The NFL, Antacid, the O-Line, and "Paws"

<style> .txt {font-family: Verdana; font-size: 13px; color: #000099; font-weight: regular;} .bld {font-family: VBerdana; font-size: 13px; color: #000099; font-weight: bold;} </style> <p class=txt>I'm guessing more than a few of you were a bit surprised (stunned?) to see Langston Walker taken by the Oakland Raiders in the second round. Me too. He's the nicest guy you'd ever hope to meet - the definitive gentle giant - he but failed to distinguish himself in three seasons as a starter.</p>

Here's one theory: By working out with Thomas Weatherspoon - the Alameda-based plyometrics guru who polished Deltha O'Neal's 40-yard time and vaulted him into the first round two years ago - Walker (6-8, 345) helped vanquish some of the talk about his slow feet. It'll be interesting to see if he has the intestinal fortitude for the NFL - or if another of Al Davis' notorious gambles comes up snake-eyes.

Since James Richard was selected in third round in 1991, at least one Bear has been grabbed in the first three rounds of every draft except '95.

Of that group - which includes 16 Cal draftees - all the first-rounders are still active: Sean Dawkins (1993); Todd Steussie ('94); Regan Upshaw and Duane Clemons ('96); Tony Gonzalez and Tarik Glenn ('97); Deltha O'Neal (2000); and Andre Carter ('01).

Walker joins a roster of second-rounders over that period that includes: Troy Auzzene ('92); Eric Mahlum ('94); Je'Rod Cherry ('96); and Jeremy Newberry ('98).

Succeeding Richards as third-round selections: Russell White ('93); Doug Brien and Eric Zomalt ('94) and Marquis Smith ('99).

Although he expressed hope that he might be an opening selection on Saturday, linebacker Scott Fujita was, characteristically, nothing but optimistic about his selection by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round. Fooj also substantially increased his value by working out with Weatherspoon (who a year ago trained Andre Carter). Quite a remarkable journey for a guy who came to Cal as a walk-on safety in 1997.

The best part of my job: bonding with a few players every year. Inherent in that process, however, is the void you feel when they're gone. I was fortunate to get to know Scott before he ever played a down for Cal; he was one of the subjects of what might have been my favorite story on this beat - a 1998 piece about Tom Holmoe surprising five walk-ons with scholarships at preseason camp in Turlock. Scott was the youngest recipient of Holmoe's largesse.

Although he arrived as an articulate, self-assured young man, it was fascinating to watch his confidence blossom over his collegiate career. In the process, he evolved from a reserved personality into a team spokesman, the one guy who always told it like it was - much like former fellow linebacker, Matt Beck. I'll miss Fooj as much as any player I've covered over the past five-plus seasons.

Tackling yet another question from our Insider Board: Schroeder71 inquired about the Bears starting offensive line. With the annual Blue-Gold game on tap for Saturday (2 p.m. at Memorial Stadium), first-year coach Jeff Tedford maintains that he isn't sweating the front five.

"I have to tell you, I've been pleased," Tedford said. "That isn't a position of concern, in my eyes. The offensive line is going to be fine."

That's been a familiar April refrain in Berkeley, largely because the Bears have been steeped in experience in the trenches over the past few years. But performance has seldom met expectation.

"I know in the past three seasons, we haven't produced," said 6-foot-5, 295-pound senior left guard Scott Tercero, a fourth-year starter. "And I know every year we think 'this is the year.' But you can't stop thinking like that. In this game, if you think negative, you're going to get killed."

The line returns two full-time starters in Tercero and junior Mark Wilson (who moves from right to left tackle), a pair of part-time starters in senior Ryan Jones (6-4, 230) and junior Nolan Bluntzer (6-4, 280), and a one-time starter in junior Derek Deutsch (6-3, 270).

Jones and Bluntzer are currently going at it for honors at center, while Deutsch and junior David Hays (6-3, 280) are battling to replace second-team All-Pac-10 honoree Brandon Ludwig at right guard.

