Football: Running backs coverage

Here’s a feature I wrote for yesterday’s paper, examining Cal’s apparent problems at running back.

And now for some additional quotes:


On the progress of the backs in spring camp:

“We have a good group of guys and a lot guys need more reps. We don’t have a reps during the day for all those guys. We have to improve every day. The light bulb will come on a little bit later than others. We’ve been fortunate in the past to have guys come in who are talented but also mentally able to adapt to everything we are throwing at them. Right now, it’s just taking a little bit longer. It’s not a big deal at all. We just have to keep working. We’re not where we need to be.”

On playing at a higher level:

“There is a level of expectation that we have here and right now we’re not at that level. They understand that. The key is just to continue to work. Let the game come to you. Make sure that you understand what’s going on.”

On Trajuan Briggs:

“Trajuan Briggs came in and was hurt all last year. It’s taking some time for him to get acclimated to what we do at Cal. That’s been tough.”

On Dasarte Yarnway:

“We are anticipating getting Dasarte back and be ready by training camp. He has tremendous balance, great skill level for a big guy and he’s light on his feet. The biggest thing is getting him used to contact and get caught up that way. But he’s done a fabulous job of staying in tune with what’s going on and I’m proud of him.”



On where he stands this spring:

“I’m just pretty much at a stage where I’m just trying to make something happen every time my name is called. Every opportunity is a golden opportunity. I’m just willing to take it.”

On hearing the coaches say the running backs aren’t playing at a high enough level:

“Right now, we’re an inexperienced group and we have a lot to prove. I think right now everybody isn’t saying let’s be that guy. We’re saying, let’s be that group. Let’s work hard, work together and prove everybody wrong.”



On being the No. 1 back this spring:

“It gives me confidence going into each practice. I still have to look at it that I’m not the No. 1 guy yet. I have to keep working hard because we obviously have great competition among the running backs. I have to keep pushing.”

On trying to become the next great Cal running back:

“I can be that next guy. I have a lot of space in the shoes to fill in. I feel I can continue that legacy. I have a long way to go to get there, to get where those guys were.”

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.

  • Bobby

    (cue the negative nancies…)

  • Uh Huh!

    Gee, Bobby, why you gotta bring up “negativity”, right off the bat?!?!

  • Calduke

    On passing plays, can Sofele block defensive ends and LBs??

  • milo

    Again, half the o-line is out for Spring…not going to really be able to tell who starts until Fall camp.

  • Haha

    Sofele has shown enough blocking skills last year. Think it’s more of him becoming an every-down back.

  • Boaltblue

    It remains to be seen whether Isi can take on the biggest of the defensive linemen; however, he is very quick and I have seen him hit opposing team players VERY hard in the time that he has been on special teams. A few times, I have had to think, did I just see Isi really just knock that opposing player backward? Isi keeps packing on muscle and gives 110%. If the OL can open holes, Isi will do us fine.

  • Kevin Thomas

    Why no mention of CJ Anderson in any of these reports? He’ll be one of the new guys in the fall, and has more game experience than the others, with his sucessful career at Laney. Is he still committed to enroll?

  • The Wisdom Cow

    It is this simple. You may be able to add a few plays with Isi at RB, but you have to cut way more from the play book. He is too easy to bring down between the tackles. That gives the defense with half decent scouting an advantage.

    I have no problem with Isi getting the most carries or lining up for the most plays, but he is not a good option for first down play calling, where having the most options available for a defense to need to prepare is the most important.

  • Calduke


    I have a similiar observation.
    His name has not been mentioned after a few encouraging comments a few months ago. He was at a couple of practices.

  • Kevin,

    CJA is still committed to enroll and will immediately challenge for playing time. He hasn’t been mentioned too often, because he isn’t with the team yet.

    Notice that Tedford didn’t mention Bigelow or Lasco by name either. He simply said that they’re going to have to depend on some of the guys coming into the program. CJA is part of that group.

  • Boaltblue

    According to Cal’s football roster, Justin Forsett was
    5’8″, 196 pounds, when he played for Cal as a senior.
    My recollection is that Justin was a few pounds lighter when he carried for 999 yards as a sophomore backup to Marshawn Lynch. Justin finished as Cal’s third in line for most career rushing yards.

