Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sporting News: Preview of #31 Ranked California

Cal Golden Bears coach Jeff Tedford finished his final spring practice, walked over to a group of reporters and cut straight to his No. 1 offseason concern. And it had nothing to do with the quarterback competition or the revamped defense.   "I'm really happy with the team chemistry," he said. "The way we worked together, the attitude, the focus, the camaraderie."  Those ingredients were in short supply during Cal's remarkable 2007 collapse -- the Bears went from the brink of No. 1 in the nation to six losses in seven regular-season games.  Once the losing started, the Bears didn't have the fortitude, the attitude or the camaraderie to stop the slide. Tedford responded by handing the play-calling duties to new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and taking more of a managerial role, which allows him to focus on chemistry and communication.

Early indications are positive. The sense here is that, despite losing so many playmakers, Cal could provide an upside surprise in 2008. Expectations are as low as they've been in Berkeley since the early years of Tedford's tenure, and he thrived under those circumstances.  Then again, the Bears have no chance for a top-five league finish if they don't get solid play at quarterback. Senior Nate Longshore, the two-year starter who struggled in the second half of last season, and sophomore Kevin Riley, the star of the Armed Forces Bowl, were expected to compete in spring practice. But Longshore tore a pectoral muscle, leaving most of the reps to Riley.

The duel will continue in training camp, and Tedford might wait until the week of the season opener to name a starter.  There are also questions in the backfield, where Justin Forsett's departure and James Montgomery's transfer mean speedy sophomore Jahvid Best is the front-runner at tailback -- if his injured hip fully recovers.  And there are questions at receiver, where the Bears must replace DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan. The best of the 2008 group might be Nyan Boateng, a Florida transfer, and freshman Michael Calvin.  The defense will have a new look as well, with Cal switching to a 3-4 formation to make best use of its experienced linebackers. The top playmaker is Zack Follett, who will be an edge rusher in the new alignment and just might rent space in the offensive backfield.  There's also a potential playmaker at defensive end: ex-Marine Rulon Davis, who had three sacks in six games last season and, if he stays healthy, could be an all-league performer.


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