Next In Line
At some point, Chase Garbers will no longer be a quarterback on the Cal football team.
The Bears have spent the past two seasons with the luxury of having an experienced backup quarterback in Devon Modster, who already had seen extensive game action at UCLA before transferring to Cal before the 2019 season.
Cal enters the 2021 season with a quartet of other quarterbacks who have combined for a grand total of one collegiate game plus a couple of other drives.
"There's some inexperience at the quarterback position, other than Chase now," Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said. "There is going to be a number of opportunities throughout spring ball and fall camp for those guys to get valuable reps to put on tape."
Garbers has been Cal's starting quarterback for all or parts of the past three seasons and enters 2021 as the Pac-12's active leader in wins with 14 and is tied for the most starts in the conference with 23. Now a redshirt senior, Garbers will eventually move on from Berkeley, creating a vacancy to the all-important position.
The Bears wrap up spring practice with their annual spring game on Saturday, and the past month has been vital to the potential Cal signal-callers of the future.
"We are just grinding every day, competing with each other," said redshirt sophomore Spencer Brasch, who started a game at Utah in 2019. "At the same time, we are building each other up, getting ready for whenever Chase is gone to make sure everyone is ready and not have anyone that is behind."
It goes without saying that the Bears may need another quarterback before Garbers exhausts his eligibility. It wasn't long ago that Garbers missed four games and parts of two others because of injuries in 2019.
"The mindset right now is to just take advantage of all the reps that we get," sophomore Zach Johnson said. "Spring is obviously a really good time for us to get a lot of reps, learn as much about the offense as we can, see many different defensive looks and things like that. Just kind of training our eyes and getting used to the type of things we are going to see when we get out there. I know all of us are really trying to take advantage of the reps that we get and really just try and get better."
Brasch, a former three-star recruit from Gilbert, Arizona, has the most experience among Cal's backup quarterbacks with his one start against the Utes. He also played the final two drives the previous game against Oregon State after Modster was injured.
It was a tough go for Brasch in the game at Utah. The Bears limped into the game decimated by injuries and the Utes featured one of the top defenses in the country. Cal lost 35-0.
"It was a tough situation for sure, but I've always wanted to play football, no matter where it is or what it is," Brasch said. "Just being able to play was great, even though it didn't turn out the way we wanted it to. You always wonder what it's going to be like getting into a game. Am I going to be nervous? I got into the game and it was still just football. We practice this every day. Nothing really changed, just maybe a bigger stage."
Redshirt junior Robby Rowell, from nearby Acalanes High School, has been a member of Cal's program longer than any of the other backup quarterbacks and relieved Brasch for Cal's final drive of the 2019 game at Utah in what has been his only career appearance so far.
"I've just been trying to stay locked in and make the most of my opportunities," Rowell said. "I feel like this spring and next fall is a great opportunity for me to show what I've been working on, how much I've improved since I've been here and try to make the most of that. I feel like I've been putting my best foot forward and showing off the parts of my game that I think can help the team."
Johnson, a former All-Southern Section performer from Valencia, enters his second year with the program with less experience than most players in his position because of COVID-19. He only got to go through six game weeks of preparation last season, with just four of the games actually being played.
"It was definitely not what you expect," Johnson said. "Obviously, there were limited reps and things like that due to limited practice time. I still learned a ton about reading defenses, just mental reps during practice and watching different coverages and then going back and looking at the film and trying to diagnose what he defense is doing. I feel like I learned a ton in that area."
Incoming freshman Kai Millner, a four-star recruit who like Brasch attended Higley High School, will arrive at Cal in the fall and is expected to contend immediately for the backup job.
"Kai Millner is going to get an opportunity when he gets here. He's a very talented young man," Wilcox said. "We don't really have a timeline on naming the backup quarterback. What we are really more interested in is just their improvement throughout the offseason."