NCAA

2017 spring practice important for Cal, Stanford for different reasons

wilcox-shaw-ap.jpg
AP

2017 spring practice important for Cal, Stanford for different reasons

It’s only February, but this week marks the beginning of the 2017 football season in the Bay Area. Spring practice has arrived.

Most schools now begin “spring” practice in the winter. In the Pac-12, for example, Oregon State began on February 17, Arizona on Feb. 18 and Colorado on Feb. 22. Stanford’s drills start this Tuesday, while Cal’s kick off on March 15.

Schools are limited to a total of 15 sessions, and safety concerns have led the NCAA to strongly recommend that only eight involve full-contact drills. Indeed, if you ask most head coaches what they hope to gain from spring ball, the first thing most of them say is, “I hope no one gets hurt.”

There’s more to it than that, of course. Typically, spring is the time teams look to fill spots lost to graduation, resolve competition for starting spots, move players to new positions, and evaluate redshirts and early-admit freshmen. It also can be a time to find a quarterback and install a new system, which is the case at Cal this spring.

In certain parts of the country, spring practice is a much bigger deal than it is here in the Bay Area. As longtime Texas sports information director Jones Ramsey used to say, “we only have two major sports at Texas—football and spring football.”

In the SEC and Big Ten, huge crowds are commonplace for the spring intra-squad game. Last year for example, Ohio State drew 100,129 fans to its spring game. Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Penn State and Nebraska routinely draw 75,000 to 90,000. Cal and Stanford are thrilled if 3,000 fans show up.

Perhaps the most significant spring practice in the history of Bay Area football took place in 1968 at Stanford. Head coach John Ralston had been recruited from Utah State in 1963 to turn around a moribund program that had won 14 games in five years, low-lighted by an 0-10 record in 1960.

But Ralston’s run-oriented attack wasn’t producing the kind of results Athletic Director Chuck Taylor had hoped for when he hired him. Taylor, a member of Stanford’s 1941 Rose Bowl championship team that introduced the T-formation to college football, and coach of Stanford’s ‘52 Rose Bowl team that lived and died by the forward pass, made a not-so-gentle suggestion to Ralston after three middling seasons: throw the football.

So Ralston recruited a couple of local quarterbacks who could sling it—Jim Plunkett from San Jose’s James Lick High School and Don Bunce from Woodside—and announced that he would switch to a pro-style passing game for the ’68 season. Spring practice would serve as the test kitchen for Ralston’s new offense.

Back in those days I was a wet-behind-the-ears sports editor of the Stanford Daily. My timing was good, as I was fortunate enough to cover the ’68 spring practice and football season. In the spring game, Plunkett completed 22 of 39 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns to solidify his hold on the starting job.

That fall, Stanford opened with San Jose State and Plunkett made his debut by throwing for four touchdowns—including three bombs to quarterback-turned-wide receiver Gene Washington—in a 68-20 rout. No one who was in the stadium that day will ever forget it…it was the beginning of a new era in Stanford football and, in many ways, a new era in college football.

Two years later, Plunkett led Stanford to the conference title and an upset win over Ohio State’s team of the decade in the Rose Bowl. He also won the Heisman Trophy over Notre Dame’s Joe (don’t call me THEES-man) Theisman.

Bunce, the forgotten quarterback, backed up Plunkett for two years before red-shirting his senior year (1970) so he’d have the job to himself in 1971. All he did was win another Pac-8 championship and Rose Bowl.

This spring has the potential to be another important milestone for Stanford and Cal with a new coaching staff at one school and major holes to fill at both.

Cal: New coach Justin Wilcox and his team open spring ball on Wednesday, March 15. The Bears will have three open practices—Friday March 24 at 3:30, Saturday, April 8 at 11 a.m., and the spring game on Saturday, April 22, also at 11. The Pac-12 network will televise the spring game and admission is free. Cal’s March 24 practice will be preceded by “Pro Day” (also open to the public) at 10 a.m., when selected graduating players will work out before NFL scouts and coaches.

In addition to installing a new system and introducing a new coaching staff, Wilcox must find a replacement for record-setting quarterback Davis Webb (a key attraction on Pro Day).

