Injury to Best, Montgomery departure has opened door
By Jonathan Okanes
BERKELEY — There was a time last season when Tracy Slocum looked like he may become Cal's most highly recruited player never to see the field. Now, he's seeing the field at running back more than anyone.
Slocum is taking first-team reps at tailback during spring practice. James Montgomery and Jahvid Best were projected to be the Bears' top two running backs next season, but Montgomery transferred out of the program last month, and Best is practicing in extremely limited fashion as he recovers from a hip injury.
So Slocum, who played only on special teams as a redshirt freshman last season, is getting a chance to make a case for increased playing time in the fall. "It was kind of frustrating sitting on the sidelines (last season)," Slocum said. "I got in on special teams and told myself to just make the best of it, make the best of my opportunity and my time will come. It's paying off now." Slocum was a high school All-American at Clovis East in Fresno and multiple recruiting publications ranked him at one of the top 20 running back prospects in the country. But he joined the program the same year as Montgomery, who also came to Berkeley as a highly touted prospect and was the No. 2 tailback last season behind Justin Forsett. With Best making an immediate impact as a true freshman, it appeared Slocum might get caught up in a numbers game.
Best still is the favorite to be the starter in the fall, but Slocum can use the spring to establish himself at the very least as a dependable backup. “My mind-set is pretty much the same — get better every day," Slocum said. "I've been doing the right things, and it's paying off."
IN THIS CORNER: Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory is hoping cornerback Darian Hagan makes significant strides this spring. Gregory was disappointed with Hagan's development last season and the Bears could use him to provide depth at cornerback in the fall.
Hagan, who will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, came to Cal as a top prospect and was believed to be in the mix to become a starter last season. But he was passed up by true freshman Chris Conte, who entered spring ahead of him on the depth chart.
"I think the end of last year he was better," Gregory said. "So far in the offseason, he's been even better. I still think he has a lot of work to continue to do, to improve his practice habits and all that stuff. But I think he's much better than he was."
LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT: Rather than have them play rover and free safety, Gregory is simply using Bernard Hicks and Marcus Ezeff on opposite sides of the field during the spring. The idea is for each to work on the skills of both positions. "We're keeping them right and left to begin with," Gregory said. "We want to teach them both positions, so they have a greater understanding of the defense and kind of go from there."
EXTRA POINTS: Cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson returned from a brief suspension. Thompson didn't practice in the spring opener Monday because he broke a team rule, according to Tedford. ... Best did a little bit more Wednesday than on Monday, taking a couple of reps during team drills. But Tedford reiterated his work will remain limited. "He's going to do some ballhandling, and he's going to run, but he's not going to bang anybody," Tedford said.