AN EARLY DEPTH CHART - BACKS AND RECEIVERSPlease don't take this as definitive - this series of previews is meant more to stimulate discussion and help frame the recruiting season by pointing out Cal's needs over the medium and long term. We'll also try to point out interesting subplots for spring football. All incoming recruits are assumed to be blue-shirting unless they are mentioned below.
QB: Nate Longshore (Junior)/Kyle Reed (Sophomore)
Others - Kevin Riley (RS Freshman) could contend for the #2 spot; he's the better long-term prospect but may need some time to climb the chart. Cory Smits is probably #4.
Outlook - We hope everyone's feeling better about Nate after the Holiday Bowl. We certainly are, but we're very worried about his backups. Either Reed or Riley needs to step it up to be a capable Pac-10 backup. We're betting it's Reed, though we still can't get over Riley's HS highlight tape. If Longshore does a 180 and decides to go on his mission, we're going to curl into the fetal position for the next eight months.
RB: Justin Forsett (Senior)/James Montgomery (RS Freshman)
Others - Jahvid Best (Freshman), Tracy Slocum (RS Freshman), Bryan Schutte (Sophomore)
Outlook - After Forsett, there's lots of speed and talent but no collegiate experience. That's a bit of a worry. Justin appears to be back in form and should benefit from an improved run blocking line next year. The kids behind him are an interesting bunch - if Best signs, he will be one of the faster players on the team. Tedford has said nice things about Montgomery and Slocum for their practice performances this year. While you'd love to have one more guy with game experience behind Forsett, it's hard to argue with this lineup. The Bears look set for the next couple of years.
FB: Will Ta'ufo'ou (Junior)/R.J. Garrett (RS Freshman)
Others - Brian Holley (Sophomore)
Outlook - Ta'ufo'ou's blocking performance in the Holiday Bowl allayed fears of a big drop-off from Storer in '07 (though to be fair the Aggies didn't blitz much off the corner). At 250 pounds, he has the potential to be a much better short-yardage back than Storer. Garrett's intriguing but is the opposite of Ta'ufo'ou physically at 6'5"/220. Dunbar could do some interesting things with him in the passing game. Holley got a carry against the Aggies, which was nice. Could be a special teams contributor.
WR: DeSean Jackson (Junior)/Jeremy Ross (RS Freshman)
Others - Sam DeSa (Senior), LaReylle Cunningham (Junior)
Outlook - Lost amid the punt returns was the fact that DeSean became a much better receiver this year in his route-running and recognition. He's still got lots of room to develop, which should scare the hell out of opposing coordinators. Ross is JT's find from the '06 class, and has run a sub 4.4. DeSa is a bit of a mystery, and needs to show better concentration, especially in traffic. We love LaReylle for his TD catch against WSU in '05 and hope he finds the field more in '07 (for all the right reasons, of course).
WR: Robert Jordan (Senior)/Lavelle Hawkins (Senior)
Others - Noah Smith (Senior); Sean Young (Senior)
Outlook - Lots of experience here. Jordan had a relatively quiet year, but we love senior receivers. Hawk was up and down, and is still too prone to make big mistakes (penalty v Arizona, drops) - but he's still a very good player who makes for as strong a three-receiver set as you'll see next year. He could very well start over Jordan, depending on how spring and fall camps go. Smith is fast, but was banged up this year and is a question mark; Young is serviceable and has a bit of game experience.
TE: Craig Stevens (Senior)/Cameron Morrah (Sophomore)
Others - Skylar Curran ('07 Juco recruit) could contribute right away. Julian Arthur (Senior) is a special teams performer who is massive (276 pounds) and could see some time in short yardage. Gary Graffort (RS Freshman) is another option.
Outlook - Stevens should contend for all-conference honors, and Morrah is an intriguing backup because of his speed (4.6) and size (6'5"/248). The Bears look set at this position, particularly if they grab both TEs who have verballed (Curran and HS TE Savai'i Eselu, who should blueshirt).
Summary: To our eyes, this is probably the best returning group of skill people in the nation. What's even better is the young depth we have at most positions. Not a lot of game experience, though, outside of the receiver spots. With what should be an improved line, there's no reason to think that this offense couldn't average 35-40 points a game next year. Players to watch in the spring include Reed and Riley, all the young backs, and Jeremy Ross, who we suspect could be the next great Golden Bear receiver.