BERKELEY, Calif. -- Headed into his second season at Cal, there's still a lot coach Sonny Dykes needs to learn about his team. Seemingly left with more questions than answers at the end of Year 1, it was clear the spring would be a fact-finding mission as much as anything.

Except at receiver.

There has been some minor tweaking going on during the first two-thirds of spring practice, but it's clear that the coaching staff is confident in the receivers -- perhaps more than any other group on the team.

[+] EnlargeChris Harper
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsChris Harper had 70 catches for 852 yards and five touchdowns in 2013.
'There's some [Pac-12 teams that] probably return, maybe more productive guys than we did, but we've got a lot of guys who can play," Dykes said. "I think our depth has got to be probably as good as anybody's in terms of guys who have played and guys who are starting to to come into their own."

It starts with the duo of Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs, who combined for 147 catches for 1,603 yards a year ago, but Kenny Lawler also was productive (37 catches, 347 yards, 5 TD) -- especially late in the season -- and several others are fighting for playing time.

Assistant head coach Rob Likens, who is responsible for the outside receivers, doesn't hesitate to call the receivers the team's strongest unit -- and that he tells them that every day.

"They have to put it on their shoulders," Likens said of the group's importance to the team. "Experience breeds confidence, and that’s the thing we were lacking last year.

"Obviously, when you’re running a new offense, that first year they don’t know what to expect in a game, how its all going to work out. So we’ve gone through that process already, so they know coming into the spring how [the rest of the conference] is going to play."

The most notable change has been Treggs' move from outside to inside receiver. The move was done as part of an effort to get him the ball more often and engineer more matchups against safeties and linebackers. Making the same position change is 6-foot-6 Drake Whitehurst, who provides the closest look to what the Bears had from Richard Rodgers a year ago.

On the right side, Stephen Anderson and Darius Powe are battling at the inside spot, but Likens said both struggled with too many drops last fall. With Treggs inside, the left outside receiver spot is a competition between Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis and junior Maurice Harris. They are splitting time with the first team.

With such a talented group of receivers and a promising young quarterback in Jared Goff, Cal certainly has the potential to evolve into a dangerous Pac-12 offense, but other deficiencies need to get cleaned up. Namely the running game.

"And we know that. We stressed that this spring," Likens said. "[Last year,] we got into games and we realized that everybody realized that we couldn’t run the ball, so it is a lot of pressure on some very young skill guys."

Likens said Cal will "rely heavily on" a pair of incoming freshman running backs, Tre Watson and Vic Enwere.

Cal will plays its spring game on April 26, at which point the coaching staff will turn the responsibility over to the players to get better. Most, if not all, are expected to be around for a majority of the summer.

"In this offense, that’s crucial," Likens said. "If you don’t do that, you don’t have a chance."

It's an expectation Lawler said the players have bought into, and only partially because of the 1-11 season.

Lawler doesn't believe the lack of success had anything to do with last offseason's effort -- "We actually worked out really hard," he said -- but admitted he's willing to work harder and give more things up this time around.

Video: USC linebacker Hayes Pullard

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
11:00
AM ET
video
Kevin Gemmell talks with USC linebacker Hayes Pullard about spring ball and the transition to a new coaching staff.
video
LOS ANGELES – UCLA’s much-ballyhooed dual-threat threat Myles Jack -- the first player in league history to win the Pac-12’s defensive and offensive freshman of the year -- has zero carries this spring.

None. Nada. A 230-pound donut of spring offensive production. And the reason is obvious to the man pulling the strings in Westwood.

“He is a defensive player -- period -- who maybe will have some offensive packages,” stressed UCLA coach Jim Mora. “He hasn’t taken a single offensive snap this spring, nor will he. In training camp, either. He plays defense for us. The important thing is to help us maximize his abilities at linebacker. He’s phenomenal on either side of the ball. But in his mind and the reason he came here is to play linebacker. I’m not going to take that away from him. It would hurt our football team.”

In a whirlwind 2013, Jack went from heralded recruit to starting linebacker to overnight social media/SportsCenter sensation. Six carries, 120 yards and one rushing touchdown later against Arizona, the “Jack of all trades” puns were as viral as the common cold.

