Sunday, April 20, 2008

Contra Costa Times: Cal sees plusses in a no-star lineup

By Gary Peterson

BERKELEY -- Cameron Jordan is on a roll. Literally. Cal's 6-foot-4, 286-pound defensive end is down on the rubberized fake grass of Memorial Stadium, rolling from one goal line to the other.  Practice -- the 10th of 15 Cal will conduct this spring -- is over. An autumn-like chill is in the Friday evening air. The weekend awaits, smelling of promise. But Jordan continues his long, strange trip. Roll on, you Bear.  He's at the 50... the 40... he could roll all the way. In fact, that's the purpose of this little team-building pseudo-punitive exercise, typically assigned to a player for some minor violation of a little-known -- perhaps even nonexistent -- team rule. A small gaggle of Jordan's linemates shepherd him down the field, heckling him, cheering him, reorienting him when he veers off course.

He almost crashes into a small group that includes coach Jeff Tedford, who is holding a post-practice session with the team's receivers. Tedford lobs high-arcing passes which force the receivers to catch the ball while looking straight back over their heads. (Note to Cal's 2008 opponents: Be alert for the Ghost to the Post.)

Eventually, Jordan reaches the far goal line. There he gets the bad news -- now he has to roll back.  Goofy? Yes. Sophomoric? Well, Jordan is a sophomore. A good sign? That's the word on the rubberized fake grass.

Football is fun again in Berkeley. That's what you keep hearing. Knee-jerk reaction: Well, duh. After a 5-0 start in 2007, Cal lost six of its final eight games. That included the Bears' first Big Game defeat of Tedford's tenure.

"There was a lot of pressure to perform," senior offensive lineman Alex Mack said. "People got down on each other."  From within sniffing distance of the school's first No. 1 ranking in 56 years, Cal plummeted out of the Top 25 and landed with a thud in the Armed Forces Bowl. (Nothing against the Armed Forces.) What wouldn't be more fun than that?  Sure enough, senior linebacker Zack Follett said he first noticed an uptick in the team's mood even before spring ball. "Right when we hit the weight room," he said.  But this good vibe seems to transcend what happened last year, time's healing properties, the low-stress environment of off-season drills, and the natural euphoric cocktail of spring, the great outdoors and the best years of a young man's life.

Read the rest here.

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