Bruce Adams, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, April 23, 2005Much of the attention at Cal spring football practice has been on the breakaway running of tailback Marshawn Lynch and the trials of Nathan Longshore and Joseph Ayoob, the two quarterbacks who will compete to replace Aaron Rodgers.
But coach Jeff Tedford said the drills have gone well beyond the obvious.
"Everybody has improved this spring, in one phase or another," Tedford said.
The Bears mark the end of spring practice today with the annual spring game -- actually a controlled scrimmage -- at Memorial Stadium with as many as 5,000 fans expected to attend.
The challenge for Tedford and his staff has been to cram as much learning as possible into sessions spread over the last four weeks to prepare for fall camp early in August. The Bears will be young, with 26 letter winners gone from the team that went 10-2 last season.
Much is still to be determined at fall camp. Three regulars on the offensive line -- Andrew Cameron, Aaron Merz and Ryan O'Callaghan -- missed the spring while recovering from surgeries. And at wide receiver, two prize recruits, incoming freshman DeSean Jackson and City College of San Francisco transfer Lavelle Hawkins, won't be in school until the fall.
Some regulars, including center Marvin Philip and defensive back Donnie McCleskey, have been limited in practice. Fullback Chris Manderino broke his jaw two weeks ago and has been out, although he is expected to be fine by training camp.
And nothing is definitive in the search for a quarterback to replace Rodgers. Redshirt freshman Longshore and City College transfer Ayoob have shared the snaps in practice, and the starter won't be determined until camp. Tedford praised Longshore for his throwing arm. "His experience shows," he said. As for Ayoob, Tedford said he still has to become comfortable with the offense, although he shows "flashes" of great potential.
The emphasis has been on learning.
"We've been adding plays every single day," Tedford said. "It's a continual learning process."
While roles on the team generally are not determined until fall, several players have had outstanding springs.
Tedford singled out defensive tackle Albert Ma'afala, a transfer from Hawaii, linebacker Desmond Bishop, another City College transfer, and returning tight ends Eric Beegun and John Rust as players who have helped themselves this spring.
He said he was also pleased with the progress of the three JC transfers already enrolled at Cal -- Ayoob, Bishop and defensive end Nu'u Tafisi, from Mt. San Antonio College. "They've all improved," Tedford said.
In scrimmages, Lynch and Justin Forsett have made big plays at tailback and Bishop and redshirt freshman Worrell Williams have been noteworthy at linebacker.
On offense, the Bears need to replace the heralded Rodgers and other stalwarts, including tailback J.J. Arrington and wide receivers Geoff McArthur and Chase Lyman. On defense, Cal loses eight starters, including tackle Lorenzo Alexander, end Ryan Riddle, linebacker Wendell Hunter and safety Ryan Gutierrez.
The team will next report to camp in early August, the exact date pending possible NCAA rules on practice schedules.
Most of the players will continue regular conditioning programs and are expected to stay in Berkeley over the summer and take part in informal, unsupervised drills.
The Bears begin play Sept. 3 against Sacramento State at Memorial Stadium.