[+] EnlargeMyles Jack
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillUCLA's Myles Jack is focusing on defense this spring, but he could have some offensive packages during the fall.
“It was definitely crazy,” Jack said. “My life pretty much changed after that Arizona game. People really knew who I was after that. It was definitely pandemonium in terms of my phone. Guys I hadn’t talked to in a long time were hitting me up. It was wild.”

This spring the UCLA coaching staff has reminded Jack that he is, above all else, a linebacker. They’ve kept him strictly on one side of the ball, but haven’t ruled out that we might see him get some carries when the leaves start to turn. For now, the emphasis is on making him the best linebacker he can be.

And he was pretty good last season, posting the second highest number of tackles in school history for a true freshman with 75. That was enough to earn him second-team All-Pac-12 honors and placement on several freshman All-America teams. He was good, but not great. And he knows it.

Too often last season, Jack would rely on his athleticism rather than trusting in his still-developing technique. He’d guess. When he guessed right, the result would be a tackle for a loss or a highlight play. When he guessed wrong, what could have been a sack turned into a 3-yard gain. He was athletic enough to compensate. But the coaching staff is confident that when he reaches that sweet spot between athleticism and technique, well, look out.

“I’m not even close to where I need to be yet,” Jack said. “In high school I carried the ball and played defensive end. I was in a four-point stance and I’d just run around the other guys. But in the Pac-12, these offensive linemen are big and fast. I need to do a better job with my hands and shedding blocks and reading my keys.”

His collegiate offensive exploits speak for themselves. His 66-yard touchdown run against the Wildcats thrust him into the national spotlight and he ended the season with 267 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He set a UCLA true freshman record with four rushing touchdowns against Washington, and on the other side of the ball, he led the Bruins with 11 passes defended and added a two interceptions with a pick-six in the bowl win over Virginia Tech.

Mora was quick to note that Jack isn’t the only dual-threat the Bruins have on their roster. Last season defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes rushed for a touchdown and had an 18-yard reception. Linebacker Jordan Zumwalt had a 12-yard catch and defensive lineman Cassius Marsh had a 2-yard touchdown reception.

“If they can help us on either side of the ball, we’re going to continue to use them,” Mora said. “We’re going to continue to use Myles on offense and in packages. We’re going to continue to use Eddie Vanderdoes. We’re going to continue to use Kenny Clark. We’re going to find a guy that can replace Cassius. We’ve got guys like Ishmael Adams that we can play on both sides of the ball. But we have to make sure they are full entrenched at one position before we ask them to branch out. Otherwise you hurt their ability to grow.”
What is your team's best quarter? Worst? And what does it mean?

While it's probably a mistake to read too much into how a team does quarter by quarter -- the final score is what counts -- it might provide some tidbits of insight.

The baseline, of course, is this: Good teams are going to win most every quarter and bad teams will lose most every quarter. But what does it mean if your team starts fast or slowly? Or owns the third quarter? Or sputters in the second?

The conventional wisdom is teams that do well in the third are good at making halftime adjustments, but coaches often snort at such talk.

Former Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter once painstakingly walked reporters through the halftime process to help them understand the small window for making significant schematic changes. Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly was at his snarky best -- even as he was being flattered -- when asked about "halftime adjustments."

Kelly, however, would admit that the occasional slow start by his offense was due to a feeling out period, where he and his assistants were taking the measure of what a defense was trying to do. That's the nature of football -- punching and counterpunching, reading and reacting.

Still, you probably shouldn't read too much into these numbers. While it's interesting that UCLA and Washington were very good in the third quarter last year while Arizona State -- curiously -- was not, the salient fact is the Sun Devils beat both.

