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California ready for true freshmen to shine on perimeter

When Jared Goff was taken as the No. 1 pick in the latest NFL draft, California lost the star quarterback who had led its program turnaround.

The Golden Bears' top six receivers from last season also departed, leaving a void that's 265 catches and 3,878 receiving yards big.

Cal is facing the type of offensive talent exodus that normally warrants a firm press of the panic button -- or at least resigned acceptance of a rebuilding season.

It's been far from a normal offseason in Berkeley, though.

First, the Bears signed electric receiver prospect Melquise Stovall -- originally a USC commit. Then, they nabbed Demetris Robertson, another bona fide weapon who held offers from Alabama and Notre Dame. To add icing to the cake, Cal managed to secure the graduate transfer of former Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb -- whom ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has rated as his top senior draft prospect -- just a few months later.

In three fell swoops, the Bears managed to fill the gaping vacuum in their passing attack.

"It's crazy," offensive lineman Steven Moore said. "We're lucky. I'm lucky. All these guys from my class have left. The whole team has changed. But it's still good."

Moore hosted Webb -- who originally committed his transfer to Colorado -- on a recruiting visit that helped change the quarterback's mind.

"I told him that he would be foolish to not come and play his last year with us," Moore said.

Upon closer examination of the new receiving arsenal at Webb's disposal in Berkeley, it's easy to see the root of Moore's gung-ho enthusiasm.

Stovall, an early enrollee, electrified Cal with a 128-yard performance in the spring game. He knifed through the defense with lethal cuts and fiery acceleration.

"He's a freak," Moore said. "He's one of the shiftiest guys I've ever seen."

Robertson waited until May to commit, but there shouldn't be any such delay in his quest to see the field this fall. Like Stovall, he brings open-field explosiveness that will quite possibly represent an upgrade over Cal's departed core of receivers -- a group which was certainly productive, but one that was cut from a different cloth than these youngsters.

"This is a different group," head coach Sonny Dykes said. "This group will be built much differently. We haven't had a lot of catch-and-run guys, guys that can catch a screen pass and turn it into a big play, and I think this group will be a little bit more inclined to do that."

The Bears also saw promising flashes from Tennessee transfer Vic Wharton, Brandon Singleton and Jordan Veasy in the spring game, and they'll count on their capable receiving depth to find comfortable niches surrounding the super freshmen.

Stovall and Robertson are considered potential foundations for next era of this program, which is at a crossroads of sorts: After pushing the win total from just one game in 2013 to eight victories last year, the Bears are attempting to continue this trend of improvement even during what outsiders initially deemed a rebuilding year.

"[The seniors] built this success," Moore said. "Now, we're showing the younger guys how we did it. They're going to learn how to sustain it."

Despite the flashy new weapons on the perimeter, the foundation for Cal's offensive success likely lies with Moore's position: The Bears return four of five starting offensive linemen, and Dykes is optimistic that his program finally has depth to be reckoned with there.

"When I was a freshman, I had to play super young," Moore said. "I was small, I was only 18. It was too early. I wasn't ready. I'll admit that for sure. If that was now, I wouldn't have to play right away."

Cal plans to have its newfound trench muscle pave the way for running backs Vic Enwere, Khalfani Muhammad and Tre Watson. Although Webb hasn't officially been named the starting quarterback, he's the odds-on favorite to grab that role and promises to be dangerous with a capable ground attack in tow.

That's where Stovall and Robertson will have their opportunity to make an immediate impact and usher in a new era of Cal football.

"They're really talented," Dykes said. "They bring a different skill set. We can't wait to see what they do when lights come on."

And if that production lives up to hype, Cal's offense might not skip a beat in 2016 -- and that would be remarkable with Goff and Co. so recently out the door.