This is the seventh in an eight-part series breaking down the Cal Poly football team’s depth chart.
Who’s back: A lot is expected of returning starter Chris Brown following his breakout junior season. The fifth-year senior proved to be one of the most capable runners in the FCS last fall after rushing for 1,265 yards and 17 touchdowns — one shy of the school record. With Brown leading the way, Cal Poly rushed for a Big Sky Conference-record 4,221 yards. Fellow senior Dano Graves is back and has looked sharp in camp. Head coach Tim Walsh said if things go well and Brown stays healthy, the team would like to use Graves’ available redshirt and have him step into the starting role in 2016.
There’s no guarantee it will work out that way. “How are we going to manage that,” Walsh said, “and how are we going to do it when (Graves) clearly is the guy who gives us the best opportunity to win if Chris isn’t playing?” Fourth-year junior Andrew Barna also is competing for the backup job and has shown off his big arm a few times during camp. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Barna did not play in any games for the Mustangs in 2014, but he gained some experience traveling with the team as the No. 3 quarterback.
Who’s new: The top three names on the Cal Poly depth chart are the same as last season. At the No. 4 spot, freshman Khaleel Jenkins fills the position vacated by Kai Ross, who is no longer with the team. At 6-2 and 200 pounds, Jenkins certainly looks the part of a college-ready quarterback. Coming out of San Diego’s Francis Parker High — where he has already been inducted into the school’s hall of fame — Jenkins was recruited by Harvard, Yale and Cornell among several others. A redshirt season seems likely for the cerebral Jenkins, though he could push Barna for the No. 3 travel spot.
Walsh’s take: “(Chris Brown) came here because we recruited him as a quarterback and I think it’s worked out pretty well for him. We need him to start this year the way he finished last year and really be a dynamic player with the ball in his hands.”
Projected depth chart:
QB: Chris Brown, Sr., 6-2, 205. Dano Graves, Sr., 5-10, 185. Andrew Barna, Jr., 6-2, 215. Khaleel Jenkins, Fr., 6-2, 200.
What to watch: Cal Poly’s offense is largely dictated by opposing defensive schemes. If teams make a point to take the ball out of preseason All-American running back Kori Garcia’s hands, that could mean a heavy dose of Brown in the running game. Walsh said the quarterback probably kept the ball too often last season, leading to his team-high 249 rushing attempts. By comparison, only Idaho State’s Xavier Finney (259) had more carries than Brown among Big Sky players in 2014.
The 6-2, 205-pound senior won’t surprise anyone this year, and balance will be key to keeping a healthy, effective Brown in the starting lineup come November. “If they want him to carry the ball, I guess he’ll do it,” Walsh said. “He’s pretty dangerous with the ball in his hands.”