It is nearly time to celebrate the arrival of the vernal equinox. Around the globe, this event signals the faithful to gather. At Stonehenge, druids assemble to honor a ritual dating back to the dawn of time. In Arizona and Florida, seamheads will congregate to renew a tradition that began in the late 19th century. In Berkeley, the Golden Bear fans will begin making their plans for their annual pilgrimage to college footballs holiest shrine, Memorial Stadium, for two fortnights of football under the spring sun.
This unit-by-unit report is a guide to what Old Blues can expect to see upon the conclusion of their journey to Strawberry Canyon.
QB Junior Joseph Ayoob and redshirt freshman Nate Longshore will battle for the right to become Coach Jeff Tedfords next "sure thing". Each brings something to the duel. Ayoob has the experience of a player who led his team to back-to-back appearances in the state JC championship game. Longshore has had the opportunity to practice in Tedford's system for an entire season. Based on his wildly successful junior college career, look for Ayoob to emerge the winner in this competition.
RB Without question, sophomore Marshawn Lynch has locked up the #1 RB position. However, Coach Tedford is well known for his use of two backs. Therefore, it is critical that a solid second back emerge from the pack to give the Bears the kind of support Lynch provided Pop Warner Award winner J.J. Arrington in 2004. The candidates for the #2 slot are: senior Terrell Williams, junior Marcus OKeith and sophomore Justin Forsett.
In 2001, Williams started five games as a true freshman, including a 185-yard effort in Cals lone victory over Rutgers. After suffering a serious knee injury late in the 2002 season, he redshirted in 2003. In 2004, he saw limited duty as an RB, gaining 109 yards on 13 carries. In his career, Williams has rushed for an average of 4.5 yds/attempt. Williams also brings the element of the option pass play into the mix. He is 5/7 for 200 yards and 2 TDs in his career. Based on his experience and production when given an opportunity to demonstrate his skills, Williams is the leading candidate for the back-up position heading into spring.
OKeith has played sparingly at RB during his first three years at Cal, totaling 350 yards on 67 carries. This spring affords him with an excellent chance to assume a spot on the two-deep.
Justin Forsett made his Golden Bear debut in 2004 as a true freshman. Although he played infrequently (11 carries for 49 yards), he demonstrated the kind of elusiveness that will keep him the mix. Durability, however, is a question that remains to be answered. Can Forsett take the pounding that a second back is subjected to throughout the season?
TE Although sophomore Craig Stevens has a solid hold on the starting position, the competition behind him is wide open. Unless someone else joins the fray (wink-wink), the three principal competitors for the #2 position on the depth chart are senior John Rust, junior Eric Beegun and freshman Cameron Morrah (who will join the team in the fall). Rust will have an edge due to his experience (following an injury to Garret Cross late in the 2003 season, Rust started two games, the Big Game and Insight Bowl). He has five career receptions for 53 yards. To date, Eric Beegun has primarily seen duty on special teams. This spring, he has a great opportunity to demonstrate he can make plays as a TE. Quite frankly, Bear fans might want to wait until the Fall when Morrah and (wink-wink) arrive on campus before getting too excited about the battle for the backup TE position.
(In Part 2: wide receivers and the offensive line)
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