  • Arizona, Oregon, UCLA and Washington were the only Pac-12 teams to win every quarter.
  • California was the only Pac-12 team outscored in all four quarters. The Bears gave up 181 points in the first quarter, the worst defensive quarter in the conference.
  • The highest scoring quarter belonged to Arizona State, with 192 points in the second. Washington had 184 points in the third and Oregon 182 points in the first.
  • The best defensive quarter was USC in the first, holding foes to 37 points. Washington yielded 44 in the first and UCLA gave up 44 in the third.
  • Arizona State was dominant in every quarter, other than the third, when it was outscored 109-99.
  • Stanford was dominant in every quarter other than the fourth, which it lost 85-92, suggesting the Cardinal didn't fight for a large margin of victory.
  • Oregon was dominant in all four quarters and, despite that, posted the best fourth-quarter margin of 78 points (137-59), suggesting the Ducks enjoyed producing a large margin of victory.
  • Stanford yielded 60 or fewer points in each of the first three quarters. Only four teams produced even a single quarter with 60 or fewer points: Oregon in the third (47), UCLA in the third (44), USC in the first (37) and Washington in the first (44).
  • Colorado was outscored in the first three quarters but won the fourth decisively, 130-70. That suggests Mike McIntyre's team didn't quit.
  • USC won 10 games last year despite being outscored in both the third and fourth quarters. Only Cal and Washington State matched that dubious distinction.
  • Utah was outscored only in the fourth quarter. Oregon State was outscored only in the first.
  • Washington's 119-point margin (184-65) in the third was the largest for any quarter. Oregon's 109-point margin in the first quarter was second (182-73). Arizona State had the largest second-quarter margin at 77 points (192-115).

Video: USC safety Su'a Cravens

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
6:00
PM ET
video
Kevin Gemmell talks with USC safety Su'a Cravens about the coaching transition and his improvement heading into the 2014 season.

Video: Arizona LB Scooby Wright

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
5:30
PM ET
video
Arizona LB Scooby Wright talks about being a true freshman starter in 2013, the Wildcats' QB competition and who's stepping up on defense.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Video: DC Wilcox on USC's spring

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
2:00
PM ET
video

Kevin Gemmell talks with Trojans defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox about how the players have responded to the new coaching staff and their expectations moving forward.
video

SEATTLE -- Chris Petersen sits in his office, anxiously folding an address label he peeled off a magazine. He looks past the football field into Union Bay, where the Washington crew team is practicing. He's still getting used to this view.

His last meeting ran 45 minutes long, but it was no worry to him. His family is still in Boise, Idaho, so he can stay at the office as long as he wants, which is what he needs right now. He needs to get to work on "the process."

This is not the "Boise State process." That might be where he gained his fame for working the process so well, but by no means was it built there. The process isn't one of blue turf. It comes from a program with no scholarships, a torn up field and an aged locker room.

It's a process Petersen learned 30 years ago. A process that was perfected at a Division II school 75 miles northwest of San Francisco.

It worked there. And at Boise. And in Seattle, Petersen says, it will work here, too.

The process will work. Just give it time.

To continue reading, click here.

ESPN 300: Top Pac-12 targets 

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:45
AM ET
video
This recruiting cycle represents a huge year for talent in California, which means the Pac-12 should be able to put together some very healthy recruiting classes. In looking at the top five targets for the conference in the 2015 ESPN 300, it's no surprise that three come from Southern California. But if the Pac-12 wants to have a better overall finish in the recruiting rankings next year -- USC at No. 14 overall was the highest finish in 2014 -- the conference will need to reel in several out-of-area standouts, which is why the first two names on the list are here.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Video: UCLA coordinator Noel Mazzone

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
9:00
AM ET
video
Kevin Gemmell talks with UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone about spring practice and the maturation of quarterback Brett Hundley.
video
It wasn’t a dramatic decision accompanied by great fanfare, but it was still notable that USC coach Steve Sarkisian named Cody Kessler the Trojans' starting quarterback after Tuesday’s practice.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesCody Kessler, who threw for 2,968 yards and 20 TDs last season, will once again be running the USC offense after being named the starter on Tuesday.
Sarkisian had said last week that he was getting close to a decision and would likely make the announcement before the end of spring practice. There had been hints throughout the spring that Kessler would be keeping the job he held for the 2013 season, including when Sarkisian said that Kessler was improving at a faster pace than the top challenger, redshirt freshman Max Browne.

Considering that Kessler was the incumbent starter, if he was improving at a more rapid rate than Browne it was a fairly clear sign that Kessler was in the lead position to be named the starter. Still, until the actual word came down from Sarkisian there was always going to be a slight bit of uncertainty.

It wasn’t a huge surprise that Sarkisian made the announcement at this time. Even though the Trojans coach was clear to say that the players will still compete throughout the summer and into fall camp, Sarkisian has long stated a preference to have his starting quarterback in place by the end of spring, in large part to help that player transition into the leadership role in summer workouts.

