The Golden Bears will begin to sort out several position battles when spring drills start on Monday
By Jay Heater
BERKELEY - It's less than three months since Cal crushed Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl and already the Bears have their sights firmly set on 2007. Spring camp opens Monday with a workout at Memorial Stadium and continues through the spring game on April 14. Practices are closed to the public, except for the spring game. Cal coach Jeff Tedford said he is very excited to get back to work on the field, but he also realizes that he has several problems to solve if the Bears expect to challenge for a Pac-10 title. One of the most daunting challenges will be to find a cornerback to replace Daymeion Hughes, who likely will be playing in the NFL next season. It's not like Cal has a lot of players who have logged significant minutes at that position. Sophomore Syd-Quan Thompson will start at one corner. The other spot is wide open. Leading the list of contenders is redshirt freshman Darian Hagan, whose situation is similar to the one Thompson occupied last year. He has tremendous physical talent and no experience.
"You look at Darian change direction and you just go, whoa," said Cal defensive backs coach R. Todd Littlejohn. "He also has a cockiness that he brings to the position. He feels that you can't beat him. I like that. He moves so well, changes direction, and he can jump." Hagan will be competing against other inexperienced players such as sophomore Jesse Brooks and redshirt freshmen Charles Amadi and Brandon Jones. On the defensive line, Cal has to find not only a starter at defensive end but some depth. Redshirt freshmen defensive tackles Mike Costanzo and Derrick Hill are coming off knee surgery, so their development will be key.
Defensive line coach Ken Delgado will be working hard to develop junior defensive end Rulon Davis, a 6-foot-5, 275-pounder who has all the physical tools but is raw in terms of the technical aspects of the game. Tedford said he has to find backups at quarterback (sophomore Kyle Reed and redshirt freshman Kevin Riley are the main competitors) and tailback (redshirt freshman James Montgomery and Tracy Slocum are the main contenders). Starting quarterback Nate Longshore had a solid season in 2006, but Tedford said he needs to lose weight and work on his mobility during spring ball. "He needs to shed some weight," Tedford said of Longshore. "He was pushing over 240 pounds at the end of last season. He is a big person and he has to watch it. "Trent Dilfer was the same way. If he did squats, he could blow up to 250 pounds. I want to keep Nate in the 225 to 230 range."
Tailback Justin Forsett, who inherits the No. 1 job with Marshawn Lynch's decision to enter the NFL draft, must prove he can be an every-down back. "Justin just needs to keep doing what he's doing," Tedford said. "He has been a very dependable guy for us. He will play a major role." Although Tedford has his third offensive coordinator (offensive line coach Jim Michalczik) in the past three seasons, he said his team won't be facing a challenge like it did last season when he added spread concepts under Mike Dunbar. "Our roles won't change much," Tedford said about his promotion of Michalczik to both offensive line and coordinator duties. "His (offensive coordinator's) role is more organizational. He pulls everything together." Michalczik will continue to coach on the field on game day while new quarterbacks coach Kevin Daft will be Tedford's "eyes upstairs." "Kevin is very smart," Tedford said. "He understands our offense and that's great because I won't have to teach it all over." As always in the spring, Cal's coaching staff will tinker with a few possible changes. All-Pac-10 center Alex Mack will play some left tackle and free safety Bernard Hicks might try his hand at rover. Mack's position might ultimately depend on the development of junior offensive tackle Mike Tepper or redshirt freshman center Chris Guarnero.
Although many of the key jobs on his unit are locked up, special teams coach Pete Alamar will be trying out players such as Lavell Hawkins, Montgomery, Sam DeSa and Jeremy Ross as kickoff returners. He also must find a new holder since Joe Ayoob graduated. Cal goes into camp in pretty good physical shape. Starting right offensive tackle Mike Gibson will miss the spring due to shoulder surgery and offensive guard Noris Malele will sit out after ankle surgery. Junior defensive end Phillip Mbakogu had a third knee surgery and his career appears to be over, although he hasn't given up yet. Defensive end Steve Kelly hasn't heard back from the NCAA on whether he will be granted a sixth season after losing two seasons due to injury. Kelly won't be able to participate in spring drills unless he gets a positive answer back.