Cal Football: 5 Weakest Positions to Worry About
As the California Golden Bears prepare for their 2012 schedule, both the team and its fans understand the pivotal nature of the coming season.
Since his fantastic rebuilding of the program began nearly a decade ago, head coach Jeff Tedford has slowly inched himself towards the hot seat. 2010 saw the former Oregon assistant record his first losing season with the Bears before bouncing back to a 7-6 record last year behind a strong defense and breakout QB Zach Maynard.
The lucky recipient of a freshly renovated Memorial Stadium, the pressure is now on for Tedford to prove that he deserved every cent of that remodel. He will have to do so while replacing key starters on both offense and defense, including several potential pros.
With so many spots on the Bears' depth chart showing question marks, next season will almost certainly feature some growing pains as Tedford hopes to return to his former glory.
So which spots on the chart should worry fans the most? Click ahead to find out....
One of Cal's strong points in 2011, the receiving corp will be one of the biggest question marks heading into next season.
The Golden Bears saw good production out of the unit last season behind the great performances of So. Keenan Allen (1,343 yards) and Sr. Marvin Jones (846 yards). However, Jones' departure for the draft reveals a surprising lack of depth in 2012. Allen will return, but of the remaining position group, only one athlete is on scholarship (RS Fr. Maurice Harris).
Harris has shown flashes of talent and should fill the second slot on the depth chart behind Allen, but like the rest of the group, he is generally unproven and untested in game situations. With such little starter-caliber talent at wideout (three walk-ons finish the depth chart), the burden will be placed upon Allen to produce heavily for the offense this year, meaning defenses should be able to key in on the first-team All-American.
Cal's defense was one of the most formidable units in the nation last year, thanks in large part to a wealth of experience in the secondary. The Golden Bears will not be afforded the same luxury this year.
The Bears must replace starter Sean Cattouse at SS after his graduation and departure for the NFL, and will be forced to do so with a player that lacks any significant game experience. Alex Logan appears to be the No. 1 candidate for the job at this point, which should concern fans, seeing as he appeared in only four games last season, recording four total tackles. Avery Sebastian is the likely challenger for the top spot, but he saw action in only three games last season.
Regardless of who the Bears place at SS, there will undoubtedly be growing pains as they move into the starting role. These pains won't be helped by the fact that Cal must also replace a starter at FS, making for a very inexperienced defensive backfield in 2012 for the Bears.
Already somewhat of a weak spot in 2011, the departure of Sr. Anthony Miller leaves the Bears stretched very thin for depth at the TE position.
With Miller gone, the only remaining TE with game experience will be RS Jr. Spencer Hagen, a former walk-on WR who accounted for an underwhelming 12 catches for 94 yards last season. Hagen is the de-facto starter at the moment, but he should be challenged by So. Richard Rodgers, who failed to post any stats in his one game appearance last year.
While Rodgers is said to be the more talented prospect, Hagan's experience is his major advantage at this point.
Whoever takes the starting job will have to find a way to get more involved in Maynard's offense, as Miller produced only 26 catches for 263 yards in his senior campaign. This will be a difficult task considering the lack of game-tested talent on the roster, and 2012 should be another tough year for Golden Bear tight ends.
One of the best position groups in the country last season, replacing 2011's talented corp of linebackers will be no easy feat for the Bears.
The most glaring hole to fill is the spot that belonged to ILB Mychal Kendricks, the 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and future second-or-third round pick in the coming NFL draft. The Bears will also have to replace his partner on the inside of the 3-4, All-Pac 12 honorable mention D.J. Holt. Kendricks and Holt were an absolutely dominant duo, combining for 187 tackles and 24.5 TFLs, and anchored the stingy Cal defense last year.
The Bears have a good depth of talent at the linebacking position, but whoever replaces Kendricks and Holt will almost certainly be a drop-off in production and field presence. Look for Dave Wilkinson and Cecil Whiteside to fill the void, but don't expect a similarly fantastic year at LB for Cal.
Protecting Maynard in the pocket and from injury will be a necessity if the Golden Bears hope to have a successful 2012—a task made all the more difficult by the absence of an experienced left tackle.
Future pro Mitchell Schwartz's graduation is the biggest issue the Bears must address on an offensive line that already had its struggles in 2011. Schwartz was the strongest player on a line that contributed to one of the weakest rushing attacks in Cal's history, and his absence leaves the Bears with a dearth of experience at the position.
Last year's backups Bill Tyndall and Tyler Rigsby will compete to replace Schwartz at the blindside spot, but neither comes close to Schwartz in terms of talent or experience. If whoever claims the starting spot struggles to replace Schwartz at the position, it could be a long year for Maynard behind his line.