The beginning of spring has brought the return of Cal football. For the first time in a while, it will be a season of transition in Berkeley. The team is full of new faces — nearly two-thirds of last year’s starters have moved on — so the first two weeks of spring football have brought quite a bit of change. But it’s also an opportunity for fans to get their first glimpse at the future of the blue and gold, still more than four months away from opening day against UC Davis.
The biggest question mark is at the most important position: quarterback. For the first time in four years, Chase Garbers will not be under center for the Bears, as he’s moved on to test the waters of the 2022 NFL draft.
Garbers’ stability and experience will certainly be missed. He had many memorable moments during his time in a Cal uniform; but he also had some limitations, including limited arm strength, so the rare opportunity to usher in a new signal caller should be exciting.
The question of who that will be is still very much up in the air, but spring ball may help Cal figure things out. There are five QBs on the roster who’ve seen action these past two weeks. And yet, the competition seems to be between two — transfer Jack Plummer and redshirt freshman Kai Millner.
Plummer, a fifth-year senior who joins the Bears from Purdue, is a steady veteran who’s been well-coached and has played a lot of college football. He’s come exactly as advertised this spring, taking care of the ball, nailing his short throws and acting as a vocal leader of the offense.
Millner is very much the opposite. He’s yet to play a game of college football, but what the former 4-star recruit lacks in experience, he makes up for in potential. The freshman has looked electric in spring ball, using his powerful arm to take big shots down the field.
While Millner brings boom or bust potential, Plummer offers guaranteed stability, and head coach Justin Wilcox’s choice could very well determine the Bears’ fate next year. Cal hasn’t yet named a starter, but the team still has plenty of time to figure it out. The good news for the Bears is that they have two solid options, both of whom have been improving as of late.
“The last two or three days have been much better than the first two, so that’s promising,” said Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
The QB position may get all of the hype, but the offensive line protecting him is likely just as important. And just like at QB, there has been plenty of turnover on the line and room for competition.
After junior Will Craig announced his departure from the program, three of the five spots on the line are up for grabs. Veterans Matthew Cindric and Ben Coleman are the only returners from the unit.
Elsewhere on offense, the Bears have used these first few practices to build the confidence of some exciting young pass catchers, including a trio of speedy wide receivers in Jeremiah Hunter, J.Michael Sturdivant and Justin Richard Baker, who may be the primary playmakers for the new QB next year. Sophomore tight end Jermaine Terry II also looks to have taken some major steps forward in the offseason.
The most exciting new arrival is likely 4-star freshman running back Jaydn Ott, Cal’s highest-ranked offensive recruit since 2017. Despite his youth, Ott looks explosive with a great initial burst. It’s difficult for freshmen to earn key playing time, but Ott looks poised to do so if he can build on his strong start this spring.
“He’s coming out of the backfield and catching some balls. When we hand it to him, he’s got a bunch of gears,” Musgrave said. “He’s been really exciting these first five days.”
There have also been plenty of changes on the defensive side of the ball. Some of the early spring standouts here who will look to make their presence known come fall include transfer linebacker Jackson Sirmon and sophomore cornerback Lu-Magia Hearns III, another player who seems to have taken a leap since last season.
Cal’s star defensive linemen Brett Johnson is also back after missing the entirety of last season due to injury and does not look to have missed a beat. He may just be the Bears’ best overall player next year.
The start of spring football has brought with it plenty of changes and plenty of questions but also some answers. If Cal can find the right answers — and if new as well as old faces can build on the early potential they’ve flashed — the Bears may be in for an exciting fall.