Sunday, March 11, 2007

SF Chronicle: Bears 'can't wait' for football return

Rusty Simmons

While the draft-eligible Cal players were running through drills for NFL scouts at Memorial Stadium this week, soon-to-be senior tailback Justin Forsett looked on with envy.

"I can't wait to get back out here," the soon-to-be starter said Tuesday.  With that simple sentence, Forsett may have replaced graduating linebacker Desmond Bishop as the voice of the Bears, because his comments seem to mirror the overwhelming consensus out of the Cal camp as it prepares to start its spring football schedule Monday.

The Bears have plenty to be excited about, having posted five consecutive winning seasons, advanced to four straight bowl games for the first time in program history and been ranked in the top 10 at some point in each of the last three years.  The hype intensified even more last week, when ESPN's Mark Schlabach predicted that Cal will play Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, a berth the Bears haven't garnered since 1959.

Cal is scheduled to practice three or four times a week for the next two weeks, take a week off for the university's spring break and return for eight practices in the first two weeks of April. In his pre-spring practice news conference Wednesday, coach Jeff Tedford kept the attention on what Cal needs to improve to live to up to the anticipation.  "I don't think we have a full group that is battle-tested in every area," he said. "We have players here and there who are returning, but as far as full groups are concerned, it's going to be a big spring for that."  There is little question that Forsett, who leads returning backs with a 6.39-yards-a-carry average, will take over for soon-to-be millionaire Marshawn Lynch, and that the receiving corps will be among the nation's best. Still, questions abound in the secondary and along the offensive and defensive lines.

"Our goals are to incorporate some of the younger players into the rotation and stratify the depth at certain positions," Tedford said. "Cornerback is one where there are a lot of guys who haven't had any game time yet."  Freshman All-American Syd'Quan Thompson will anchor one spot, and Tedford said the other side is up for grabs for between Charles Amadi, Brandon Jones and Darian Hagan. There has also been talk that one of the three stud safeties will move over.   Youth along the offensive line will be served as both right tackle Mike Gibson and right guard Noris Malele will miss spring ball with injuries, and redshirt freshmen Mike Costanzo and Derrick Hill are expected to push Matt Malele and Mika Kane for defensive tackle spots.  The other competition in the spring will be for the backup quarterback spot behind Nate Longshore. Kevin Riley and Kyle Reed are both contenders.



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