By BRIAN BAINUM
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Monday, August 8, 2005
Joe Ayoob and Nate Longshore (right) will compete for the starting quarterback position vacated by Aaron Rodgers as training camp begins today at Memorial Stadium. Cal coach Jeff Tedford said a starter will be named the week of the Bears first game.
A quarterback position that is still up for grabs.
A defense that returns only three starters.
A hyped running back who has yet to start a game in college.
It is hard to tell which is the biggest question mark for the Cal football team heading into training camp today.
Needless to say, the Bears will be busy in the upcoming weeks, as the relatively young squad deals with the pressure of being placed on the national stage brought about by last season’s 10-2 campaign.
Gone are quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back J.J. Arrington, wide receivers Chase Lyman and Geoff McArthur and defensive stoppers Lorenzo Alexander and Ryan Gutierrez.
Still present are the expectations of success they brought.
“This is the first time we have combined youth and expectations in my time here,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “It is something we are going to have to address every day in terms of how to handle it.”
The first priority for the Bears may be to find an heir to Rodgers, who was drafted No. 24 in April’s NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.
Tedford said redshirt freshman Nate Longshore would be the starting quarterback if the team had to play this week. Longshore will compete throughout camp with highly-regarded junior transfer Joe Ayoob for the spot. Tedford said he will name a starter the week preceding Cal’s opening game against Sacramento State on Sept. 3.
“(Nathan) had the benefit last year of being on the road with us and being in on all the game plan meetings,” Tedford said.
In addition, Tedford said that Longshore, traditionally a pocket passer, has made strides in his foot speed and elusiveness, areas where he was, and still is, clearly inferior to the fleet-footed Ayoob.
The challenge for Ayoob, who starred last year at City College of San Francisco, might be to stay in the pocket long enough to benefit from Tedford’s complex offensive schemes.
“Joe is kind of a street baller right now,” Tedford said. “We need to harness that a little bit, but not too much, because you still want him to make plays.”
Of course, both Ayoob and Longshore will need targets to throw at. The departure of McArthur, Lyman and Jonathan Makonnen has opened up opportunities for several wide receivers.
Sophomore Robert Jordan, who started five games for the injury-plagued Bears receiving corps last year, will likely return as the team’s No. 1 threat. However, David Gray, Noah Smith, Sam DeSa and talented freshman DeSean Jackson should also see plenty of playing time.
Cal’s undisputed top offensive weapon, though, is sophomore tailback Marshawn Lynch. The Oakland product backed up Arrington last year, but showed flashes of promise that have earned him a No. 13 spot on the Sporting News’ list of top collegiate running backs.
Lynch should benefit from an offensive line left largely intact from a year ago. Jonathan Giesel is the only departing member of the group, which is anchored by All-American center Marvin Philip and All-Pac-10 tackle Ryan O’Callaghan.
“All the accolades just really mean we have to go out there and work that much harder,” Philip said. “When you have four guys returning you know the defenses on the other side are going to come extra hard.”
The Bears defense, on the other hand, does not have the luxury of a largely returning group. After losing eight starters, defensive coordinator Bob Gregory’s unit enters camp intent on erasing the memory of its last game, the Holiday Bowl, where it was roughed up by Texas Tech for 45 points and 597 yards of total offense.
“We had a bump in the road that last game,” senior cornerback Harrison Smith said. “I think it will definitely be motivation for us, because guys had to go through that game and then hear about it in the spring and summer.”
While motivation will probably not be a problem for the defense, chemistry may be. The unit will be infused with newcomers and players who have seen only limited time on the field in the past.
The most notable addition is linebacker Desmond Bishop, a junior transfer who played with Ayoob last season at CCSF. Bishop should help fill the void left by All-Pac-10 linebacker Wendell Hunter.
The secondary enters camp as perhaps the squad’s weakest link. It surrendered 238.4 yards per game in 2004, eighth best in the conference. However, with Smith, senior rover Donnie McCleskey, junior cornerback Tim Mixon and junior cornerback Daymeion Hughes all returning, the Bears might be less vulnerable by air this season.
“We have a lot of guys who have been in the system but haven’t really had the chance for physical repetitions,” Tedford said. “The key is to get them on the field and let them mistakes early.”
If the Cal defense can get the mistakes out of its system in training camp, McCleskey said there is no reason the team should not replicate its success in 2004.
The hard-hitting veteran held up his ring finger when asked what the identity of the defense should be.
“Flawless,” McCleskey said. “Just like this diamond here.”