Cal coach Jeff Tedford always has made a point of giving his backup running back significant playing time. And going into each season, it always seemed obvious who that No. 2 tailback would be.
Justin Forsett was there to back up Marshawn Lynch. Jahvid Best was the guy to spell Forsett. And for the past two seasons, Shane Vereen was the clear-cut backup to Best.
With Best off to the NFL, Vereen now becomes the Bears starter. But what isn't clear for the first time in years is who will be the first tailback off the bench when Vereen needs a break.
"It's definitely Shane, and (then) we don't know," Tedford said. "It's always been a pretty clear-cut top two. Now, we know that Shane is our starting tailback. There's a lot of evaluation that needs to happen with three or four more guys. There are more unknowns with the depth that we've had before."
The uncertainty at the backup spot isn't because of a lack of talent. In fact, Tedford and running backs coach Ron Gould have the opposite problem. With sophomores Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson and Isi Sofele, redshirt freshman Dasarte Yarnway and true freshman Trajuan Briggs, Cal may have more quality depth at tailback than it has had in years.
"I feel like everybody has a chance," Yarnway said. "It's just a matter of what you do with that opportunity. It's about working hard every day."
DeBoskie-Johnson figures to be the next in line because of seniority. He saw minimal time as Vereen's backup last season after Best suffered a season-ending injury. But DeBoskie-Johnson had surgery on his right wrist in January and is practicing this spring with a cast.
"He's doing fine," Tedford said. "He's much different than he was last year. He's more confident, he's stronger and he plays with more aggression. He's been hampered by that cast. He's capable of catching it, but he has a hard time catching it with that cast."
Yarnway figures to make a strong push for playing time. He opened the eyes of the coaching staff at the beginning of training camp last season before suffering a season-ending toe injury. A highly recruited prospect from San Francisco, Yarnway has looked good so far in spring practice.
"I feel like I have a very, very good opportunity," Yarnway said. "We all have opportunities to compete in practice. It's kind of hard right now to know where we stand. I feel like everybody has an opportunity, and I feel very confident about my own ability and what I can bring to the team."
Sofele saw limited playing time as a true freshman, mostly on end-arounds and reverses. He should be in the mix this season as a kick returner and for spot duty at tailback. Briggs is highly thought of but is probably too inexperienced to seriously compete with the others at the outset.