Bruce Adams, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, August 7, 2005
Cal's football team reports to camp today, a younger and fresher version of the nationally ranked squad that went 10-2 last year.
"There are going to be a lot of new faces," coach Jeff Tedford said. "We've got to get them on the field, give them lots of reps and let them make mistakes early."
While many of the mainstays are gone from last year's team -- including five starters on offense and eight on defense -- Tedford says his new group has some surprises.
"There's more team speed than we've had in our three years at Cal," he said.
Hopes are especially high for DeSean Jackson, a freshman wide receiver from Long Beach Poly.
"Some of the players tell me he's been beating guys by three yards in the sprints," Tedford said, referring to the summer conditioning program that has kept all his scholarship players in Berkeley over the summer.
The biggest question mark going into camp is the matter of replacing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who left school a year early and was taken by the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Redshirt freshman Nathan Longshore and City College of San Francisco transfer Joe Ayoob will compete for the job, and Tedford won't name a starter until the week of the first game -- Sept. 3 at Memorial Stadium against Sacramento State.
Although that battle may add intrigue to camp, much of the attention will go to tailback Marshawn Lynch.
"We can always run the ball," starting senior tackle Ryan O'Callaghan said with a chuckle.
Lynch was a sensation as a freshman, averaging 8.8 yards a carry in a backup role to 2,000-yard rusher J.J. Arrington.
"He's gotten bigger and faster," O'Callaghan said. "Scary."
Lynch was a crowd-pleaser last year, seemingly refusing to go down whenever he got the ball.
"He's going to have to figure out that every play is not a touchdown," Tedford said. "If you have five guys hanging on you, it's time to go down."
Tedford said he's not about to fully harness Lynch.
"There is a fine line," he said.
O'Callaghan said the offensive line, which includes four returning starters, still hasn't learned how to block for the opportunistic Lynch.
"Marshawn is ridiculous," he said. "You don't know what he's doing. We catch ourselves watching him on some plays."
Practices begin Monday, and for the returning veterans it's a step toward washing away memories of the season-ending 45-31 loss to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
"It's off our minds, but it's in our mouths," senior rover Donnie McCleskey said. "We can still taste it."
Senior center Marvin Philip said the Bears need to erase the memory early on.
"It's something that won't be resolved until we get our first win," he said. "Every time I think about it I cringe."
Tedford said he'll also note that Holiday Bowl loss early in camp.
"If we don't play to our full potential, we can get beat by anybody," he said.
Once again, the Bears enter the season with critical voids on defense -- although that hasn't slowed the unit in the past.
"There's always a question mark," senior cornerback Harrison Smith said. "They're always wondering about how we'll be."
They'll probably be just fine, based on coordinator Bob Gregory's first three years.
Although the Bears appear to field a no-name defense, newcomers always seem ready to make a mark.
"Look out for Desmond Bishop," McCleskey said, referring to the CCSF transfer linebacker.
Smith said Thomas DeCoud, a standout on special teams last year, also could have an impact in the secondary.
And Tedford noted that freshmen linebackers Anthony Felder and Zack Follett "can make a contribution right away to our team."
A key for Tedford and Gregory lies in finding able bodies at defensive end.
Tosh Lupoi returns for a sixth year after sitting out last season on a medical redshirt.
Other players getting a look at end include junior Nu'u Tafisi, sophomore Philip Mbakogu and junior Fahim Mujaahid Abd Allah, formerly Justin Johnson.
This is Tedford's fourth year at Cal, following three winning seasons and two bowl appearances.
"The things that coach Tedford was able to do here, building confidence in not only him but in his system, has been great," Philip said. "We players feed off it."