Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of Cal’s 2014 football team:
QUARTERBACK: Jared Goff is entrenched as the starter after setting Cal records for passing yards in a game (504) and a season (3,508) last season as a true freshman. He wants to improve his completion percentage, maintain drives and execute better in the red-zone. Luke Rubenzer has beaten out fellow freshman Chase Forrest for the No. 2 spot, and provides the Bears a running threat at the position. But it’s not clear if Rubenzer will be taken out of his redshirt year unless injury forces him in a fulltime role.
RUNNING BACK: This should be an improved position with Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad both back from a year ago and freshmen Tre Watson and Vic Enwere adding new dimensions. Coach Sonny Dykes wants a straight-ahead power element in the run game and hopes the new depth will allow the Bears to keep a fresh man in the backfield late in games.
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END: Cal’s receiving corps is the most talented and deepest position on the team. Led by juniors Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs, who have combined for 209 receptions in two seasons, the Bears have as many as seven established targets they can plug into the two wide and two inside receiving slots. Also back after grabbing five TD passes is Kenny Lawler. Expect a breakout season from Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The coaching staff lamented a year ago it felt like it had no more than four O-lineman it could trust. Now that number is eight or nine. The unit has improved its strength, and there is versatility which will allow players to shift positions, if needed. The only fall camp position battle was at right tackle, where Jordan Rigsbee held off JC transfer Dominic Granado. The offense will only be as good as the progress this group shows.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The return to health of junior defensive end Brennan Scarlett gives the Bears a potential big-time pass rusher. Otherwise, this remains perhaps the team’s most uncertain position group. Everyone is high on defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil, but will his surgically repaired knee hold up? Are the club’s other DTs, most of them new or unproven, ready to go? It’s pretty much guesswork and a leap of faith so far. The jury is out.
LINEBACKER: The Bears took some early hits here, including the loss of projected starting middle linebacker Nathan Broussard to a season-ending knee injury for the second straight year. But Cal recruited hard here to create depth, and those numbers must translate into performance. Michael Barton, Hardy Nickerson Jr., and freshman Devante Downs will all see time at the MLB position. Jalen Jefferson is set at one of the outside spots, and Ray Davison is getting lots of work on the other side.
DEFENSIVE BACK: Injuries wrecked this position group a year ago, but things seem to be coming together. Former cornerback Stefan McClure is adapting nicely at one safety and senior Michael Lowe has gotten high marks from the staff at the other spot. Avery Sebastian, coming off an Achilles tear, also is in the mix. Sophomore Cameron Walker, forced to play strong safety last season at 170 pounds, has returned to his natural corner spot, to be joined by Cedric Dozier, Darius White and Darius Allensworth.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Cal’s injury epidemic impacted special teams as hard as any area because young players not ready for prime time were called into action. The Bears expect improvement, especially in punt coverage and punt return, both of which were ghastly a year ago. James Langford, a senior transfer from Cal Poly, seemingly has won the placekicker job vacated by Vincenzo D’Amato, who converted 33 of 43 field goals the past two seasons.