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Cal 2018 Football Position Analysis - The Running Backs

March 3, 2018
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Cal 2018 Post Recruiting Class Position Group Analysis

With recruiting season over and spring practice about to begin, the 2018 Spring football roster has been released.  Based on conversations with the staff, outside football experts and in depth film review, Bear Insider will present a position-by-position analysis over the next few weeks

Previous Analysis:  Tight Ends  Linebackers  Defensive Line  Offensive Line  Wide Receivers

Running Backs:

Projected Starting Lineup:

TB - Patrick Laird, 6-0, 205, RS Senior

FB/TE - Malik McMorris, 5-11, 295, Senior

Top Reserves:

Derrick Clark, 5-10, 190 RS Sophomore

Biaggio Ali Walsh, 5-10, 190, RS Freshman

Johnny Adams, 5-10, 195, Freshman

Chris Brown, 6-1, 220, Freshman

Marcel Dancy, 5-10, 200, Junior

Running behind the least experienced Power 5 conference Offensive Line in the nation, Cal RBs combined for over 1600 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017.   The bulk of that work was done by former walk on Patrick Laird.  Laird started the season no better than 3rd on the depth chart yet finished as the most productive all purpose running back at Cal since Jahvid Best’s sophomore year nearly ten years ago.

Laird was better than good.   Since Best left Cal, no Bear tailback has gained more than 750 yards running while averaging more than 5.8 ypc other than CJ Anderson and now Patrick Laird.   Laird posted almost 1200 yards rushing and another 322 yards receiving while eclipsing 100 yards from scrimmage in a game five times last year, including a 200+ yard outing vs. Oregon State.   He also added 9 touchdowns on the season.   And he did all this while really only playing in 9 games (he saw only five combined carries vs. North Carolina and Washington).

Laird’s got very good vision and patience at the line of scrimmage with plus first step burst and acceleration once he hits the hole.   He’s at his best in the open field where his vision, elusiveness and physical running style make him a tough tackle.  A natural pass receiver, his length and soft hands make him a weapon out of the backfield.   Expect to see Laird build on his strong 2017 and post even bigger numbers in 2018 behind a stronger offensive line.   Here’s a reminder of what Laird did last season.

The single man most responsible for paving the way for Laird last year is his backfield starting mate, Malik McMorris.   McMorris is an exceptional athlete for his size and may be the most devastating run blocking fullback in the history of Cal Football.  Once he gets moving forward, he’s a one man hole creator.  McMorris can be effective carrying the ball and likely will get more chances this season with Vic Enwere moving on.   And he’s a deft pass catcher who will be a factor in short yardage and red zone situations.

The Bears run game is poised to a take big jump forward this year behind an improved offensive line.  It’s the combination of McMorris’ exceptional blocking ability along with Laird’s versatility and productivity that will make it happen.

The questions start with depth.   Beau Baldwin and Justin Wilcox want to see Cal rotate at least three running backs to keep their starters fresh and healthy.   With Tre Watson and Zion Echols transferring, the top two slots behind Laird are wide open.

Derrick Clark will enter Spring practice as the most experienced backup after seeing spot duty last year.  Interestingly, Clark has dropped 20lbs since the start of last season.   He’s got a very physical running style and is blessed with good balance and a low center of gravity.   The hope is that at the lighter weight he will gain some needed quickness and still retain his lower body strength.  

After redshirting his first year in Berkeley, Biaggio Ali Walsh will look to leverage his quickness and lower body strength as a change of pace back in Baldwin's offense.   Ali Walsh struggled last Fall Camp with nagging injuries but his HS resume suggests he will be an upgrade over the departed Zion Echols.   Ali Walsh ran a 4.41 40 time in high school and flashed exceptional acceleration. 

Behind the three returning scholarship running backs are a trio of newcomers.   Johnny Adams was a do everything tailback from Indiana whose style will remind Cal fans of Tre Watson.  He’s a darter with really quick feet, good forward lean and a surprisingly physical presence on the field.   He can also be a factor in the passing game as he comes out of high school with relatively polished pass catching skills.

Chris Brown is straight out of central casting as a power back.  Almost identical in size to the departed Vic Enwere coming out of high school, Brown was poised to be an elite national recruit until an injury impacted his senior year production.  As his junior year film demonstrated, when healthy he's got a unique combination of athletic explosion and size.  Brown's got more burst and quickness than Enwere while flashing plus top end speed.

Junior college preferred walk on Marcel Dancy will add experience and versatility to the Bears backfield.   At 5-10, 200, Dancy’s not going to overwhelm you with his quickness or speed yet he’s got a slashing downfield running style and the soft hands that could make him a productive player at Cal.

Conclusion:   Laird and McMorris may form one of the most under the radar yet elite backfields in the country.   Patrick looks poised to follow in the footsteps of former Cal walk on Chad Hansen as he pursues all conference honors and a potential spot in the NFL draft.  Bear fans need to savor McMorris' final season in Berkeley.  It's unlikely we will see anyone like him in the Bears backfield again.  The four youngsters and Dancy are all going to get their opportunities to shine with the backup competition forging at least two viable options behind Laird.

 
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