Richard Rodgers said goodbye to Red Vines and hello to a new position.
“I told him you will not play a down if you don’t (lose weight) because you’re slow and fat and out of shape and you can’t play,” Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin said of Rodgers. “He wants to play.”
So Rodgers, who played tight end for the Bears last season, dropped 33 pounds to find a home in an offense that doesn’t typically feature his position.
His weight loss was achieved at least partly by cutting candy from his diet.
“I have a big sweet tooth. I like Red Vines a lot,” Rodgers said. “That was my problem.”
Now healthy and trim at 245 pounds, the junior is competing for time at one of the two inside slot positions in Cal’s four-receiver alignment.
“He’s a natural,” Franklin said. “He’s born to be that — the new prototype that you see in the NFL now. The hybrid guy who doesn’t need to put a hand on the ground to get on the field because he’s just natural at what he does.”
A year ago, coach Jeff Tedford was touting Rodgers as potentially one of the nation’s elite tight ends. But injuries to his shoulder and foot shelved or slowed Rodgers much of the season.
Tedford was ousted after a 3-9 season and Sonny Dykes arrived with his uptempo attack that did not feature a tight end.
Was Rodgers worried?
“I wasn’t really thinking about that because I played receciver in high school,” he said. “They came in and said whoever plays tight end don’t worry about that. If you belong in the scheme, you’ll be in the scheme.
“I wasn’t really worried about anything. Just come out here and work hard every day.”
For both Rodgers and senior Spencer Hagan — coming off a major knee injury last season — adapting was the key.
The Bears will use a tight end in specific situations — goal line, short yardage — but see no reason to do so otherwise.
“For us, they need to be as good as an offensive lineman. Otherwise, we’re bringing someone in to block who can’t do it,” Franklin said.
Rodgers, now recovered from a torn labrum in his shoulder and a torn ligament in his foot, said he couldn’t get in shape last season because he couldn’t run.
“I’m a lot more agile,” he said of the benefits of his weight loss. “I’ve always had quick feet. I can just get out of my breaks faster, get into my routes faster.”
Rodgers said he’s willing to do anything to be on the field, including special teams. In practice, he’s getting a look at the “bone” position, sort of a fullback role in the spread option offense.
“Rodgers is just a special talent. We’ll do lots of stuff with him,” Franklin said.
Rodgers carried the ball several times in practice Friday out of the “bone” position, although he did fumble twice.
“We’re playing around with Rodgers a little bit, maybe let him carry the ball some in short-yardage situations,” Dykes said. “ He’s had a good camp and he’s a big, strong guy, so we’re trying to figure out ways to get him the ball.”
Hagan’s progress is slower. He tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in his right knee against Ohio State last season, and it wasn’t certain he would be ready to practice this fall.
“It’s going pretty good,” Hagan said. “They’re using me in routes on air and 7 on 7. I haven’t done any kind of team stuff — that stuff’s coming. It’s just a matter of time.”
The coaching staff is being patient with Hagan.
”Hagan’s coming off injury and he hasn’t gotten to do hardly anything.” Franklin said. “In fairness to him, you can’t judge him right now.”