Stanford: The Cardinal divides spring practice into two sessions—February 28-March 12 and April 3-15, separated by a three-week break for dead week, finals and spring break. Four practices will be open to the public—Saturday, March 4 at 10 a.m., Sunday, March 12 at 11:45, Saturday, April 8 (time tbd), and the spring game on Saturday, April 15 at 1:00 p.m., which also will be televised on Pac-12 network.

Stanford’s “Pro Timing Day” on Thursday, March 23 is open to the public at 11:15. The main attractions will be running back Christian McCaffrey and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, both of whom are turning pro after their junior seasons. Unlike McCaffrey, Thomas played in the Sun Bowl and elevated his pro stock with several game-changing plays.

Coach David Shaw has a quality replacement for McCaffrey in junior Bryce Love, who averaged 7.4 yards per carry during the season and broke two long plays in the bowl game. But he will have to replace Thomas, record-setting kicker Conrad Ukropina, and possibly quarterback Keller Chryst, who is rehabbing from knee surgery.

We’ll be back with a roundup after the conclusion of spring ball. In the meantime, let's hope both Cal and Stanford unearth a few nuggets and that no one gets injured.

Kyler Murray suffers first loss as OU starting QB in wild Red River Rivalry

Kyler Murray suffers first loss as OU starting QB in wild Red River Rivalry

Kyler Murray never lost a Texas high school football game, going 42-0 as a prep with three straight state championships. He can't say the same about being a starting quarterback in the Red River Rivalry. 

Playing in front of his home state at the University of Texas, Murray found himself on the other side of one of the biggest rivalries in college football. And a last-second Texas field goal put an end to his and Oklahoma's perfect record this season. 

That doesn't mean Murray didn't continue his Heisman campaign in the 48-45 loss. 

[JOHNSON: A's top pick Kyler Murray always envisioned himself as a two-sport star]

Murray, the Sooners quarterback and A's top draft pick last June, threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns. On the ground, Murray rushed for another 92 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. He did have mistakes with one interception and one fumble. 

Looking to pull off a two-touchdown comeback, Murray made plays like this with his arm. 

That wasn't even close to his biggest highlight of the day. Down 45-31 with 5:21 left, Murray showed off his blazing wheels for perhaps the best run of this college football season. 

Through six games, Murray now has 1,764 passing yards with 21 touchdowns through the air to three interceptions. He's been just as impressive using his legs, rushing for 377 yards and five more scores.

Last season during his Heisman campaign, Baker Mayfield, who Murray replaced at Oklahoma, total 1,937 passing yards through six games with 17 touchdowns and one interception. He also had 101 yards on the ground and one more score. 

Comparing the two, Murray (2,141) has 103 more total yards than Mayfield did in 2017 through the first six games, and eight more touchdowns.

If Murray is wearing an A's jersey in a few years, don't blink with him on the base paths. 

Former Cal star Jabari Bird arrested for domestic incident, kidnapping

jabarius.jpg
USATSI

Former Cal star Jabari Bird arrested for domestic incident, kidnapping

BOSTON — Boston Celtics guard Jabari Bird is facing several charges following a domestic incident in which a victim was injured, police said.

Bird, a second-round draft choice of the Celtics in 2017, signed a two-year contract with the team this summer after splitting his rookie season between Boston and the Maine Red Claws of the G-League.

“Jabari Bird is currently being guarded by the Boston Police at a local hospital for an evaluation after a domestic incident that occurred in Brighton on Friday,” the department said in a brief statement Saturday. “The victim involved in the incident was also transported to a separate hospital for treatment of injuries sustained.”

Police said complaints would be sought against Bird for assault and battery, strangulation and kidnapping. He could be arraigned as early as Monday in Brighton District Court. Brighton is a neighborhood of Boston.

No other details were immediately released.

“We are aware of the incident involving Jabari Bird and are taking it very seriously,” the Celtics said in a statement on Saturday. “We are actively gathering information and will reserve further comment at this time.”

A message left with Bird’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, was not immediately returned.

Bird, 24, played his college basketball at California where he earned All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention honors and led the Golden Bears in scoring in his final season at the school.

He appeared in 13 regular-season games for the Celtics last season, averaging 3.0 points per game.