Cal depth chart features a surprise at running back ahead of opener vs. Nevada
The Bears' breakout star of the 2019 season is now No. 2 in the backfield.
BERKELEY — It speaks to the settled nature of the Cal football team four days before its season opener against Nevada that the big news Tuesday involved a running back who carried the ball 21 times last season being dropped a spot on the depth chart.
Coach Justin Wilcox, looking forward to the Bears’ first game with fans in the stands since 2019, chuckled at the annual curiosity over the Week 1 depth chart.
Sophomore Damien Moore is listed as the starting running back, ahead of senior Christopher Brooks, who two years ago rushed for 914 yards. But while the pandemic complicated the Bears’ 2020 season, it was a chronic shoulder injury that limited the game reps of Brooks, who legally changed his name this spring from Christopher Brown Jr.
“They’re both going to play,” Wilcox said. “I know the depth chart is highly anticipated but in my mind they’re both starters. It’s going to be spread out at that position and we’re fortunate enough to have more than one guy at that position.”
Wilcox said he expects a big season from Brooks, who is healthy and has performed well in camp. But Moore continues to turn heads after rushing for 121 yards against Stanford as a freshman last fall.
Moore has impressed the coaches “in terms of his all-around game, running the ball, catching, protecting. He’s very instinctive as a runner. Since he’s been here, each and every week he seems to get better and better.”
GLOVER NAMED NO. 2 QB
Cal signed quarterback Ryan Glover as a grad transfer this summer in order to give the Bears an experienced player behind senior starting Chase Garbers, and that turned out to be the difference in his competition for the No. 2 job.
“He’s played a lot of college football and he’s picked it up very quickly here. He’s a very smart guy,” Wilcox said. “He has experience. Maybe not here, but he has college football experience and the transition went pretty quickly for him.”
Glover wasn’t cleared to begin practicing until about two weeks ago, but he played 22 games at Penn and Western Carolina, while Cal sophomore Zach Johnson and freshman Kai Millner have yet to appear in a college game.
CARSON STRONG HAS BEARS’ ATTENTION
Cal will face one of the nation’s best quarterbacks when junior Carson Strong leads the Wolf Pack into Memorial Stadium.
Generally regarded as one of the top half-dozen NFL quarterback prospects — and boldly projected as a potential No. 1 pick by Sports Illustrated — Strong threw 27 touchdowns and just four interceptions last season while completing 70 percent of his passes.
“He throws the ball short, medium and long. He’s got all those throws in his arsenal,” Wilcox said. “When you look at the completion percentage of throws under 15 yards, it is exceptionally high. Not that it’s not good down the field.
“They have some really good skill on their offense, but he makes it go, there’s no doubt.”
Strong played at Wood High School in Vacaville, but missed his senior season because of a knee injury. Wilcox said the Bears were aware of him on the recruiting trail.
“You’d love to recruit everybody from Northern California — it doesn’t always work out that way,” he said. “Things happen in recruiting. He’s had a heck of a career. We know he’s going to be a great challenge for our defense.”
MCKENZIE LANDS NOSE GUARD SPOT
Sophomore Stanley McKenzie, whose father, Tony, died from COVID-19 two weeks ago, earned the starting job at nose guard. The 6-foot-2, 340-pounder from Hawaii is one of a large group of Cal defensive lineman with little or no experience.
The elder statesman of the group is 24-year-old Luc Bequette, beginning his seventh college campaign, including five previous seasons at Cal and last fall at Boston College.
“But the rest of them haven’t played hardly at all,” Wilcox said. “A lot of young guys who are going to be getting their first significant game experience.”