Sunday, April 23, 2006

Contra Costa Times: Cal's quarterback race on hold

Longshore No. 1 on depth chart, two others still vying for starting job

By Jay Heater

BERKELEY - Cal's quarterback race during spring football never started. That's because the guy considered No. 1 by the coaching staff, Nate Longshore, isn't ready to run. Moments after the Golden Bears finished their final scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, Longshore acknowledged that he was a stationary target. That was despite him throwing a 70-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeSean Jackson. "I'm sure everyone could see it," said Longshore, who has been recovering from a broken leg and ankle injuries since the 2005 season opener. "I'm pedestrian at best (in terms of speed)." Before spring ball began, Cal coach Jeff Tedford said he wanted to narrow his search for a quarterback to two main candidates going into summer camp. That wasn't possible because Longshore was still gimpy from rehab and Tedford needs a mobile quarterback to run his new offense that will include spread tactics.

Even so, Tedford said on Saturday that Longshore's inability to move didn't hurt him, either. Longshore will begin summer camp in the same spot, as No. 1 on the depth chart. "Nate needs to get his feet quicker," Tedford said. "That will make a big difference for him. I have confidence in him that he will do that." If Longshore's rehabilitation did anything, it probably just kept the door open for both Joe Ayoob and Steve Levy. Tedford said those two quarterbacks, who will be seniors next season, rate almost in a dead-heat with Longshore. Ayoob probably made the biggest move of the three. Seemingly buried on the depth chart after a disappointing 2005 season, he impressed Tedford with his ability to run the spread offense. "This offense is awesome," Ayoob said. "It fits me well. Sitting in the shotgun gives me the feeling of being in control. I know everything that is going on. "I'm also playing better because the expectations aren't so much on me, and playing last year has made the speed of the game slow down."

Ayoob became excited when he heard Northwestern offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar was hired to combine the spread with Tedford's offense. "It lit a fire under me," said Ayoob, who missed Saturday's scrimmage (except for holding duties on place kicks) due to a high ankle sprain. "It was like I was starting with a clean slate and it's something I am comfortable running."  Levy, who guided the Bears to season-ending wins over Stanford and BYU, also remains in the mix. "I threw the ball pretty well during the spring and really well at the end. I'm confident."  Red-shirt freshman Kyle Reed still needs some seasoning before he makes a run at becoming a starter, according to Tedford.  While finding a quarterback was the primary theme of spring ball, building the offensive line was a close second. Cal offensive line coach Jim Michalczik said he didn't figure out a starting lineup during camp.

"But that doesn't worry me," Michalczik said. "You rarely find five guys who play together through a whole season." Michalczik said offensive guard Erik Robertson, tackle Scott Smith and center Alex Mack have risen to the top. But two spots remain wide open with several candidates in the mix. Players who made big moves in the spring, according to Tedford, were fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou, linebacker Justin Moye, safety Bernard Hicks and Mack. "We got a lot done this spring," Tedford said. "I think our spring was an overall success. We had a lot of young players get their feet wet and everything went smooth."


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