    Isi, a junior, is now listed at 5’7″, 188 pounds. Will Isi move the defensive line? No. But few Cal running backs in recent years had that ability. Recall that even Marshawn could not score against Arizona in ’06 a few yards away from the end zone and given a few tries. Give Isi a hole, like all Cal running backs have needed to get yards, and he will run for us. Both Tedford and Gould have placed their faith in Isi, and so do I.

  • Eric

    What about running Pro Set plays – having two running backs? Yes, a bit old school, but the popular spread option often has two running backs. I wouldn’t run it all of the time, but it gives two running options, two passing options, and an extra blocker.

  • covinared

    Eric: On a slightly different note, I remember back when Manderino and Storer were always viable short yardage options on quick traps. For the last few years, fullback carries have all but disappeared from the playbook.

  • Eric

    Covinred – you are 100% correct. It is something I have been complaining out for several years – why are there virtually no passes to FBs (which flows into my complaint that we don’t run plays enough out of the I-formation). The few times I remember from the past season or two, they have usually been for good gains, but, like the designed rollout/rolled pocket, it hasn’t been used. U$C’s single best offensive player the last two years was not Barkley or Wood – it was that damn FB.

  • Eric

    I hit send too soon – in addition to no pass plays to FBs, there are no runs, such as quick hits out of the power I/veer sets. The FB has been only when it is an obvious short yardage situation (goaline, 3 and inches/4th and inches) which is not the best time to use it.

  • Meep.

    @Eric – The reason you don’t really see FB’s anymore is because you generally don’t see FB’s at all in college ball. Teams that run pro offenses with the I Formation are usually very lucky that they even have not only a starting RB, but a FB that can start with him. NFL FB are usually just the biggest running backs out of college that are too big/slow to continue their careers as running backs — they only succeeded in college because they were so much bigger than their opponents. Hell, you even see LB out of college becoming NFL FB. It’s about size. You see dual back sets in spread offenses because they offer an addition to the package. Running an I Formation with an undersized FB may just not be worth it. I do know Cal has some FB on their roster, but don’t know if they’re up to par yet as they’re unproven.

  • Jan K Oski

    Eric, Update! The old crew is back in charge at Cal as Dudwig and what’s-his-name have been out of town for months. I’d be surprised if we don’t see some of the bread and butter plays from the early era of Tedford ‘n Company. Tedford has already started to apply a new system on offense by catering it to the strengths of the QB by putting Maynard in the shotgun and Bridgford behind center.

    I am disappointed about JO not including another player in his report as well. Mike Manual was previously impressing Tedford. I can’t recall if he is injured or in the doghouse, but it’s poor journalism to leave him out of the conversation 3 weeks later.

    Go BEARS!

  • Eric

    Jan K – hope you are right. I’m not sure the problems are limited to the last few years – with Longshore the the play calling often threw out of the shotgun or the ace set, neither of which account for having a FB option. We’ll see and keep our fingers crossed.

  • wehofx

    I was wondering about M Manual, too.


  • Shaka

    Doesn’t look like a single back carrying 30-40 times this year unless someone really surfaces in the fall. Hopes: DeBoskie-Johnson gets in shape.Trajuan Briggs is healthy, he could be the next Marshawn. Manual got hype and then the silent treatment? Bigelow comes in the fall. With Isi that makes 5 pretty good backs depending on the o-scheme. Looks more and more like a mix of option qb, shotgun, and run and shoot coming our way. Hard to believe that Coach Tedford’s conservative approach is headed out the door. Another lingering hope: the billboard size play card Coach likes so much, gets the heave ho. Go Bears!

  • Calduke

    Cal just got 2 ‘preferred’ walk-on commits for 2011.
    Might be of some help.

    JO – any comments??

  • Kevin, if you listen to Jeff Tedford’s comments, it’s clear he has higher hopes for Bigelow and Lasco than Anderson this season. The main reason Anderson was brought in was to provide depth. With all the injuries in the running backs group, the coaches felt like they needed more bodies for insurance. That’s not to say Anderson is just taking up space. Clearly, he has potential as well and given his JC experience he should be in the mix. But I don’t think he’s considered on the same level as Bigelow and Lasco as far as potential is concerned.

  • Weho, Manuel has had a nice spring, although he’s quieted some recently. The point to my story was more to examine the big picture, especially since the scholarship running backs all seemed to have good potential when they got to Cal. I’ve mentioned Manuel quite a bit this spring. But with all the scholarship running backs the Bears have, it would seem a problem if the best they can come up with is a walk-on.