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Cal Football

Cal Fall Camp Preview: Running Backs

August 1, 2022
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Kicking off a series of fall camp position previews, we start first with running backs and a review of each player in the running backs room.

Starting with the newest additions, Cal RB Coach Aristotle Thompson spoke about what he’s seen in early enrollee Jaydn Ott and summer arrival Ashton Hayes.

“Jadyn definitely grew throughout spring,” said Thompson. “I think he showed a sense of understanding. He’s still got some growth to do. He has to cut down on a few of his MEs. I think he may have had three or four mental errors thoughout the spring but they weren’t big ones and they weren’t repeated.

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“A big part of seeing what he was doing and what he was able to do was to recognize that he’s still growing in the system, understanding how to make the right reads, where his eyes are supposed to be and understanding that there may be air on one side of the offense but as the plays designed, it may open up somewhere else. So I’m excited about what Jadyn can do.

“He put in an extra added ability to our system, being able to split out at wide receiver. I think Ashton Hayes can do that as well. Ashton Stredick has done that for us several springs. They have value there, too. I think Jadyn has shown he can win routes one on one, be it against DBs or whoever’s covering him. He’s bringing another dynamic player to the offense so I’m really excited about what he can do and what the room will compete to do this season.”

Next up was Hayes.

“From everything I’ve had a chance to hear about through strength staff, what they’re seeing is how Ashton has been working,” said Thompson. “His attention to detail and his willingness to put in the hard work. 

“What we knew about Ashton before coming in is that he could play at a high rate and play fast. They keep raving about how he puts his foot in the dirt and how fast and sudden he is with his change of direction. He’s in the offices all the time and pretty much every day is watching film with (’22 frosh QB) Fernando Mendoza in their extra time. It’s really good to see him wanting to learn and grow. And the couple times I was in there, he pulled me aside to get some extra hour of film in. He’s just really energetic about learning and he’s been everything we were hoping he’d be as far as his physical attributes and his talent.”

Next up was returning starting running back Damien Moore, who showed off a leaner physique in the spring that served him well. Moore rushed for 518 yards in 100 carries (5.18 ypc) and six TDs last season, adding 13 catches for 87 yards and a TD through the air, as well.

“Damien has been a guy who has had great vision and great feet but he needed to have the body of a D1 athlete,” said Thompson. “So we challenged him to change his diet, change what he was putting into his system, how he was putting it into his system and challenging him to put it into overdrive the way you want it to work.

“I think he did a good job listening to Coach Johnson, Coach Ree (Daree Ajibade), Coach Blasquez about the way they want to shape him. One of the things we talked to Damien about was just turning himself over to the strength and conditioning staff and seeing what they can do. And he did. He let them work with him the way they saw fit and I think it’s paid dividends in the structure of his body and I think it will play a difference in his potential longevity and ability to play the game longer, as well. He hung onto the ball all spring, too.”

Junior running back DeCarlos Brooks overcame an injury and a long stretch where he couldn’t play last season to put up nearly 100 yards in just 10 carries last season. Even though he’s always had solid strength, he’s also showing up as a guy who’s taken things physically to the next level.

“DeCarlos has always been a pretty swole up guy,” said Thompson. “I think what he really did was just fine tune some of those things in his body. I think the big thing people miss about DeCarlos is he was out seven games last year. But he’s back and rolling and was really aggressive in the offseason. He thought he was going to be able to come back sooner but just wasn’t ready yet so he went after it in the offseason and fine-tuned not only the injury that he had but put himself in a better position to be the guy we anticipated he’d be throughout the ‘21 season. We thought DeCarlos would bring an extra speed and downhill value to the team and he was doing some of that stuff but when he got nicked up, that put him on the shelf a lot of the season.

“His dad (Carlos) played in the NFL and you see his dad and he’s still yoked up. So the pedigree is there and he’s not coming into that man body now.”

Next up was redshirt soph RB Chris Street, who had 21 carries for 107 yards (5.1 ypc) and a TD last season.

“Chris is doing well,” said Thompson. “He’s been working hard all summer. He’s been getting after it. I just saw a video of him learning culinary techniques. Looked like there were 20 or so guys in there learning how to cook the best stuff for themselves when they have their down time. 

“He adds a downhll presence for us and we’re also looking for him to get involved in special teams, as well.

