BY JAY HEATER
Knight Ridder Newspapers
BERKELEY, Calif. - (KRT) - Those who remember quarterback Aaron Rodgers' first season at Cal in 2003 will know that the battle between junior college transfer Joe Ayoob and redshirt freshman Nathan Longshore won't be decided during Cal's preseason camp, which begins Monday at Memorial Stadium.
Although Rodgers clearly was first-string material, he didn't unseat Reggie Robertson until the fifth game of the season when Cal played at Illinois. And he took over even though Robertson was completing more than 60 percent of his passes and playing pretty darned well.
Bears coach Jeff Tedford said that Longshore goes into training camp as the "incumbent" based on the fact that he has had an entire season to digest the offense, even though he used his red-shirt year. Tedford also said that he won't name a starter until the week of the first game (Sept. 3 at home against Sacramento State).
Both Ayoob and Longshore will play against Sacramento State no matter who takes the first snap of the game.
"It is even going into camp," Tedford said of the race to be the No. 1 quarterback. "But somebody will have to take the first-team snaps. They both are going to get the same amount of repetitions."
It will be up to Ayoob, though, to show that he is comfortable running Tedford's offense. He looked very shaky during spring camp and Tedford said it was obvious that Ayoob was thinking too much. Tedford said he is anxious to see if Ayoob can simply react to situations now that he had a summer to study the system.
The quarterback battle is just one main focus of Cal's camp. Sorting out the logjam at wide receiver will be another priority for Tedford. San Francisco City College transfer Lavelle Hawkins and incoming freshman DeSean Jackson are considered to be talented enough to forge their way into the lineup immediately. Sophomores Robert Jordan, Sam DeSa and Noah Smith will have to perform well in camp if they expect to earn snaps.
Then there are defensive questions to answer. Are linebackers Worrell Williams (a redshirt freshman) and Desmond Bishop (a transfer from San Francisco City) ready to handle starting duties despite their inexperience at the Division IA level? Can defensive coordinator Bob Gregory find a pass-rushing defensive end to replace graduated Ryan Riddle? Will the defense be cohesive despite replacing eight starters?
Cal is counting on Donnie McCleskey, an All Pac-10 first team rover following the 2003 season, to be an every down player again. "I am 100 percent healthy," said McCleskey, who had knee surgery before the 2004 season and shoulder surgery afterward. "It feels awesome not to have any aches."
And even if he does return to form, McCleskey will be surrounded by a lot of new faces on the defense. "It's going to be a challenge to come together," McCleskey said. "But that's what spring camp and summer camp is for. We've been working hard all summer to develop our personal relationships. What I see now are guys who are hungry and ready to play."
Part of the reason for that hunger is Cal's 45-31 loss to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. "You only are as good as your last game," McCleskey said.
Cornerback Harrison Smith said he expects the defense to be solid by the time the season starts. "We will get a feeling for each other during camp," he said. "And I know we have a lot of talented guys coming in. Through the games, we are going to have some bumps, but we will try to limit those. We also know we have a lot to prove after our last game."