Coach Jeff Tedford knows the 2010 season could be a turning point for his program and himself, and he stepped up the pressure during spring practice accordingly.
After finishing 8-5 and tied for fifth in the Pac-10 for their second disappointing season in the past three years, the Bears are unlikely to be picked among the conference contenders next season after losing a few key players from last season's team. That is an unusual and uncomfortable position for Tedford, who will start feeling the heat if Cal has another lousy season in 2010.
It's unlikely Tedford will get fired no matter what the Bears do next season, but there will be considerable grumbling if the team falters again because Tedford is being paid a big salary by Cal standards, and the expensive athletic facilities being constructed around Memorial Stadium were initiated largely to satisfy Tedford. If attendance drops, the finger will be pointed at Tedford.
Tedford has put nearly every position up for grabs, including quarterback, even though starter Kevin Riley returns. It was also the most physically demanding spring of Tedford's tenure, with one-on-one competitions set up often. This is all because Tedford wants his players to compete harder, something they did not seem to do in some games last season when they inexplicably fell flat.
Quarterback and pass defense are the major issues for Cal, and the Bears have a new defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergast, who is trying to fix the defensive woes. He has installed a more aggressive defense that suits Tedford, who has wanted more pressure on the opposing quarterback. It also seems to suit the players, who seem excited about the attacking style. Pendergast has to find some competent cornerbacks, especially since the team's only reliable corner from last season, Syd'Quan Thompson, is gone.
The Bears are expecting additional help at linebacker when some highly touted freshmen arrive next fall, and at least one could be a starter. At the moment, inside backer Mike Mohamed is the only proven linebacker in the Bears' 3-4 defense.
But the key is Riley. When he played well, which he did sometimes, the Bears usually won. When he played poorly, which happened too often, the Bears lost, often in lopsided fashion. Tedford has said he will continue the competition for a starting quarterback into the fall, but Riley demonstrated in the spring that he is so much better than the Bears other two quarterbacks that it will be a competition in name only. The mission for Riley is to play well game after game, whether the team is ahead or behind.
If not, the Bears may be looking at a second-division finish, which would continue a downward trend in the Cal program.NOTES, QUOTES
--With the graduation of all-conference defense end Tyson Alualu, a lot is being expected of the returning defensive end, Cameron Jordan. He is loaded with untapped potential, and began showing it during the spring, playing like the all-conference-caliber linemen coaches believe he is. Jordan seems to benefit from the attacking style brought by new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
--Shane Vereen did not get a lot of work during the spring, but that was to allow him to rest. He is one of the few players whose starting status is undisputed, and he took a beating with his load of carries at the end of last season. In the Bears' final controlled scrimmage on April 17, Vereen carried the ball just a few times before watching most of it from the sidelines. Despite the loss of Jahvid Best, the Bears feel good about their starting tailback spot.
--CB Darian Hagan, who was a starter the first half of last season, seems to be getting back in the coaches' good graces. His performance on and off the field -- particularly in the classroom -- got him in the coaches' doghouse last season, and he did not see the field in the last several games. He was not allowed to participate in the first half of spring practice as Tedford insisted that he focus on his school work. He did return for the final week of spring practice, and participated in the controlled scrimmage, though he played with the third-team defense. The Bears still have plans for him, assuming he stays academically eligible.
CB Steve Williams -- A lot was expected from Williams, a redshirt freshman who originally committed to Oklahoma before signing with Cal, and he began to show his potential during the spring. Adding about 10 pounds to a body that weighed only 169 pounds helped Williams, who is a serious contender for a starting cornerback spot.
TB Isi Sofele -- Sofele, a small, quick player, was the best offensive player in the Bears' April 17 controlled scrimmage, showing an ability to break big plays from the line or on punt returns. Cal typically gives its No. 2 tailback a lot of work in games, and Sofele may be the leading contender in a three-way battle for the No. 2 spot behind Shane Vereen.
LB Steven Fanua -- There are spots available at linebacker, and Fanua, a redshirt freshman, was as impressive as any of the players trying to earn a starting job.
NG Kendrick Payne -- A 6-2, 307-pound sophomore with speed, Payne played so well during spring practice and the controlled scrimmage that he appears to have displaced Derrick Hill as the Cal's starting nose guard, a critical position in the 3-4. He has the capacity to make big plays, making him an important sidekick to Cameron Jordan.