“I’m a big proponent of special teams and have a long history of both playing special teams and being a special teams coordinator. I want to see guys involved. I think some of those guys are beginning to understand the importance.

“Damien Moore was playing on kick returns for us last year. Chris Brooks was playing for us on kick returns. Marcel Dancy was playing with us on kick returns for us last year. I think they get that if you want to add value to your team and be a consummate team player but also give people the opportunity to see you play on Sundays, you want to let them see you on special teams, too. You want to get your best athletes on the field and teach them the right techniques and let them make plays. The same thing you’d do on offense and defense.”

Thompson wrapped up the running backs talking about speedy preferred walk-on Ashton Stredick.

“When you’ve got a guy with pure speed like he does, you’d hope he can get in contention with special teams,” said Thompson. “We want guys with vertical speed who can break tackles and make guys miss and potentially be a kick returner for us.”

“We’ll have some guys who will compete for returns and Stredick’s another guy with that vertical speed who’s only gotten better and better since he’s been here. We’re looking forward to seeing what he can do. I think that Ashton will also have a chance to compete for some other spots in a special teams role, too, since he can get down the field so fast. He did a great job on our punt coverage team late in the season. He’s a guy who can get down there and force some fair catches and make some tackles if need be on both the punt and kick coverage teams. We’re looking forward to seeing how he’ll continue to grow.

“There are a lot of guys out there who are really good returners. I think he has a chance to be in the mix but there’s a lot of depth. You’ve got J Michael Sturdivant, Jeremiah Hunter, Mavin Anderson, Justin Baker, Collin Gamble, Ashton Hayes, Jadyn Ott -there’s a lot guys who have great ability to be good returners there but I think it’s fun having that kind of competition out there. Guys know if they’re not holding up their end the bargain, there are some other guys who can flat do it who will run with the opportunity, as well.”

Stepping outside the running backs room, Thompson noted his excitement about the receiving corps and what they can do this season to help the team.

“I really like that wide receiver room,” said Thompson. “I went by that wide receiver room yesterday and had a chance to talk to JMike Sturdivant and Jeremiah Hunter. Just fired up about those two guys. Mavin Anderson had an awesome spring. Then there’s my guy Top Shelf Tommy (Christakos). I love Tommy.

“Monroe Young, he’s just a silent killer out there. He may not have 50 catches out there but you just have to watch him play. I put a cut up together for the running backs last spring when we were talking about the wide receivers and showed clips from Monroe against Oregon in the 2020 season and against Stanford and a couple other games and told them you want Monroe in there with you guys. He just dominates guys in the blocking game then you see him making catches, as well. He plays with tenacity.

“I think Burl’s got a great room. There’s going to be other guys who will pop off. I really think Mason Starling has a chance to keep growing and develop into a special player. I think Justin Baker has some stuff and I hope we can find a way to get him involved in special teams or more as a receiver. Aiden Lee’s a guy who got dinged up in the spring but he was playing his best ball since he got to campus before the injury. It will be fun to see him get back in the mix, too.”

Playing beyond the offensive line -an integral unit to springing his RBs and giving them a chance to pick up yards- Thompson has like the growth he’s seen in the OL unit.

“It’s good to see the O-line add some depth in the offseason but also to see young guys like Bastian Swinney get some more reps on the spring to see what they can grow into,” noted Thompson. “A guy from my view as a running backs coach who really took a step forward was Ender Aguilar. He’s doing a good job staying in tune with what Angus is teaching him and it’s always good when you have a guy like Mike Saffell working with you, too, so they can break up how they’re attacking guys and who needs a little more attention for growth in their game. Having a great graduate assistant like him in your program’s a good thing to have.

“TJ (Session) and Spencer (Lovell), from everything I hear from Mike, he loves everything they’re doing and how they’re doing things. Touching base with Cindo and Ben, they love them, too. Those guys are putting their stamp on the way they’re working. Sioape’s (Vatikani) a man. You just watch the guy walk and find it hard to believe he was in high school last year. He’ll be fun to watch, as well. I’m excited to see those guys and they understand how we do things and what we need from them. We look at our recruiting class and we got some guys who will help us compete to win the conference.”

Stay tuned next for a full OL review from OL coach Angus McClure as we continue the positional preview stories heading into Friday’s kickoff of fall camp.

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