For Kessler, being named the starter now is a contrast to what happened last year when Lane Kiffin didn’t name a starter until the third game of the season. Both Kessler and Max Wittek later admitted that was difficult for both quarterbacks.

One of the variables in the competition this spring was that the quarterbacks were learning a new up-tempo system that Sarkisian was installing, one that could run up to 120 plays each day in practice. Both players had worked out of the shotgun in similar systems in high school so there was some familiarity, but Sarkisian wanted to see them on the field with no preconceived expectations.

Kessler, who was told of the decision early Tuesday by offensive coordinator Clay Helton, went out and had one of his best practices of the spring later in the day. Sarkisian mentioned several reasons he chose Kessler, ranging from decision-making to his presence in the locker room to his strong arm.

It was the natural choice to make as Kessler is simply more advanced than Browne is at this point, although it's clear that Browne has a bright future. For now, though, Browne will have to continue to wait his turn as Kessler will hold on to his job as the starting quarterback of the Trojans.

Competition abounds at Arizona

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
7:00
PM ET
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez declared his third round of spring practices with the Wildcats a success after the spring game on Saturday, even though he was unable -- or unwilling -- to provide much insight into how things stood among his major position competitions, most notably quarterback.

What most moved him was the how, not the who. The Wildcats are now doing things the way Rodriguez wants, whether that's how they practice or how they condition.

"Some of our staff watched film of the first practice of our first spring and the first practice of this spring, and just watching guys running to the ball, they said the difference was night and day," he said. "It's amazing the difference in just two springs, how much faster we are practicing."

The other good pieces of news is there were no major injuries. That can't be discounted -- just ask Oregon (WR Bralon Addison) and Utah (LB Jacoby Hale).

As for what fans and media want -- a depth chart and a clear pecking order at every position -- Rodriguez isn't a believer in that. He likes prolonging competitions, pretty much until the week before the season opener. He said as much about his quarterback competition among Jesse Scroggins, Anu Solomon, Connor Brewer and Jerrard Randall.

So where do things stand at other hotspots such as running back, nose guard, cornerback, offensive guard and linebacker?

Running back: In the race to replace Ka'Deem Carey, Jared Baker was out with an injury, the NCAA waylaid early-enrollee Jonathan Haden, and redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green didn't distinguish themselves. Rodriguez did say that senior Terris Jones-Grigsby had a good spring and "will play." Incoming freshman Nick Wilson joins the fray in the fall, and it's almost certain at least one of the receivers -- such as Davonte' Neal -- will see time in the backfield. Said Rodriguez, "It's a whole slew of guys who will get sorted out in August."

Noseguard: Rodriguez said sophomore Dwight Melvin "had a pretty good spring." He said he also likes Luca Bruno and walk-on Parker Zellers. None of that undersized troika, however, tips the scales at more than 280 pounds. There's also Boise State transfer Jeff Worthy, Kirifi Taula and JC transfer Jerod Cody, though Rodriguez didn't mention them when asked about the position.

Cornerback: It appears Devin Holiday leads the battle to replace Shaquille Richardson opposite Jonathan McKnight. Rodriguez said he had "a pretty solid spring." But Rodriguez admitted depth at corner is an issue, and that wasn't helped by the abrupt, post-spring departure of sophomore backup Derek Babiash.

Offensive guard: Four starters are back on the offensive line, and the lone void at right guard is a battle between junior Lene Maiava and redshirt freshman Jacob Alsadek. Rodriguez called it "a coin flip."

Linebacker: Despite the loss of stalwarts Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, the Wildcats seem pretty happy with what they have back at linebacker, topped by sophomore Scooby Wright. There's redshirt freshmen DeAndrew Miller and Jake Matthews, sophomore Derrick Turituri, junior Keoni Bush-Loo and senior Hank Hobson. Moreover, the incoming recruiting class is strong at LB, with another youngster possible to follow in Wright's footsteps as a true freshman starter/contributor.

Video: UCLA DC Jeff Ullbrich

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
5:30
PM ET
video

UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ullbrich talks about replacing talent on his defense next year.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
2:30
PM ET
I'm an early bird and I'm a night owl, so I'm wise and have worms.

SPONSORED HEADLINES