Cal Looks for Backups At Tailback With Jobs Open at Cornerback And Defensive Line
BY Jon Doss and Gerald Nicdao
The Cal football team has just wrapped up its first full week of fall camp and coach Jeff Tedford had nothing but praise for his squad. “We’re making a lot of progress with our guys as we try to figure out our depth,” Tedford said. “I feel good about the way they’ve been practicing and the way they have been focusing.” Of course the focus for most of the first week is to re-familiarize the team to the speed of the collegiate game. “It’s about kind of getting back into the flow of practice,” Tedford said. “The main thing is to try to teach tempo and let our young guys what practice is all about.”
Cal's secondary is one of the positions in need of major renovations after the departure of cornerback Daymeion Hughes, the 2006 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Hughes’ eight interceptions last season were three more than the rest of the secondary combined, leaving a void that the Bears have to fill for its opening contest against Tennessee on Sept. 1. “We keep an eye on everything, but there are a few positions that are absolutely open and very competitive,” Tedford said. “The corners are wide open.” Thompson should be the front runner for one of two cornerback spots after starting opposite of Hughes for most of last season, with senior Brandon Hampton and redshirt freshmen Darian Hagan and Charles Amadi battling for the vacancy.
While Longshore seems to be a lock to get the starting nod on opening day, the contest for the backup position is still a tight one. Neither redshirt sophomore Kyle Reed nor redshirt freshman Kevin Riley have seen in-game action in their young careers, but both have looked capable of performing in relief. “That’s a good battle. Both those guys are competing hard and having their moments,” Tedford said. “They’re two talented and gifted guys. It’s all about the mental game on who is going to run the offense the best.”
Tedford said that the team will make a decision about who takes more reps with the second unit after this week's scrimmage.
Tedford is also trying to find a backup for senior tailback Justin Forsett. Forsett is the only running back in camp with any game experience. James Montgomery and Tracy Slocum both redshirted last year and Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen are in their first years with the program. Other than Montgomery, who has missed the last few days of camp with a concussion, all have looked very impressive in their first week of camp. “There’s no question that coming into camp, it was to see what our running back depth was,” Tedford said. Sophomore Bryan Schutte, who would have also competed for that No. 2 spot, left the team in the middle of the week, thus opening up the competition to the freshmen. “He lost the passion to play football, so that moves everyone up,” Tedford said. “He was here the first couple of days of camp and then just gave it up.”
Defensive lineman Derrick Hill has missed the entire first week of practice due to back spasms and this hasn’t pleased Tedford. The redshirt freshman was to compete for a starting job on the defensive line this fall. “He came into camp out of shape and his back spasmed up,” Tedford said. “He’s missing valuable reps. If you can’t play in camp, you’re not going to play in games.”
Defensive end Phillip Mbakogu will sit out his second straight season with knee problems. An injured knee kept Mbakogu out of the lineup for the 2006 season.
Linebacker Zack Follett and Longshore entered camp sporting unusual hairdos. Longshore has grown out his hair and dyed it blue. Follett has a tiger stripes dyed into his hair.
This is just away for the players to have a little fun, especially during all the workout sessions that the players have to go through leading up to their first game of the year.
“Camp gets long and tedious,” Longshore said. “We’re here for 20 days, so we like to be a little different and enjoy our time that we have out here.” Follett has embraced his new look, as teammates have started calling him “Ziger”—a cross between his first name, Zack, and tiger. While Follett said he’ll be keeping his streaks throughout the season, Longshore said the blue hair will be coming off when the Bears open against Tennessee. “You don’t go out in public with this,” he said.