By Jonathan Okanes
Cal Bear Blog
For a program going through some growing pains as it rebuilds itself in the rugged Pac-12 Conference, there is still one area of the team that stacks up against anyone.
While the Bears are spending the spring continuing to recover from an injury-plagued and disappointing 2013, they can find comfort in the fact that when they line up for their 2014 season-opener at Northwestern on Aug. 30, they should benefit from a deep, experienced and talented group of play-making wide receivers.
“When we’re healthy, we believe we’re the No. 1 receiving corps in the nation,” said sophomore wideout Kenny Lawler, who was a revelation as a redshirt freshman last season when he co-led the Bears with five touchdown catches. “When we’re all healthy, we know we’re going to go up top on some people.”
Cal’s top two receivers – juniors Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper – each are nursing injuries this spring. That’s allowed others such as juniors Trevor Davis, Maurice Harris and Stephen Anderson along with senior Drake Whitehurst to get increased experience. Throw in other talented pass-catchers like Lawler and junior Darius Powe, and the Bears will have a lot of weapons at quarterback Jared Goff’s disposal in the fall.
“It’s going to be crazy in fall camp when we’re all back and healthy,” Treggs said. “It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Treggs led Cal with 77 catches last season while Harper paced the Bears with 852 receiving yards and equaled Lawler’s five scores. Lawler had a handful of spectacular plays and ended up with 37 receptions.
“I think it’s probably the strength of our team, certainly from a depth standpoint,” Cal head coach Sonny Dykes said. “There are a lot of guys who can play. There are guys who have been productive and have played at a high level. When you look at our team, you’d have to say that’s the position we probably feel the strongest about.”
The receiving corps’ production is vital in more ways than one. Not only will it help the Bears move the ball and score points on offense, the group provides a measure of stability for a team still in flux in other areas on the field.
“When we started spring practice, I told them they are the strength,” Cal outside receivers coach Rob Likens said. “They need to put that on their shoulders. If they practice badly, we lose. If they play well and practice well, we win. That’s the mindset they need to have every day they come out to practice.”
Lawler’s emergence last season made a huge impact on Cal’s offense, giving the Bears a third legitimate receiving threat along with Treggs and Harper. After catching 16 passes and no touchdown passes during the Bears’ first eight games of the season, he grabbed 21 balls for five scores during the final four.
“He just needed to experience a little bit of success,” Likens said. “You see him now. Anytime the quarterbacks get in trouble, they just throw it up. He’s built that trust with the quarterback because he’s been successful out here.”