How concerned is Cal coach Jeff Tedford about his current crop of running backs? He is placing a lot of hope in an incoming freshman who has torn up his knee twice.
Tedford has spent time this spring talking about the ineffectiveness of his running backs. He is satisfied with No. 1 back Isi Sofele but earlier this spring said none of the other tailbacks "can play at our level." He hasn't backed off those comments since.
With one week of spring ball remaining, the feeling persists that Tedford isn't counting on any of the three other scholarship running backs on the spring roster -- all of whom are coming off injuries -- pushing Sofele anytime soon.
"We're going to depend on some of the young guys," said Tedford, referring to two freshmen expected to arrive in the fall. "Some of these guys coming in are going to have to play."
One of them is Brendon Bigelow, considered one of the most explosive high school running backs in the country before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee twice during a span of 18 months. He didn't play at all for Central East-Fresno during his senior season.
Expected to join Bigelow this fall is Daniel Lasco of The Woodlands, Texas. Lasco is a consensus top-25 prospect among running backs nationally.
"I can't speculate about the guys that aren't here," Cal running backs coach Ron Gould said. "We just have to see where those guys are at when they get here. Our guys have to keep developing. They all have strengths and weaknesses. They have to continue to improve on their weaknesses."
Tedford and Gould might have become spoiled in recent years with home run hitters such as Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen in the backfield. Best was a first-round pick of the Detroit Lions last spring, and Vereen is expected to go in the second or third round of this week's NFL draft.
Sofele is fast but considered a level below Best and Vereen. A 5-foot-7, 188-pound junior, he never has started a game and has just 81 career carries.
Junior Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson is coming off a knee injury and needs to lose weight. Sophomore Dasarte Yarnway is still recovering from a torn ACL and is sitting out this spring. Redshirt freshman Trajuan Briggs battled ankle and back injuries last year and is buried on the depth chart.
"None of them are playing at the level that we need them to play at," Gould said. "A lot of that is consistency. We're not where we need to be."
It's not as though the Bears haven't recruited well. Yarnway was a four-star prospect out of San Francisco who was rated the No. 22 running back recruit in the country by rivals.com. Briggs and DeBoskie-Johnson had a handful of Pac-10 offers before signing with Cal.
"I'd like to have more reps, but that's nothing to blame on a coach," Briggs said. "That's just me saying I have to learn more and show better that I'm capable of handling what they give me. Every rep I get right now is a golden opportunity. Whatever reps I have, I have to be positive and take control of the situation."
The Bears have a pretty good string of featured tailbacks going. It began in 2004 when J.J. Arrington led the nation in rushing and obliterated the Cal single-season record with 2,018 yards. Since then, Cal has followed with Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Best and Vereen. Lynch and Forsett are splitting time with the Seattle Seahawks.
"There is a level of expectation that we have here, and right now we're not at that level," Gould said. "They understand that. There is a legacy that we built here, and we want to continue with that legacy. When you come here, it's not OK to be mediocre. That's unacceptable in my book, and if guys feel that way, they shouldn't be at Cal."