Recruiting Class Sets Pace for Spring

With national signing day in the rear view mirror, California prepares for spring practice, which begins on March 6...

The late addition of the top safety recruit in the country turned a decent Cal recruiting class into the best since Jeff Tedford arrived as coach prior to the 2002 season.

Rivals.com ranked the Cal class the 11th best in the country, and it was the signing of Keenan Allen, a safety from Greensboro, N.C., that pushed the Bears into the top 15. He joins linebacker Chris Martin as the two elite players signed by the Bears, and Cal capitalized on a change of coaches elsewhere to land both.

Allen, rated the nation's No. 5 overall recruit by scout.com, had verbally committed to Alabama, but when Buffalo coach Turner Gill left to become head coach at Kansas, Buffalo's starting quarterback Zach Maynard decided he wanted to transfer. Maynard is Allen's brother, and they decided they wanted to go to the same school. Alabama was unwilling to give Maynard a scholarship, so Allen began looking elsewhere. Cal was one of the schools that agreed to take Maynard, and after considering Clemson and Penn State, the brothers chose Cal.

Martin, who is rated the nation's No. 1 outside linebacker and No. 10 recruit overall by scout.com, had no intention of going to Cal when he was in high school at nearby Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland. His family moved to Aurora, Colo., for his senior year of high school, and he committed to Notre Dame. But when Charlie Weis was fired, Martin changed his commitment and opted for the school with which he was familiar, Cal.

He is one of five linebackers signed by Cal, a group rivals.com ranks as the nation's No. 2 class of recruited linebackers. That will come in handy next season, because the Bears lose a lot of defensive starters.

"I feel excited about it," Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory told the Contra Costa Times about the incoming linebackers. "I feel like these are the kind of guys who can push us to become a better defense. I think these guys at some point -- and I think it's going to be sooner rather than later -- can help us do that."

The Bears signed one high school quarterback, Austin Hinder, and his name will be bandied about next fall when preseason practice begins because the Cal quarterback situation is up in the air again. However, Hinder is unlikely to win the starting job or even the backup job as a freshman.

The Bears' quarterback situation will again be the focus of spring ball, just as it was last spring, when Kevin Riley won the job.

NOTES, QUOTES

--After consecutive seasons of poor play on kickoffs, kickoff coverage and field goals, Cal special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Pete Alamar was replaced by Jeff Genyk, who had been head coach at Eastern Michigan in 2008. Cal was often hurt by having short kickoffs, giving opponents good field position. Cal's punter, Bryan Anger, is considered one of the best, but he was a bit inconsistent and had two punts blocked in 2008 and one in 2009.

--Cal typically gets a vast majority of its players from California, but 12 of the 20 players signed in this year's recruiting class were from outside the state.

--Although Keenan Allen is rated as the nation's No. 5 recruit at safety, Cal plans to use him primarily as a wide receiver. He is also expected to get playing time as a nickel back on defense, which will make him the first two-way player since Jeff Tedford became coach.

--On Jan. 19, the University of California regents approved Cal's $321 million plan to retrofit and renovate Memorial Stadium. Some work on the project will begin in June, but major construction will not start until after the 2010 season. It's due to be completed prior to the 2012 season. Cal will play its 2011 home games at another site that has not yet been determined.

TOP RECRUITS:

--S/WR Keenan Allen, Greensboro, N.C. -- A Parade All-American, Allen returned a punt 33 yards in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. As a senior at North Guilford High School in Greensboro, he had 145 tackles and eight interceptions, and on offense he scored 53 touchdowns. Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming called Allen "the type of athlete who should make a major impact as a true freshman." He is expected to play both offense and defense at Cal.

--LB Chris Martin, Oakland, Calif. -- Martin is rated among the nation's top 20 recruits by scout.com, rivals.com, SuperPrep, Sporting News and PrepStar. A first-team Parade All-American, Martin was a starting linebacker in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. As a junior at Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd High School, Martin had 110 tackles, including 20 for a loss, and also had 11 passes defensed. He spent his senior year at Grandview High School in Aurora, Colo.

--LB Cecil Whiteside, Newport Beach, Calif. -- Rated the No. 4 linebacker recruit in the nation and the No. 38 recruit overall by rivals.com, Whiteside tied for the second-most tackles on the West squad in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. As a senior, he had 108 tackles, including nine quarterback sacks, and he also had 11 quarterback hurries.

