BERKELEY- A beat-up, teal green sedan sits just beyond the top rows of the student section on the east side of Memorial Stadium. Its name is Booski. It belongs to sophomore tailback Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson. Like its owner, Booski is overcoming injury in an attempt to prove its own worth.
"I got in an accident." DeBoskie-Johnson explained as he pointed towards the body damage near the left taillight.
He also got in an accident on the playing field earlier in the week, with a concussion keeping him out of practice from Wednesday to Friday. With Shane Vereen still taking it easy and the number two tailback spot at large, Covaughn knows the opportunity cost of missing three straight practices.
"They have been putting in work," explained a frustrated DeBoskie-Johnson. "They both have been running the ball and putting in work. All I can do is watch. They are gaining and I'm stuck in neutral. Of course they are ahead of me, I'm playing catch up."
But both Booski and Deboskie made it to Memorial Stadium on Saturday, and the sophomore tailback ended the afternoon workout by kicking a weak-side run outside and darting towards the end zone untouched. In a week of limited reps, Covaughn knows he has to make the most out of every touch he gets in practice.
"The thing with [running backs coach Ron Gould] is, you've got to seize your opportunity. Every opportunity you get, you make your rep perfect. Every rep you get. I don't care if it's one rep. You make that rep perfect. You're 100-percent. You can't have six good runs and then miss four blocks; coach G doesn't allow that. So every chance I get now I'm trying to seize the opportunity, focus on my task at hand. Focus pre-snap and then post-snap and then do my job; to block and run the ball."
Deboskie-Johnson, sophomore Isi Sofele and redshirt freshman Dasarte Yarnway are all competing for reps behind a recovering Vereen, who is slowly getting back to form in workouts.
"[Shane] is moving along, he's starting to increase what he's doing everyday and he feels good. I would think hopefully by Tuesday he will get some action," said head coach Jeff Tedford before shifting focus to the personnel on hand. "Isi and Dasarte really are the guys. Covaughn just came back to practice, so he really hasn't done anything. But right now it's Isi and Dasarte."
During red-zone drills Saturday morning and 11-on-11s at the close of afternoon practice, Cal's tailbacks were showcased as formidable dangers on the flats and short routes.
"We have a lot of plays where our running backs get out to the flats," explained Sofele, who ran first-team reps during both practice sessions Saturday. "We have to be able to catch the ball get up field and make people miss."
Sofele's shiftiness and speed were on display in full force as he piled up yards after catch in red-zone drills Saturday morning. Regardless of which back receives the ball, it's clear that this unit will be thrown to in 2010.
"Coach G recruits backs that can run and catch the ball. He wants people that can make plays," said BeBoskie-Johnson. "If we go out on the wide out or out on the flat, that means we have the opportunity to make a play. They want to use us like a receiver. We should be able to do everything."
According to Covaughn, a great deal of the units success can be attributed to the extra work that was done with the offensive linemen since spring camp.
"From spring till now, we've been doing so much as far as doing extra stuff. In the off-season, coming in at seven o'clock a.m. to watch film, we did that all on our own," said DeBoskie-Johnson. "The offensive line has really stepped up their game, and our running backs also. We're just starting to understand defenses on our own, not just listening to what coach tells us to do."
Each of the backs provides a unique skill set to Cal's backfield. Covaughn has superior vision, Sofele is most agile and shifty and Yarnway provides the power. Together, just how powerful is this balanced rushing attack?
"I think it's really powerful," claimed Sofele. "We've got speed. We've got power. We can go out of the backfield, be wide receiver, we got a lot of stuff we can do with our backs."
But according to some, whoever gets the majority of reps in the future may depend less on their running styles as it will their ability to protect quarterback Kevin Riley.
"Our coaches in meetings have been telling us that blocking is one of the main points of the game, to protect the quarterback," Sofele said. "If you aren't blocking right, then you will be on the sideline with coach Gould."
"We all have our own special talents. It comes down to who makes the least mental mistakes," noted DeBoskie. "Who is executing on blocks and runs. That's what it comes down to and we know that. This is not a spot that's already been won."
Between their blocking and off-season work with the line, Tedford has been pleased to see the two units working in harmony thus far in fall camp.
"They have been pretty good with assignments so far. That's really mainly what it is. There's a lot of communication that goes on with the pass protectors: with the offensive line, tight end and the running backs. Communications is key, so to be on the same page always helps."
• Before stretches, several lineman stood huddled together, synchronously churning out "Ohhhs" and "Ahhhs" whenever one of Bryan Anger's punts from midfield would clear the endzone.
• Michael Calvin continues to display the best timing and extension on deep routes. Regardless of where the ball is thrown, Calvin always makes a great adjustment and stretch towards the ball
• The receivers worked on a sideline catching drill. Everyone did a pretty good job at keeping one foot in bounds but Marvin Jones appears the have the best reach of the corp. He also showed his length by making an incredible over the shoulder catch on a deep route. The ball looked far enough out that he would have had to dive for it to make any play at all, but Marvin was able to extend and haul it in without leaving his feet.
• Tight end Jacob Wark dropped an easy pass over the middle in drills Saturday afternoon. While I don't have a going tally, it isn't the first time he has put a ball on the turf this week.
• The media only got a chance to see the last few reps of afternoon 11-on-11s, but Riley continued to target freshman receiver Keenan Allen on the tunnel screen for the third practice in a row.