Spring Football 2002 - A Wrap

<head> <style>.txt {font-family: Verdana; font-size: 13px; color: #000080; font-weight: regular;}</style> </head><p class=txt>After a heads-up and unexpected encounter with a high-velocity softball, determined reporter Brian Higgins weighs in with his comments on the Cal Bears Spring Wrap at the Blue & Gold football game on April 27th. </p>

Confession, fans: I'm guilty of a delay-of-game penalty for this not-so-timely wrap-up of Spring football. Among other procrastinations, I had my face remodeled by a softball (... just when I was on the verge of landing that GQ contract, too!)

But since my fingers went unscathed in the incident, I'll concede that to be what it is - an excuse.

Moral: Slide to the inside when there's a relay coming from the outfield. Thirty stitches later, we jump into the fray with a look at the offense:

Item: Start sweating the news. Spring ball did little to dispense with the concerns over Cal's receiving corps. Senior LaShaun Ward, the most promising of the returning pass-catchers, wasn't even in the starting lineup at the Blue-Gold game on April 27.

"I have no doubt that I'm going to be in the lineup come fall," Ward said after completing his final Spring. "I know people are counting on me."

Confidence hasn't exactly abandoned the big-play receiver from Pasadena, who six months earlier made a grueling decision to forego his dream of becoming an NFL-caliber cornerback. He immediately bounded to the top of the receiving corps - not much of a leap - and finished the season as the most promising pass-catcher on the roster.

But while he had little trouble getting open against his teammates in Spring drills, holding onto the ball was another matter.

"Until LaShaun proves he can catch the ball, he can't be on the field," rookie head coach Jeff Tedford said in the days leading up to the conclusive Blue-Gold showdown.

McArthur Returns: More impressive in the Spring finale was redshirt sophomore Geoff McArthur, who finally came clean about the events of the evening of Sept. 1, 2001, just hours after the Bears had been manhandled by visiting Illinois, 44-17, in the season opener.

"I was frustrated after the (Illini) game," McArthur conceded. "I wanted the ball, and I felt like I didn't get my share."

Shortly thereafter, McArthur recounted, he rammed his elbow through the window of a dorm room that he had chosen at random - ending his season when he severed the triceps muscle just above his right elbow (a premature comeback attempt was aborted when the elbow encountered a teammate's helmet in a midseason practice).

"I wasn't as mature as I am now," McArthur conceded.

Hampered, like most Cal wideouts, by a lack of speed, McArthur has demonstrated the ability to make a name for himself as a possession receiver (he led Cal's toothless receiving attack with 336 yards in 2000). He and quarterback Kyle Boller (10 of 11 for 157 yards against the second-team defense in his only half of play) demonstrated a good bit of rapport in the Blue-Gold matchup. And McArthur is talking the part of a player who wants to assume control of the receiving corps - a role that he isn't conceding to Ward.

"You do what you're supposed to do, and you don't have to be so old to be a leader,'' McArthur explained. "I'm giving my body for coach Tedford and the new staff."

For better or for worse, McArthur is the No. 1 receiver exiting Spring ball, which makes it likely that he'll be similarly appointed when the Bears congregate for preseason camp in August.

True sophomore Burl Toler III, a walk-on who worked his way into the starting lineup at the end of last season, looked like the real deal in the Spring finale. Give the guy a scholarship already.

Tight End returns to the field?  Since Tony Gonzalez left Cal following the 1996 season for a pro career that seems destined for the Hall of Fame, tight end has been an afterthought in the Bears' offense.

During Tom Holmoe's five seasons as head coach, no Cal tight end caught more than 15 passes in a season. Nor was the blocking from that position particularly notable during much of the previous administration.

But Tedford appears eager to ramp up the contributions at tight end behind senior Tom Swoboda, who caught eight passes for 89 yards in 2001 while platooning with two disparate teammates - wide-body classmate Terrence Dotsy and ultra-athletic true freshman Jordan Hunter.

Hunter plummeted to fourth on the depth chart while sitting out most of Spring ball with a concussion. Meanwhile, Orange Coast College transfer Brandon Hall jumped ahead of Dotsy as Swoboda's back-up.

"I think (the tight ends) are definitely going to play a part in the offense," said Tedford, who probably deserves the benefit of the doubt after showcasing Swoboda (two touchdowns) in the Spring finale.

If Swoboda does, in fact, record a breakthrough season, Cal fans will have yet another reason to grit their teeth over the previous coaching regime: What should have been his redshirt freshman year in 1999 was sacrificed by an appearance in one series during a blowout loss at Nebraska. Swoboda didn't appear in another game the rest of the season.

Fullback Rotation: With two of the top three fullbacks out with injuries, redshirt freshman Brett Bischoffberger of Healdsburg received the lion's share of the reps in Spring ball.

Bischoffberger, who worked out as a tight end during his redshirt season, has retained his soft hands; Tedford was pleased with his pass-catching abilities out of the backfield in April. His weight soared during the off-season, which allowed him to pancake a defensive back or two on swing-out passes this Spring.

Nonetheless, Tedford is adamant about bringing his weight under control; at 6-3, Bischoffberger was listed as 235 on the Spring roster, but that number is obviously not accurate. My guess: he's hovering around 265.

He'll have plenty of incentive to scale down. Senior Ryan Stanger (abdominal pull) and sophomore Pana Faumina (knee) figured to be the top two candidates at fullback before injuries sidelined them for the duration of Spring ball.

And More Random Musings: 

Item: What did we learn from the Blue's 42-0 blowout of the Gold in the Spring finale? Not much. Tedford altered the traditional format - and stacked the deck - by joining the first-team offenses and defenses on the Blue team. It was almost painful to watch defensive linemen Daniel Nwangwu and Jamaal Cherry teeing off on third-string QB David Schwartz.

Item: Boller demonstrated pin-point accuracy on his rollout passes in the Blue-Gold matchup. Because of his immense arm strength, he's been pigeon-holed as a pocket passer. But Boller has always displayed a penchant for creating on the run, and it'll be interesting to see if Tedford affords him the freedom this fall that he allowed him in the Spring finale. That will likely depend on the ability of Bears receivers to generate some improvisational skills, but Cal fans should keep their fingers crossed: Boller is entirely underrated as a rusher, and giving him the green light to move his feet adds a dimension to an offense that suffered a devastating blow with the loss of tailback Adimchinobe Echemaandu (aka Joseph Echema) to a knee injury last month.

Item: Observation from a former Cal offensive lineman in attendance at the Blue-Gold contest: the Oakland Raiders stunned everyone by choosing outgoing Bears left tackle Langston Walker in the second round because they believe they can transform the 6-foot-8, 345-pounder's pear-shaped body using position-specific lifting techniques. Cal players have groused this Spring about the heavy reliance

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