OT Matt Summers-Gavin -- Cal tried a lot of different combinations in the offensive line during the spring, partly because of injuries, and Summer-Gavin was the most consistently productive lineman. He was a starter much of last season before being injured, and he seemed to be in fine form during the spring.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a lot more blitzes." -- DE Cameron Jordon, to the Contra Costa Times, regarding the difference in the defense brought in by new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Cal's unsteady play the past few years, the inconsistency at quarterback and problems in the secondary suggest this team will finish closer to eighth than to first. But the Bears could push themselves well up in the standings if Kevin Riley improves significantly in his senior season, which is certainly possible. With USC's dominance apparently over and Oregon having personnel issues because of off-field problems, the conference race is open. Improvement at just a few positions -- namely quarterback and cornerback -- will put the Bears in the mix for a title. Without those improvements, the Bears may be worse than last year's 8-5 team.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offensive line returns largely intact, and tailback Shane Vereen is more than adequate as a running threat. The issues are the wide receivers and the quarterback. Marvin Jones is the only quality wide receiver, and Anthony Miller is a good tight end, but the Bears are hoping for some immediate help from incoming freshman receiver Keenan Allen next fall. The key, though, is QB Kevin Riley, who has started 22 games but has been inconsistent throughout his career.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defensive line in the 3-4 looks pretty strong, but there are questions everywhere else. That includes coaching, because Clancy Pendergast takes over the defensive coordinator role from Bob Gregory, who had been Tedford's only defensive coordinator. Mike Mohamed is a stud inside linebacker who seems to make big plays at critical moments, but the Bears hope to get some help for Mohamed from its incoming group of touted freshman linebacker. Chris Martin is the most likely true freshman linebacker to step into the starting lineup. The Bears' secondary was their biggest weakness last season, and they lost their best defensive back, Syd'Quan Thompson. Five or six players are vying for the two starting cornerback spots, and some have looked pretty good during the spring. If two can become solid starters, the Bear's defense will be decent against the pass, which was not the case last season.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Short kickoffs last season bothered Tedford as much as anything, and K Giorgio Tavecchio showed a stronger leg during the spring. He is still not getting his kickoffs to the end zone, but he is getting them inside the 10, which is a major improvement He and Vince D'Amato will continue to compete for the place-kicking duties, but Tavecchio is the leader. Bryan Anger may be the Pac-10's best punter, although he did not punt well in the Bears' final controlled scrimmage. Jeremy Ross is a decent kick-returner and Isi Sofele has the makings of a good punt returner, but Tedford needs more big plays out of his returners and better kick coverage than he got last season. That's why he hired a new special-teams coach, Jeff Genyk.
DE DeAndre Coleman -- A redshirt freshman, Coleman has the size (6-6, 309) and athleticism to have a major impact, and the Bears need somebody to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Tyson Alualu. He is raw, but has plenty of potential.
LB Ryan Davis -- A defensive line in junior college, Davis redshirted last season to lose weight and prepare to play outside linebacker, a position at which the Bears need immediate help.
LB Steve Fanua -- He redshirted as a freshman in 2009, but could be a factor at linebacker. His biggest asset is his fiery attitude, and the Bears need somebody with a little meanness in its linebacking corps. That was lacking last season after the departure following the 2008 season of Zack Follett.
LB Chris Martin -- The most highly rated of the four freshmen linebackers who will arrive next fall, Martin has the strength, athleticism and toughness to be a Pac-10 star, and he could be in the starting lineup in the opener if he is as good as advertised.
WR Keenan Allen -- The most highly rated of Cal's recruiting class, Allen could be a defensive back or a wide receiver, and the Bears have immediate needs at both positions. He will work as a wide receiver when he arrives next fall, and he should earn playing time quickly. He could even be a starter if the Bears rely on a three-wideout attack.
RB Trajuan Briggs -- A freshman who enrolled at Cal during the winter, Briggs de-committed from USC late in the recruiting process before signing with Cal. The Bears like to use two tailbacks and the competition for the second running back behind Shane Vereen is wide open. Some say Briggs reminds them of Marshawn Lynch, but Briggs is not as big as Lynch yet.
RB Dasartay Yarnway -- The highly regarded back redshirted 2009 as a freshman because of injuries, but he should get playing time in 2010.
--C Dominic Galas tore his posterior-cruciate ligament midway through spring camp, putting him out for six week.
--LB Mychal Kendricks, a starter the early part of last season, missed spring ball after undergoing shoulder surgery, but is expected to be healthy for next season.
--DE Mike Contanza had an appendectomy that forced him to miss the final two weeks of spring ball.
--OT Mitchell Schwartz missed the final two weeks of spring practice with a strained back.
--OL Chris Guanero missed a week of spring ball with a calf injury but returned for the final week.
--RB Tracy Slocum, who was dismissed from the Cal team for repeated minor transgressions, reportedly will enroll at Fresno State and try to make the team as a walk-on next fall.
Previous Report: 03/25/2010