Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Contra Costa Times: Cal's injuries not as bad as feared

BERKELEY — Cal was feeling pretty confident that the depth of its defensive line could withstand the loss of starting defensive linemen Matt Malele and Rulon Davis. Now it looks as though the Bears won't have to test out the theory for as long as they once anticipated.   Cal received a dose of good news when MRIs showed the foot injuries to both players aren't as severe as feared. Malele has a strained muscle on the bottom of his foot, and Davis has a sprained foot. Cal coach Jeff Tedford said both players are day-to-day, but wasn't sure if they would be ready to play in Saturday's game against Arizona.  Both were injured during last Saturday's 42-12 win over Louisiana Tech.

After the game, Tedford said Malele had possibly suffered a tear of his plantar fascia tendon. And it was feared that Davis had a stress fracture. Malele and Davis were on crutches during Sunday's conditioning workout, and defensive coordinator Bob Gregory sounded resigned to the fact that each would be out for a while.  "That is good news," Tedford said. "What that means as far as their status for this week, I'm not sure. But I'm sure they will be very diligent with their rehabilitation, and hopefully they get back as soon as possible."  The defensive line was considered an uncertainty going into the season, but the emergence of several young players has the Bears feeling pretty good about things even if Malele and Davis aren't able to go.  Sophomore Cody Jones started the past two games because of a concussion to defensive tackle Mika Kane, and Kane now is healthy again and should return to the starting lineup. Redshirt freshman Derrick Hill provides depth inside.   The Bears could use senior John Allen, sophomore Tad Smith or true freshman Cameron Jordan to replace Davis at defensive end. All three figure to see playing time. Sophomore Tyson Alualu has been playing well at the other defensive end spot.

"Hopefully they'll come back. They're a big part of our D-line," Kane said. "I feel like we're pretty deep on the D-line, deeper than previous years. Not only are we deep, but we have quality players. We have people that are ready to step up and shine when their number is called."  The Bears lost three starters from last year's defensive line and spent much of training camp auditioning players at both defensive tackle and defensive end. The result is several players now are versatile enough to play both inside and outside, something that might come in handy if the team is undermanned.  "Now when you're faced with a situation like that, you realize that it's going to pay off, and that experience is definitely going to come in handy," Smith said. "Any one of us could have to go in and fill in a spot anywhere on the D-line. It's definitely become a handy tool."  If Malele can't play Saturday, Bears his ability and experience. He is a fifth-year senior and the only returning starter on the defensive line.  "Matt is our field general when he's out there," Kane said. "He really settles us down and knows the plays for everyone out there on the field. If, for some reason, you're lost or don't know the play, he's right there for you.  "Hopefully this week, if anybody needs that, I'll be able to step up and be the field general, and keep the morale up."  Smith was in the mix for a starting role during training camp but ultimately was beaten out by Davis. However, he has gotten consistent playing time, which has been a long time coming, for he redshirted the 2005 season and missed last season with a knee injury.   "Being injured last year just made me appreciate everything so much more," Smith said. "This year has been so much sweeter, just being able to be out on the field with my teammates. It's a privilege that I've come to appreciate very much."

NOTES: Tedford reiterated that starting strong-side linebacker Zack Follett is day-to-day with a neck stinger. ... Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who is bothered by a thumb injury sustained in the season opener against Tennessee, may not touch the ball all week during practice, according to Tedford. Jackson will wear a cast this week during practice.


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