With the exit of long-time starters Ludwig and Walker come a pair of significant voids. The Bears will give up some 50 pounds and two inches with the 6-foot-6, 295-pound Wilson replacing Walker, while 6-6, 300-pound junior Chris Murphy appears to be the front-runner to claim Wilson's old spot at right tackle.

Deutsch earned a late-season start after making the move from the defensive line in spring ball a year ago, and 6-2, 285-pound sophomore Jonathan Giesel is making the same transition this month. Although he won't unseat Tercero at right guard - where Giesel is currently listed on the depth chart - the Los Banos product has been the biggest surprise of spring ball among the linemen.

"If the season started today, I'd figure out a way to get (Giesel) on the field," said Jim Michalczik, the 35-year-old offensive line coach whom Tedford hired off Dennis Erickson's staff at Oregon State.

Junior Nick Shaeffer (6-5, 2850), who was expected to compete for both positions on the right side, is out until fall with a knee injury.

What Tedford is saving in the cost of antacid over the line is undoubtedly being earmarked for his the weakest link on the roster he inherited from Tom Holmoe.

Wide receivers, once again, are at a premium in Berkeley.

LaShaun Ward's midseason 2001 transition to wideout has continued full force this spring. Ward, who is emerging as Cal's biggest receiving talent since Dameane Douglas set a Pacific-10 Conference record with 100 catches in 1998, has dwarfed the rest of the depth chart this month.

But therein lies the problem.

"We need to do a lot better job of making plays," Tedford noted, "especially in the passing game."

Sophomore Geoff McArthur posted a team-high 336 yards in receptions as a true freshman in 2000, but had his momentum derailed when he put his elbow through a window following the Bears' opening-day pummeling by Illinois last season. A lacerated triceps forced McArthur to redshirt.

McArthur is currently No. 2 on the depth chart, but Tedford is obviously hoping that City College of San Francisco transfer Jonathan Makonnen will step up to challenge him. That battle would be underway right now if not for a four-scholarship sanction imposed by the Pac-10 for the Michael Ainsworth-Ronnie Davenport academic fraud scandal. As it stands, Makonnen and L.A. Harbor College transfer Monte Parson, a defensive end, can't enroll at Cal until the current crop of scholarship seniors graduate in May.
Unaffected by politics is McClymonds High recruit David Gray, who has been hanging around the sidelines of several spring practices in order to pick up what he can (he's not permitted to participate). Gray is highly unlikely to be red-shirted.

"I think David Gray is a guy who has a chance to play early," Tedford noted.

Actually, Tedford is counting on that. He's also crossing his fingers for a leap in production by someone from the pool of players currently occupying the second tier _ sophomores Burl Toler and Christian Prelle, junior Chase Lyman and injury-plagued senior Chad Heydorff.

If not, yet another incoming freshman, speedster Randy Bundy of Northridge, could be thrown into the breach.

He is the second-highest rated passer in Arena League history, but quarterback Mike Pawlawski cemented his place in local lore by leading Cal to heights it has rarely glimpsed in the past half-century.

On Tuesday, the 32-year-old Pawlawski became one of the youngest inductees in the history of Cal's Athletic Hall of Fame. Pawlawski was named the Pacific-10 Conference's co-Offensive Player of the Year in 1991 after guiding the Bears to a 10-2 record - including a 37-13 Citrus Bowl pummeling of Clemson - and a No. 7 national ranking.

"I was hoping that I would make it into the Hall of Fame one day," said Pawlawski, who will be formally inducted during a Sept. 27 banquet. "But with all the guys that have played at Cal _ all the quarterbacks and all the other athletes - I wasn't sure I would. It's clearly a tribute to the team I was on, and the offensive line in front of me."

Pawlawski's protection that season included four future NFL linemen: Auzzene at left tackle; Steussie at right tackle; Mahlum at right guard; and Steve Gordon at center.

Insider Board Question of the Week: Do you agree with Tedford's decision to scrap the isolationist theory of preseason camp (in Turlock) and hold Cal's workouts on campus?

(Ed. Note: Use the left menu item "Insiders Boards" to get to the discussion board where you can post your "Responses to Brian Higgins") Top Stories