By Steven Dunst
Maybe the events that crippled the Cal football team's running back corps going into spring ball were really blessings in disguise. First-stringer Jahvid Best sat out most of the spring with a hip injury and then backup James Montgomery left the program for personal reasons. In stepped Tracy Slocum, once a forgotten man buried deep down the depth charts, now ready to make an impact after waiting patiently for two years.
Slocum ran the ball 11 times for 74 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday's spring game, looking capable of serving as a complement to Best once the shifty speedster returns. He showed a second gear on a few occasions, bursting through the middle for a nine-yard score and bouncing to the outside for an 11-yard scamper just minutes later. The Bears boast a number of skilled running backs, but Slocum may be the only one capable of taking the pounding between the tackles and fighting for the tough yards. "Coming out of high school I used to get 30 carries a game," Slocum said. "I'd love to get back to that. Hopefully coach (Jeff) Tedford gets some confidence in me."
Slocum will never have the sprinter speed of Best or freshman Shane Vereen. Nevertheless, he embraces his potential role as the power back and grinder on the team, which could be a necessity if Best is unable to remain healthy throughout the season or become an every-down runner.
"Jahvid is more of a speed guy with good vision and I'm more of a power back," Slocum said. "You put all that together and we'll be dynamic. I love carrying it between the tackles." While Slocum shined with the first team, Covaughn DeBoskie showed good ability as well. The true freshman has only been on the Berkeley campus since January, but has already made a name for himself. He hit the hole hard on a draw to gain eight yards and dove into the end zone for a two-yard score later on. But he fumbled near his own goal line on a run up the middle.
"I should've had two hands on the ball instead of grabbing my facemask when I got hit," DeBoskie said. "But overall I thought I did pretty well. A couple of plays I thought if I kept my feet under me I would've scored."
If Vereen was not sidelined with a hamstring injury or if Montgomery decided to stay with Cal, DeBoskie would not have had many opportunities to experience growing pains and learn from his mistakes. He embraces the chance to get some carries early on and really hone in on what adjustments he needs to make as a running back on the collegiate level.
"I'm playing with the big boys now," DeBoskie said. "It's kind of a blessing for me but also kind of a curse, what's happening to the running back corps (with injuries). I'm just out there trying to get positive yards."
The quarterback competition steals all the headlines, but with Nate Longshore injured and the receivers still acclimating themselves to the offense, the backup running backs stole the show in front of over 2,000 fans.
"We were short on some positions so we really focused on the running game today," Tedford said. "Tracy ran really well. They're getting better every day." Slocum and DeBoskie may not be particularly flashy and they may not be home run threats just yet, but both signaled that the tailback stables are far from empty even without Montgomery. Slocum's wait is finally paying off.