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Wilcox Talks Spring Ball

April 5, 2022
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Ah, springtime!

The days grow longer and warmer, the momentarily green hills begin to take on their summer bronze, and a young (or not) man’s fancy turns to…football.

Spring practices (there will be 15) open Wednesday, April 6, for the California Golden Bears, and a quick glance inside Memorial Stadium shows a more robust flock of questions than usual at this time of year.

Head Coach Justin Wilcox, entering his sixth season at the helm in Strawberry Canyon, fresh off having reiterated his commitment to Cal after declining the opportunity to coach at his alma mater, Oregon, met with members of the Cal beat writers’ crew Tuesday in advance of spring ball. The questions were plentiful. Cal fans will have to hope that a nearly equal number of answers will become apparent by the Spring Showcase, scheduled for April 30.

This spring will present new challenges for the Cal coaching staff.  While offseason workouts have allowed new recruits to get to know each other better, it still might be prudent to put the nameplates on the front of the jerseys for the next few weeks. Gone are all the graduated seniors, of course, but also all the “super seniors” who were granted extra eligibility due to the COVID pandemic. It would not be shocking to hear “Getting to Know You” played over the stadium PA during early spring practices.

Hidden among all the largely non-committal announcements Tuesday was an important piece of information: Offensive Tackle Will Craig, slated for his senior year, has told the team that he is done playing football. As you might remember from the movie Blind Side, left tackle is a pretty important position for protecting a right-handed quarterback’s blind side; it might be the most impactful position on the interior line, and Wilcox and staff were surely looking forward to having a 5th-year senior at that most important position as they transition to a new signal-caller for the 2022 season. Craig missed the final four games of the 2021 season with an ankle injury. It was not announced whether that injury played into his retirement from the game.

Wilcox acknowledged that there are a lot of question marks this spring; his expectation is that spring ball will clarify the situation greatly.

“We are looking for growth and maturity in spring ball,” he said in a Zoom media availability Tuesday. The implication was that it’s unlikely that some burning issues will be settled by the Showcase, including who will start at virtually all the offensive skill positions.

Defensive lineman Brett Johnson, the 6’5”, 300-pound defensive tackle, is still rehabilitating from the broken pelvis which cost him the 2021 season. Johnson was injured in a scooter accident, but Wilcox is encouraged by his progress.  Offensive lineman Matt Cindric described Johnson as “a freak of nature” and said Johnson had been working out in the weight room a lot and was “a force to be reckoned with” on the D-line.

Safety Daniel Scott was also made available, and one common element among all three who spoke Tuesday was the constant reference to the energy level brought by young players getting their first opportunities to impress.  Wilcox used the term “highly competitive spring”, Scott said, “while there are a lot of new faces on the field, the new ones coming in are clearly ready to compete,” and Cindric, with the perspective of a veteran, noted, “there’s a lot of new energy you get from young guys. Older guys can get stale; it becomes more like a job after a few years.”

Key questions will revolve around transfer portal acquisition Jack Plummer at quarterback. Plummer, a 6’5” junior out of Gilbert, Arizona, “lost” his starting job at Purdue last year, but his numbers were actually quite impressive nonetheless – he completed 68.5% of his passes, averaging just under 10 yards per completion. He threw for 7 TDs and zero interceptions while racking up a QB rating of 143.8.  Those numbers would play just fine in a 2022 campaign.

Cindric, when asked about Plummer, gave up an interesting tidbit, showing how the game is viewed from the perspective of an offensive lineman: “He’s got the loudest cadence I’ve ever heard. Chase (Garbers) was loud, but Plummer is the loudest I’ve heard and it will be good (when we get into noisy stadiums). Cindric noted that Plummer can “run a little bit”, and called him a “really good dude who is in the facility early and leaves really late.”

Despite all the accolades for Plummer, Wilcox said there was no quarterback depth chart at this point, and that all six signal callers on the roster will “get their throws this spring.” Expect those ranks to thin a bit via the transfer portal before the season starts, as it is likely the race for starter will come down to Plummer or redshirt freshmen Kai Millner, also from Gilbert.

Running back will be a key position for the 2022 Golden Bears, and it, too, is thin in experience but long in potential. Junior Damien Moore has eight start under his belt, but fewer than 800 total yards rushing in his career. Moore has had some issues with fumbling the ball in the past, and Wilcox alluded to that in his comments. “This offseason has been good for Damien to physically develop his body and work on taking care of the football.”

To this point, nobody has set themselves up as a #1 ball carrier. The coaching staff sees this as a ‘by committee” position --- “UNLESS someone sets themselves apart in spring”. This is a position to watch, and perhaps the player best positioned to set themselves apart is true freshman Jaydn Ott.

Ott, a 6-foot, 210 pounder out of Norco High School in Chino, California, is a consensus 4-start recruit who rushed for more than 2200 yards and 30 touchdowns in only two seasons of varsity ball at Norco (he spent two years at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas where he did not play football).

“Jaydn is very enthusiastic – the question is how quickly can he adjust to the speed of the college game,” said Wilcox.  Prior to Tuesday, Wilcox had described Ott as “a homerun hitter with the ball in his hands.” At 210 pounds, Ott is expected also to be a solid pass protector when not running routes out of the backfield.

Wide receiver is another wide-open position on the depth charts.  Wilcox described the group of 12 listed on the roster as “inexperienced, but talented.” Three whom he singled out for mention were Jeremiah Hunter (“high hopes for him as a playmaker”), J. Michael Sturdivant (“the tools he has are hard to teach – we have to develop his skills”), and redshirt freshman Mavin Anderson (“Mavin had a really good fall, he always jumped out at us in practice and on special teams”).

All 15 practice sessions, which begin at 9:45 am on weekdays, are open to the public. Saturday practices begin at 11 am, and will include scrimmages on the 16th and 23rd (early 9 am start) prior to the Spring Showcase on the 30th, which will be televised on the Pac-12 Network at 1:30.

NOTES and QUOTES

·      Fans can enter FTX Field via Gate 2 for all practices

·      Safety Daniel Scott: “What I’ve tried to teach the younger guys is accountability, and learning to master the monotony of practice.”

·      More Scott: “Over the off season, I have tried to improve my leadership skills and improve my range and footwork.”

·      OL Matthew Cindric: “(Jack) Plummer is a smart guy – I’m trying to help where I can, but it’s important that I don’t try to play outside my role.”

·      More Cindric: “I haven’t seen (Plummer) throw much, but what little I’ve seen, he can really make the deep throws.”

·      Wilcox, on the quarterback competition: “There is no timeline. Our guys have to practice, get in their throws, and learn to master our offense.”

 

Discussion from...

Wilcox Talks Spring Ball

3,439 Views | 5 Replies | Last: 7 mo ago by GoOskie
jy1988
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Spring hopes eternal.
heartofthebear
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heartofthebear
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At least we finally know the practice times
heartofthebear
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Is practice on 4/16 at 11:00?
GoOskie
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GO BEARS!!!!
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