Friday, August 07, 2009

Contra Costa Times: Is Cal Ready to Step Up?

Jonathan Okanes


Last fall marked the first in recent years that big things weren't necessarily expected from Cal's football team. The Bears were coming off a disappointing 7-6 season, one in which they lost six of their final eight games after starting out 5-0 and ascending to No. 2 in the national rankings. Uncertainty was the watchword of training camp. After a respectable 9-4 season, which culminated in a win over Miami in the Emerald Bowl, the Bears begin training camp for 2009 back in a familiar position — shouldering the burden of expectations. Most pundits expect Cal, with 17 starters returning, to improve on last season and become a major player nationally. The Bears were selected to finish in second place in the preseason Pac-10 media poll.

While there is optimism in Berkeley, the Bears aren't short on questions. Most notably, whether it will be junior Kevin Riley or somebody else playing quarterback. The following are the top five questions facing Cal as it opens training camp today at Memorial Stadium:

1. Who will be the starting quarterback? The novelty is wearing off this story, as it seems every year at Cal there is a quarterback competition in the fall. Riley, who started nine games last season, is the obvious favorite. While he put up modest numbers last year — 123.6 passing yards per game and 14 touchdowns — he threw only six interceptions in 221 attempts. The lack of production also was due to an inexperienced corps of receivers and injuries along the offensive line. Riley himself will acknowledge that he didn't play to his potential last season. That's one of the reasons he lost his starting job twice to Nate Longshore. The specter of Longshore waiting for a turn on the sideline may have contributed to Riley's inconsistency.

If Riley doesn't improve, redshirt sophomore Brock Mansion and redshirt freshman Beau Sweeney will be waiting for an opportunity. Mansion struggled through most of spring practice but put together an impressive final week, and Sweeney seemed further along than most quarterbacks with just one year in the program.

2. Can the Bears get better production from their wide receivers? Cal entered last season with just 15 career catches among its entire corps of wide receivers. The growing pains were evident. The Bears never found a wideout who could produce on a regular basis, and it remains to be seen if that will happen this year.  The good news is players such as Nyan Boateng, Verran Tucker and Jeremy Ross — the top three receivers from last year — now know what it's like to play college football. Now they must take that experience and turn it into production.  There are a few compelling elements that weren't around last season. Sophomore Marvin Jones played sparingly as a true freshman, partly because of a knee injury, and excelled in the spring. He should begin camp as a starter. And Michael Calvin, who was supposed to be the Bears' top receiving threat last season, is fully healed from reconstructive knee surgery. Alex Lagemann, who has been plagued by injuries during his first two years at Cal, was finally healthy in the spring and stood out.

3. Can Cal maintain its excellence at linebacker? Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory no longer can depend on the triumphant play of Zack Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder, who not only brought talent and experience to the field but arguably were the heart and soul of the locker room. The good news for the Bears is that Eddie Young returns at outside linebacker and Mike Mohamed, who saw extensive playing time last season, will take a spot inside. Still, the Bears know they will have to use two linebackers without much experience, although Gregory is confident the candidates are talented. Sophomore Mychal Kendricks finished the spring as the other starter inside, while senior Devin Bishop was playing with the first team in Follett's old spot outside.

4. Who will do the kicking? Giorgio Tavecchio was a terrific story last season, joining the team as a walk-on three days before the opener and handling kickoffs that Saturday against Michigan State. He ended up assuming place-kicking duties as well, and connected on 9 of 13 field goals, including 3 of 4 from 40-49 yards.

Tavecchio was kicking long and accurate during the spring, and he should begin camp as the favorite. But the Bears still have two other kickers on the roster they are excited about. David Seawright missed the majority of last season with a hip injury, and after being limited during spring practice, he's finally fully healthy.

5. Who will play the guard spots? The Bears are set at center with Chris Guarnero and both tackle spots with Mike Tepper and Mitchell Schwartz, but there are questions at guard. Right guard Noris Malele has departed, and converted tackle Chet Teofilo was taking his first- team reps during the spring. Mark Boskovich started the final 10 games of the season at left guard after Guarnero went down with a toe injury but is being pushed by Matt Summers-Gavin.

What needs to be answered?

1) Who's the quarterback?

2) Who will catch the ball?

3) Can anyone replace Zack Follett at linebacker?

4) Who will be the place-kicker?

5) Who will claim the open guard spots on the offensive line?



Date Opponent Time

9/5 Maryland 7 p.m.

9/12 E. Washington 2:30 p.m.

9/19 at Minnesota 9 a.m.

9/26 at Oregon 12:30 p.m.

10/3 USC 5 p.m.

10/17 at UCLA TBA

10/24 Washington St. TBA

10/31 at Arizona St. TBA

11/7 Oregon St. TBA

11/14 Arizona TBA

11/21 at Stanford TBA

12/5 at Washington 3:30 p.m

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