After missing Cal’s last two games due to a back injury, junior quarterback Kyle Boller has been allowed to return to the field by team doctors. But head coach Tom Holmoe said it isn’t a sure thing that Boller will start against Arizona on Saturday.
“We think he’s back, but I don’t think it’s a great idea just to rush him back into it right away,” Holmoe said. “I’d rather see how things progress.”
Holmoe said the key to Boller’s return would be a good showing in practice this week. Boller, who has been the starter for three years, usually takes a large majority of the snaps in practice, but redshirt freshman Reggie Robertson, who got his first career start last weekend against Oregon State, will take about half the snaps this week in case Boller isn’t ready to go on Saturday.
Holmoe confirmed that Robertson has moved past senior Eric Holtfreter on the depth chart. Holtfreter started two weeks ago against UCLA but was ineffective. Robertson came in late in that game and looked impressive, leading to the freshman’s start against the Beavers.
“Reggie’s had some good things happen the last two weeks and gives us enough cause to think that he can go play some of this game,” Holmoe said. “Then we have Eric Holtfreter available if need be.”
Robertson was ineffective last week against Oregon State, completing just 12-of-32 for 120 yards and an interception while underthrowing several deep balls. But his struggles were somewhat mitigated by the poor playing conditions due to a downpour that made the ball slippery.
“(Robertson’s) completion percentage wasn’t good,” Holmoe said. “But you’re dealing with a wet field, wet ball, receivers slipping, balls flying. It would be good to see him in another situation, nice weather.”
Boller’s big arm presumably would be appreciated by new deep threat LeShaun Ward, who finally made the move to wide receiver from cornerback against Oregon State. Ward caught four balls for 55 yards against the Beavers, along with a 39-yard gain on a reverse, but Robertson underthrew the junior a couple of times when Ward was open deep, a problem Boller doesn’t have to worry about with his cannon.
Ward is the fastest player on the Cal team, and having him as a threat should cause opponents to at least worry about the deep ball, which hasn’t been a factor without Ward playing offense.
“One of the things in contemplating moving LaShaun over is that he would give us that big play threat,” Holmoe said. “We threw a couple more (long passes) at him. If anything, even if we didn’t complete them, at least it stretches the defense. It gives people a feeling now that we are going to do that.”
Also in flux for the Bears is the tailback position. Starter Joe Igber is out for the season with a broken collarbone suffered against Oregon State, leaving Holmoe with just two healthy tailbacks on the roster, true freshman Terrell Williams and walk-on Michael Sparks.
“Losing Joe is very tough,” Holmoe said. “To me, you lose one of your key ingredients on the team, and that’s a kid that everybody loves. We’ll lose him and that will be a big loss.”
Williams has been a nice surprise so far this season, stepping into the backup role when Joe Echema was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. The freshman has played in every game, rushing for 266 yards on 63 carries. He ran for 104 yards last week after stepping in for the injured Igber in the first half.
Another option at tailback is senior Marcus Fields, who has been one of Cal’s best weapons at the fullback position. Fields is second on the team with 20 catches. He was a tailback early in his career, rushing for 734 yards in 1998 as the starter, but moved to fullback after being supplanted by Igber the next season. Holmoe said Fields will likely see some time at both positions on Saturday, but expect Williams to get the lion’s share of carries.
“Marcus will obviously help us,” Holmoe said. “You could see at the end of the game when Joe went out, Marcus was in there on a couple of plays as a single back.”
Holmoe said the Bears may resort to the option to take some pressure off of the replacement players on offense. It’s a play they have rarely used this season, and Robertson is the only quarterback with much experience running it.
“Reggie’s the guy that can run it better than the other guys, but Kyle has run some nice plays out of it and so has (Holtfreter),” Holmoe said. “In the next four weeks, it might be something that will play a little bit bigger role, knowing that we have to find a few other ways to compensate for the loss of (Igber).”