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Cal offense has a new look under coordinator Beau Baldwin

New Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, the former head coach at Eastern Washington, has his players excited about what's ahead. "He lights up the room," said quarterback Chase Forrest. "He's a great coach. He speaks well, he demands respect." James Snook/USA TODAY Sports

BERKELEY, Calif. -- California's spring practices are closed to the media, but plenty of hooting and hollering can be heard echoing through the tunnels and the concourse from outside Memorial Stadium. The same enthusiasm is also present in the hallways under the stadium, where the Golden Bears' coaches have their offices. New offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin's laughter travels through those corridors, filling them with vitality.

The Bears could also be a spirited bunch under former head coach Sonny Dykes, but they're showing a fresh type of zeal in the nascent Justin Wilcox era.

Much of that gusto comes courtesy of the gregarious Baldwin, formerly the head coach at Eastern Washington. He led the Eagles to eye-popping offensive success during his eight years in charge, and now he's attempting to carry that success over to Berkeley.

"He lights up the room," quarterback Chase Forrest said. "He's a great coach. He speaks well, he demands respect, he cares. He was the head guy of a great program -- that's a big deal. The fact that he wanted to come here and teach us is awesome."

Cal's players speak of Baldwin as the cool guy in the room -- almost as if he's one of their teammates. Perhaps that's a credit to Baldwin's coaching background, which actually started when he was still a player. In a Swedish semi-pro football league right after college, Baldwin played quarterback while he simultaneously coached the Limhamn Griffins.

"As a quarterback in high school or college, you're used to scrambling, getting hit, going down, getting up, and then looking at the sideline for the next play," Baldwin said.

But in Sweden, there was a twist: He was the one charged with providing the playcall.

"I was the offensive coordinator while I was the quarterback," Baldwin said with a laugh.

That experience jump-started his coaching career, one that's now reached Cal, where players are excited to embrace Baldwin's diverse offensive style.

Scoring points hasn't exactly been a problem for the Bears -- in fact, that was the program's strength under Dykes. But that Cal Air Raid offense was reliant on a pair of talented quarterbacks in Jared Goff and Davis Webb. Cal must prove that it can succeed without either of those players. Fittingly, Baldwin already tackled a similar challenge in his previous job: Even after star quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. left Eastern Washington after the 2014 season, the Eagles remained explosive and proficient offensively.

Forrest and Ross Bowers are the two front-runners to grab the Bears' starting quarterback job in 2017, and both are immersing themselves in the new playbook and terminology of Baldwin's system.

"It's a more balanced offense," Forrest said. "It's not just all Air Raid, going deep every time and having fun with it anymore. It has more structure. It's a bit more slower-paced. The concepts and logistics of it all -- there's some complex stuff there."

Baldwin only carefully divulges details about the system he's installing at Cal, refusing to even name it.

"It's a work in progress," he said. "I don't give it a name -- I don't like that. I've never called it a name. You can call us 'multiple.' What we did [at Eastern Washington] in 2012 was different than what we did in 2013, which was different than what we did in 2016."

Versatility has, in fact, been a Baldwin trademark, and it represents perhaps the biggest logistical change that the Bears are implementing. In the past, the Cal offense employed four different receiver positions -- the X, the Y, the Z, and the H. There was little crossover between the letters, as receivers generally learned their particular part of the playbook and stuck there.

Baldwin's philosophy has dictated the opposite. Along the offensive line and on the perimeter, players are taking reps at non-native positions. Tackles are learning the nuances of guard, guards are seeing snaps at tackle, and receivers are working to master every role within the passing offense. It's adaptability that Baldwin utilized at Eastern Washington with receiver Cooper Kupp, who broke 15 FCS records.

"We put Cooper all over the field," Baldwin said. "He was everywhere. We could hide him. The defense never knew where he was going to be. But if you only learn the Z or the X, you just start memorizing your play, but you don't truly learn the offense as a whole."

Cal has a stockpile of returning receiver talent, including Demetris Robertson and Melquise Stovall, both of whom produced as true freshmen in 2016. The Bears also have versatility at running back in a player like Tre Watson, who has capable hands. A look at Kupp's success under Baldwin followed by a glance at the Cal's pass-catching arsenal seems to be a recipe for headaches among Pac-12 defensive coordinators.

It should come as no surprise, then, that such a buoyant vibe surrounds the Bears' offense this spring. The program returns explosive talent on that side of the ball, and its good-natured new leader has a track record of being able to utilize it.

"Adapting is a day-by-day process," Bowers said. "It's a different mentality and a different playbook, but we're excited. We're attacking every day with a championship mindset."