Midway through Spring Football at Cal

<style> .txt {font-family: Verdana; font-size: 13px; color: #000080; font-weight: regular; } </style> <p class=txt>Approaching the midway point of Cal's month-long spring drills ...<br><br> If the season started this month, Cal's starting tailback would be junior Adimchinobe Echemaandu (aka Joseph Echema).<br><br> Why?</p>

Brian Higgins for CyberBears

Rookie coach Jeff Tedford has been impressed by Echemaandu's "speed, vision and power," and disappointed by the fact that incumbent Joe Igber's lingering shoulder injury has made him a hands-off commodity so far this spring.

Tedford claims that sophomore Terrell Williams - the Bears leading rusher as a true freshman in 2001 - has also made a case for himself in the opening two weeks of spring. But he's clearly favoring Echemaandu.

... Which brings us to the topic of last week's discussion forum question: the possible red-shirting of Williams with a (supposedly) healthy Igber and an academically eligible Echemaandu back in the lineup.

According to Tedford, it's a moot point.

"You need three tailbacks, for sure," Tedford said, disarming any theories that Williams would sit out the season.

Tedford's Oregon offense produced a pair of second-team All-Pac-10 tailbacks last year in Maurice Morris (960 yards) and back-up Onterrio Smith (1007 yards).

But the Bears' fortunes might be an even stronger argument for Tedford's assertion; Williams would have undoubtedly been red-shirted if all had gone according to plan in the tailback corps in 2001.

No such luck. Third-stringer Saleem Muhammad became frustrated and transferred to Portland State; back-up Echema/Echemaandu was declared academically ineligible at the outset of preseason camp; and starter Igber was lost with a shoulder injury at Oregon State in the seventh game of the season.

Still, the redshirt issue might not be dead - What if Narbonne High (Los Angeles County) tailback Marcus O'Keith is as good as billed as a true freshman at camp this summer?

... While attempting to assimilate the lengthy diatribe of CyberBears Insider Boards poster John Lupoi, I was struck by one of his observations. Said Mr. Lupoi, in reference to the job of the strength coach: You want to get the most out of each player and that is why you don't ask the running backs to do the same things as your O line, and you don't ask the quarterbacks to do what your D line does.

Thus the ouster of Todd Rice as Cal's football strength and conditioning coach. Taking his place is John Krasinski, an assistant strength coach at Oregon who followed Tedford across the border.

"The good thing about Coach K is that when he came in he made a point to designate different workouts for different positions,'' said senior safety Nnamdi Asomugha.

As Mr. Lupoi inferred, that wasn't the case under Rice, whose workouts fell under the heading of "all for one, and one for all." The real test of Krasinski's methods: Will the Bears exit spring ball as hobbled as they have been the last several years? 

... Addressing another Insider Board post: ebear88 asks about the collapse of Cal's defense last year. I'll go on the record as saying that shattered egos in the secondary - courtesy of quarterbacks Kurt Kittner of Illinois and Brandon Doman of BYU - played a huge part in a season in which the Bears surrendered a school-record 431 points (39.2 per game).

A lot of us - including me - bought into the talk; the defensive backfield was on course to become one of the best in school history. But cornerback Jameel Powell never regained any semblance of confidence while recovering from a lingering groin injury, and position mate LaShaun Ward became so frustrated that he eventually switched to receiver - a move that has all the markings of Deltha O'Neal's transition from tailback to cornerback (where he became an All-American and first-round NFL draft pick).

Atari Callen and James Bethea underwent ugly baptisms-by-fire at cornerback. Dewey Hale lacked speed at safety and Asomugha, while not undergoing the confidence crisis of his secondary mates, lost his focus at times - he was suspended for a game for missing a team meeting.

But there were certainly technical issues involved, too. "We've always had playmakers, guys that can turn the game around," Asomugha said, "but we've never been in the position to do that. Our (system) didn't put us in that position."

Asked if he was referring to former defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich's heavy reliance on man-to-man coverage in the secondary, Asomugha didn't hesitate. "That's exactly what I'm referring to," he said.

"A lot of it was relying on faith - the player next to you," senior defensive tackle Daniel Nwangwu said of the 2001 collapse.  "If you put all that faith in someone and something goes wrong, that's a touchdown. This year, there's not that much pressure individually."

But Tedford, Oregon's offensive coordinator during the Ducks' 48-7 rout of Cal at Memorial Stadium noted that strategizing for the Bears wasn't as simple as lining up and going deep. "They played a lot of bracket defense," Tedford said. "You just had to find the one-on-one matchups."

Translation: the Bears' version of two-man coverage was generally reliant on a safety who was crowding the line in a blitz formation. At the snap, the safety would turn inside to provide the underneath coverage on a receiver manned by a cornerback. On far too many occasions last season, the receiver blew by the Bears' safety and collected a pass in the seam.

Anyone who sat in Memorial Stadium last season knows what usually happened next - one sloppy tackle attempt by a cornerback and ... a touchdown! 

Tedford insists that Cal fans won't see that brand of coverage from coordinator Bob Gregory's defense in 2002. "Last year, there were a lot of individuals getting exposed," said Asomugha, who has been playing like a man possessed in the first two weeks of spring ball. "You were looking for the player beside you. This year, everybody's involved."

... Senior kicker Mark-Christian Jensen has been blasting punts this month, leading to speculation that he'll challenge incumbent junior Tyler Fredrickson for his job, as well. Both have been put on notice, however, that incoming freshman Kevin Johnson of Red Bluff will vie for both positions.

Discussion Forum Subject of the Week: What's your prognostication for Cal's record this fall? (Don't forget that it's a 12-game season).

P.S. Check out my lengthy centerpiece article on Kyle Boller in this Sunday's Oakland Tribune and the other ANG Newspapers, along with a piece on the effort to bring Joe Roth's life to the silver screen.

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