Running Through the Running Back Room
Running the ball is going to look a little bit different in Berkeley this season. The blocking schemes may not change so much, with the Bears still running some zone, some gap scheme, and some power running. What changes is the formations, with the Bears looking to go under center more frequently, and the use of a fullback.
There will be a couple new faces in the backfield, as the Bears added graduate transfers in Bradrick Shaw and Drew Schlegel, converted Zach Angelillo to fullback, and added three true freshmen (two scholarship backs in Chris Street and Damien Moore, and one walk-on in Ashton Stredick).
Shaw, the sixth year transfer from Wisconsin, has had a bit of a rollercoaster this offseason with the season postponed, then brought back. He was brought in as another player who can make a difference in short-yardage situations, after spending most of his time in Madison as a backup.
"Bradrick has had a good couple days," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said, "he has good hands, can catch the ball out of the backfield, and has proved it time and time again already. He’s got good size and is a great addition to the running back room. The running back room is a deep room, a great stable of ballcarriers and pass receivers and he’s going to warrant receiving a number of touches every single game."
He’s a downhill player with some really good size," RB coach Aristotle Thompson added "you see him doing some really good things in finishing forward with the football. In this game, we want to be in a situation that when we’re getting into 3rd and 1s, 4th and 1s, you’re going to be able to convert those first downs, and having another big body back who can lean in there and just by stature alone is going to fall for yard and a half. I really think it gives us a big boost in those short yardage situations, not that that’s going to be his sole role, but it’s something that I could see as an immediate impact for him."
Shaw added that he's expecting to be used as a downhill player who could see time in those short situations, but he's more than comfortable coming in whenever.
"They brought me in to trust myself and be who I am," Shaw said, "and I'm a downhill runner, and I feel like in normal down and distance, 3rd downs, they will be able to use me to relieve some guys and to run hard."
Quarterback Chase Garbers noted that the addition of Shaw gives them a 'three-headed monster' at the running back position, as the former Wisconsin RB has had an easier than expected transition.
"A lot of the concepts at Wisconsin apply to Cal football," Shaw said, "the plays, it's different lingo, for me it's catching on with the lingo, but a lot of the stuff is surprisingly similar, it has been a pretty easy adjustment for me because I know how they want footwork done, pass pro, how the OL is blocking things, it was an easy transition from that standpoint."
Schlegel comes to Cal with plenty of experience on special teams and playing an H-back role at Kentucky. That experience has shone through for the Cal staff in the early part of practice
"He’s got great experience," Musgrave noted, "Kentucky as we realized yesterday is playing some great football in their conference. Drew’s got some great training from over there at Kentucky, he’s had a good two initial days. Still scratching the surface in terms of knowing what to do, because he wasn’t around in spring when we installed the offense in March, but we’ll get him up to speed gradually."
"Drew brings a good playing experience," Thompson added, "moving over from the Southeastern Conference, he has played some good football, he’s done some really good things being involved in special teams before coming here, and those are some things we expect him to do here, be a product for us helping coach Ragle on the special teams units. He does some good things in understanding blocking techniques, understanding leverage and how the game can play out."
While Schlegel has had to adjust to coming out of a three point stance, he watched Musgrave's offense while he was coordinating for the Denver Broncos a couple years back.
"Musgrave’s offense is a dream for me," Schelgel said, "I’ve watched Andy Janovich (Broncos fullback) for years, and while Musgrave was at Denver, Janovich made himself a Pro Bowler and got a nice contract and that I-formation offense is beautiful for fullbacks."
Angelillo converted to fullback in the spring, and Schlegel made a point to saw that the redshirt sophomore from Fresno has been someone he's leaned on in the process of learning Cal's offense. Angelillo's experience at linebacker has made his learning experience a little easier.
"Zach has done a really good job in his transition from linebacker," Thompson said, "back in spring you could see there were some things he needed to break as far as habits of play that weren’t really conducive at fullback that he may have been able to use at linebacker. One of the things he has been able to do is use his knowledge of the defense and help the guys understand what the defense may be doing. You’re really seeing Zach convert his body much better, he’s not really having the linebacker body he had going and he’s running so much more fluidly, you could see that coach Becton and the training staff have been able to get him ready."
Christopher Brown Jr.
Brown will again be the leader of the running backs, after finishing last year with two straight 100-yard performances, and he's itching to work on other parts of his game within the offense.
"Chris Brown, he looks great," Thompson said, "moving really well, doing some good things catching the ball, he’s been banging to get some different routes in there and wants to do it all. Chris wants to split out there at receiver, I’m like ‘hey, we’re going to crawl before we walk, let’s keep doing what we do in the run game and in the pass concepts that are driven for us with the complimentary part of it."
Dancy, who Justin Wilcox named as a player whose leadership ability has stood out during the last seven months, has continued his strong work on the football field and in meetings.
"Marcel Dancy, really seen him do a good job from not only what he did in the spring," Thompson said, "but to the walkthrough segments in the first couple practices, seeing him being really dialed in on the details. Dialed in on the details, doing a much better job with his run reads and seeing how the defense is going to fit things and giving himself a chance to be successful."
DeCarlos Brooks, former Arizona 6A player of the year, may end up getting a handful of reps in 2020 with Deshawn Collins no longer on the roster.
"DeCarlos Brooks, (he’s taking) big growth steps," Thompson noted, "You look at him, you say with all this time off, how have these guys grown, have they been taking the next steps. They’ve been diligent in understanding the scheme, putting in time with the playbook, listening to these Zooms we’ve been recording and sending back to them. One of the big things there is being able to speak the same language, with a new offense, a new system coming in, you want to get everybody talking the same language. Now we’re communicating with each other, we’re not trying to stop and figure out the word association as opposed to talking directly to each other and that’s a big part of seeing DeCarlos take his next steps."
Street, Cal's four-star recruit at running back, should be a bit bulkier and recovered from an injury he suffered his senior year.
"Chris Street, he’s put on some good weight," Thompson said, "when he signed here he was about 190 lbs, Chris is up to 208 lbs right now, looking good, coming back from the injury he had in high school. Doesn’t like he’s lost a step at all."
Moore, another 2020 recruit, should be able to flourish more when the pads come on with his running style. He has also impressed in meetings.
"Damien Moore, I’m excited to see him in pads," Thompson said, "Damien has been nails, and if you had a chance to sit in our meeting room, you would think that Damien had been in our program for three years, answering questions before I can finish them sometimes. That shows that he’s done a great job with notes, a great job studying film and making his own assessment of things"
Stredick is Cal's newest addition to the RB room, a walk-on who put up over 3700 yards rushing as a senior in high school, and he has potential to play right away on special teams.
"Ashton Stredick, he’s going to be a very good one for us," Thompson said. "Ashton walked-on for us, but once you get here, we don’t really care how you got here. Ashton’s got some heat, he’s fast, we’ve got some little things we’re going to work on and push him, we hope to see him compete not only in our room, but with coach Ragle on some special teams, when you’ve got a guy with speed like that you try to get him involved as soon as he can grasp the material and understand the situations we’re putting him in and allow him to do what he does. You can’t coach speed, either you’ve got it or you don’t."