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QB Luke Rubenzer's switch to defense makes sense at Cal

3/10/2015

The most interesting takeaway from Cal's first day of spring was practice was that quarterback Luke Rubenzer is making the switch to safety, if only for a trial period.

While it seemingly came out of nowhere -- as a true freshman he played an involved role as a change-of-pace quarterback in nearly every game -- it makes sense. Rubenzer undoubtedly made a positive impact at times for the Bears last year, but every snap he took meant one less for Jared Goff, a player Cal is officially promoting as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Simply put: Cal is not better with its best player on the sideline -- especially now that Rubenzer is a known quantity.

Rubenzer started preparing for a new role -- just in case -- nearly immediately following the season. A versatile athlete at 6-feet, 190 pounds, there were several possibilities.

  1. Redshirting. With the intent of staying at quarterback, it would have given him at least two years without Goff on the roster -- and three if Goff leaves after next year. Of course, that's also a gamble with no guarantee he'll even wind up as the starter. He could have also redshirted with the intent of switching positions for the 2016 season, whether that's to receiver, running back or defense.Rubenzer said the coaching staff brought up redshirting, but it didn't appeal to him. "I think it would be really hard to do that after I playing as much as I did last year," he said. "I think it would be really hard to sit out a year. So I said I wanted to play."

  1. Remain at QB, likely with a diminished role. For all we know, this could still happen. In two weeks, Rubenzer might realize, for whatever of reason, he belongs back at quarterback. For Cal, that wouldn't be so bad. If Goff misses an extended period of time, Rubenzer, at this point, is clearly the next-best option. For now, his switch is a question of what is deemed more valuable: whatever role he can carve out as a safety (or something else to be determined) or as a No. 2 quarterback. And until Rubenzer works out more on defense and his role is more defined, it's hard to answer.

  1. Switch positions, remain on offense. Conventional wisdom in regards to mobile quarterbacks and position changes is usually just, "Move them to the slot!" It applies here, too. Rubenzer is clearly a good enough athlete to foresee success in the slot and it would make more sense for the team than for him to switch to running back because of the relative depth Cal has at the two positions. If Rubenzer flops on defense, a move to receiver with some QB reps sprinkled in seems most likely.

  2. Switch to defense. After considering the others, this is where he and the coaching staff settled. On the surface, it has everything to do with need. Rubenzer, like everyone else, can see the glaring need Cal has for talent in the secondary. In 2014, the Bears allowed an FBS-worst 4,406 passing yards, 42 touchdown passes (five more than any other team) and 39.8 points per game (second worst among Power 5 teams). All-hands-on-deck in the most appropriate way to approach finding a solution and Rubenzer did play safety in high school. There will still be a steep learning curve, but the concepts won't be completely foreign.

"He came to us a couple weeks ago and said he wanted to play," coach Sonny Dykes said Monday. "We talked about a bunch of different options with him about playing different positions and how he wanted to do it, potentially redshirting, all that different stuff. He said, ‘I want to play and I think there might be a need at safety and I'd like to play there.' So we put him there today."

What Dykes said in regards to the staff's approach to the situation makes sense, too.

"Our job is to figure out how to win football games and so whatever that combination is and whatever is going to get our best 22 players on the field, that's what we want and we're always willing to move guys around and tinker with this, tinker with that to try and get better. If it's a move that we think makes us better, we're going to do it."