RETURNING STARTERS: Eric Stevens
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR: Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson
POSSIBLE SURPRISE: None (not enough healthy bodies)
THE BREAKDOWN: The luxury of having running backs like Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen in the program at the same time is being felt now. Jeff Tedford slept well at night (when he decided to sleep) the last few years knowing he had tailbacks who could carry the offense. As 2011 spring practice begins, there is a lot of uncertainty with the running game, just like with the quarterback position.
Tedford has definitively said that junior Isi Sofele enters spring as the No. 1 tailback. Sofele has 81 carries in his career. Last year as Vereen’s primary backup, he carried 69 times for 338 yards and a touchdown. He also caught five passes, two for touchdowns.
Sofele is only 5-foot-7 but is a muscular specimen at 188 pounds. There are some who question if Sofele has the physical stature to be an every-down back.
There are plenty of examples of smaller backs carrying the load. Just four years ago, Justin Forsett compiled the second-best single-season rushing total in school history (at the time). Forsett isn’t quite as small as Sofele, but skeptics were asking the same question about him before his one season as a starter.
Sofele certainly has the speed to make plays, especially out on the perimeter. And he has good lateral movement so he can make a move inside and get to the outside. The question is whether he can do it enough over the course of an entire game and ultimately a full season.
The Bears have plenty of backs in their program, all of whom came to Cal highly regarded. The problem this spring is most of them aren’t healthy, so Sofele won’t have much competition. The one player who could push Sofele and is healthy is Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, who is recovered from a minor knee injury suffered near the end of last season. Sofele beat out DeBoskie-Johnson for the backup job last season, but DeBoskie-Johnson still appears to have the combination of size and athleticism to make him a real candidate for the job.
Dasarte Yarnway will miss the spring as he recovers from ACL surgery. No recent update on Trajuan Briggs, whose status for the spring has been in doubt because of ankle and back injuries.
Whatever happens this spring, the picture could change in the fall with the arrival of Brendan Bigelow. A dynamic athlete, Tedford believes Bigelow can compete right away as a true freshman. But the question with Bigelow is his health. He tore knee ligaments twice and hasn’t played since his junior year of high school. Will he be healthy, and if he is, will he be the same player?
The Bears have their top three fullbacks returning from last season. Stevens got the most starts but Kapp certainly got his share of playing time as well. They should engage in a good competition, along with John Tyndall.