--WR Coleman Edmond, Kingston, N.Y. -- Edmond is Cal's only junior-college recruit this year. As valuable as a kick returner as a receiver at Pierce College in 2009, Edmond led southern California junior colleges in all-purpose yards with 1,584. He had 37 receptions, including 11 touchdown catches, in his one and only season at Pierce. Edmond started his college career at Wagner, a Division I-AA (FCS) school and redshirted. He then enrolled at UCLA and ran track before transferring to Pierce, which is just outside Los Angeles.

QUOTE TO NOTE:

"What we've talked about doing is giving him the ability to do both (offense and defense), and if at some point he just starts separating himself on one side of the ball, and that's what he wants to do, we'll go in that direction." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, on his plans for Keenan Allen.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

2010 LOOK AHEAD:

Like last season, Cal goes into spring ball with a quarterback competition, even though 2009 starter Kevin Riley is returning. Riley's inconsistency was the main reason Cal as a team was so inconsistent in 2009. Jahvid Best and his breakaway threat are gone, but Shane Vereen gives the Bears a solid running back who might be more productive than Best. The defense will need to be rebuilt with the loss of a number of starters, including the best defensive player, CB Syd'Quan Thompson. Underrated LB Mike Mohamed returns, though.

SPRING SNAPSHOT:

Cal begins spring practice on March 6 and it will end on April 17 with a controlled scrimmage, although Cal will not have a true spring game.

The focus, as it was last year, will be on the quarterbacks. Kevin Riley was the quarterback throughout 2009, but he was so erratic with his play -- good some games, lousy in others -- that Jeff Tedford has said he is opening up the competition. Beau Sweeney supplanted Brock Mansion as the No. 2 quarterback last fall, so Sweeney probably has the best shot at taking the starting job away from Riley, who is still the favorite to retain the job.

Cal loses six defensive starters, including most of its linebacking corps, and CB Syd'Quan Thompson, who was the only reliable member of a shaky secondary. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory will look for some reliable cornerbacks after trying four different players at the spot opposite Thompson last season.

PRO POTENTIAL:

Jahvid Best, who gave up his final season of college eligibility to turn pro, is the only Cal player with a chance to be taken in the first round, although Tyson Alualu and Syd'Quan Thompson are expected to be drafted, too.

--RB Jahvid Best -- Best, an all-conference player as a sophomore in 2008, missed the final four games of the 2009 season after sustaining a serious concussion in the Nov. 13 game against Oregon. A state 100-meter champion in high school, Best has plenty of speed and size for the NFL, and he is an outstanding receiver as well. His best attribute may be as a kick returner, although he did not return kicks as a senior. The concern among the pros is his durability. He missed games each of his three seasons with a variety of injuries, and he had two concussions as a senior. That makes him more vulnerable to future concussions. Without the injury concerns, Best would be an early first-round pick. As it is, he may go late in the first round or early in the second.

--CB Syd'Quan Thompson -- A four-year starter and a two-time all-Pac-10 selection, Thompson was bothered by a sprained ankle that limited his playing time over the final four games of the season. He was member of the North squad in the Senior Bowl but did not play. He had just one interception as a senior, primarily because opponents seldom threw to his side of the field, choosing instead to attack the Bears' other vulnerable cornerback. He is likely to be taken in the second or third round.

--DE Tyson Alualu -- A tireless defender who works hard on every play, Alualu was a first-team all-conference player and had 7.5 sacks as a senior. He had a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the Senior Bowl. He should get drafted anywhere from late in the second round to early in the fourth.

ROSTER REPORT:

--QB Allan Bridgford will not participate in spring ball after having shoulder surgery. He did not figure in the competition to become the No. 1 quarterback, however.

--RB Trajuan Briggs was among the freshmen signed on Feb. 3, but he graduated early from Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, Calif., and has already enrolled at Cal. He is expected to participate in spring practice.

--QB Zach Maynard, who transferred from Buffalo, will have to sit out next season as a transfer, and he will have two years of eligibility remaining after that. At Buffalo in 2009, he completed 57.5 percent of his passes with 18 TD passes and 15 interceptions. He also ran for 300 yards.



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