Wednesday, September 19, 2007

SF Chronicle: Banged-up defense seems in decent shape

Rusty Simmons

It appeared as though Cal got some good news on the injury front Tuesday, although the good part was brief.  Only three days after speaking as though three starters could miss significant time, coach Jeff Tedford deemed defensive tackle Matt Malele (strained foot muscle), defensive end Rulon Davis (sprained foot) and linebacker Zack Follett (neck) as day-to-day.  "What that means as far as their status for this week, I'm not sure," Tedford said. "I'm sure they will be very diligent with their rehab and will be back as soon as possible."  If Malele, the lone mainstay from last year's starting defensive line unit, does miss Saturday's home game against Arizona, the Bears will be losing more than a solid physical force.

"He's our field general," said defensive tackle Mika Kane, who missed the Colorado State game (Sept. 8) and was limited against Louisiana Tech on Saturday with a concussion. "He really settles us down. He knows the plays for every guy on the field. If for some reason you're lost, he knows the play for you. "Hopefully, this week, if anyone needs that, I'll be able to step up and be that field general." The silver lining is that some guys have thrived along a defensive front that had a number of questions to answer during training camp.

"We had something to prove because we lost some big guys," defensive end Tad Smith said. "We definitely took it as a challenge to prove that we are a solid unit."  Without Malele and Davis for much of Saturday's 42-12 win over Louisiana Tech, Smith, defensive ends Tyson Alualu and John Allen and defensive tackles Cody Jones and Derrick Hill each made an impact. They combined for 12 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two tackles for losses, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup.  "We're definitely ready," Smith said. "The competition made people work harder in training camp, and the result is that guys are ready to step up and fill in."

Black and blue thumb: Tedford said receiver/returner DeSean Jackson will practice with a cast on his sprained thumb this week and probably won't catch any balls.  "For sure, today," he said. "We've got to let the thumb settle down a little bit and stop irritating it in practice. As long as he runs his routes and gets timing, catching is not a big deal in practice." Jackson injured his left thumb in the season-opening win over Tennessee and has 10 catches for 67 yards and no touchdowns since then. "I think it's been real frustrating for him, because he counts on his thumb," Tedford said. "DeSean is not a body catcher. DeSean relies on his hands. It's just a nagging thing for him, and it's painful for him."

Automatic focus: Tedford eschewed a question regarding this week's hearings about the future of the proposed stadium renovations and a sports-training center. "I'm worried about third down right now," he said. "I'm getting ready to go watch film on third down. Red zone tomorrow. Whatever happens, happens.  "That's not going to make a difference one way or another in how we prepare or play or anything. Hopefully, it goes great, but I have no control over that."  An Alameda Superior Court judge will hear arguments today and Thursday on Cal's plan.

Blocking talking: Tailback Justin Forsett never misses a chance to praise his offensive line in the media, and his appreciation apparently extends to the practice field. At Thursday practices, which are deemed "a mental day" by most of the players, Forsett meets with the offensive linemen while their teammates are working on special teams.  "He's really motivated to learn the offense and not have any mistakes," left guard Brian De La Puente said. "All we do is block. To have somebody, who gets the ball and gets the touchdowns, still be motivated to know the blocking schemes is really nice."

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