carried the ball just 69 times for 338 yards as a sophomore last season. Compare that to Vereen, who carried it 183 times in 2009 (although the last four games were as a starter). In 2008, when he started just one game, he still carried it 142 times as the backup to Jahvid Best.
Tedford has made a habit of giving his backup running backs significant playing time, but that wasn’t the case with Sofele last season.
Also, there are questions about Sofele’s size and if he can withstand the pounding that comes with being a featured back. Sofele is just 5-foot-7, 188 pounds. But he is strong for his size and clearly has the explosiveness that appeals to Tedford.
It will be interesting to see how much other backs get the chance to contest Sofele for the No. 1 job. One of the reasons why Tedford may be so definitive right now with Sofele is because of all of the other health concerns with his othe returning tailbacks. Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, Dasarte Yarnway and Trajuan Briggs each are recovering from injuries. And while DeBoskie-Johnson is expected to be at full strength by the time spring practice begins later this month, Yarnway is out for the spring as he continues to rehab from an ACL surgery. Briggs’ status for the spring is uncertain.
So Sofele may not get pushed too much during the spring. That will give him another edge once fall camp comes around. Incomng tailbacks C.J. Anderson, Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco might be in the mix if health concerns persists. Anderson is a JC transfer who may be more college-ready while Bigelow, who is recovering from two significant injuries to his knee, is regarded as having superstar talent if he is healthy.
But Sofele could put himself in a pretty favorable position after spring practice.