Competition the Theme for Cal Spring Ball

Entering 2010, expectations will be lower than they were for 2009, and that might be a good thing for the California Golden Bears. Cal failed to match its potential last season in a disappointing 8-5 season. Because the Bears achieved less than its talent should have afforded, coach Jeff Tedford is focusing as much on individual toughness as he is on schemes and position changes this spring...

After reviewing the up-and-down 2009 season, which began with three encouraging wins and thoughts of a Rose Bowl and ended with two discouraging losses and a sixth-place finish, California head coach Jeff Tedford decided the Golden Bears players just did not compete hard enough in their one-on-one battles with opponents. And to win as a team, you have to win key individual matchups.

Toward that end, Tedford is making nearly everything a competition this spring, whether on-campus scavenger hunts, or rewards and penalties for performance in one-on-one drills in practice. The team just needs to be better at beating the man across the line, which means more scratching and clawing and toughness to get every individual advantage.

In that vein, Tedford has opened up the competition for the starting quarterback spot, even though Kevin Riley will be back after starting all 13 games last season. Riley admittedly was inconsistent last season, often faltering when opposing defenses mounted a pass rush, and the Bears' success and failure seemed to correlate directly with how well Riley played. Tedford hopes that making Riley compete to hold on to his job will translate into a better competitiveness in each game during the 2010 season.

The departure of Jahvid Best to the NFL is the loss that gets the most attention, but with Shane Vereen back to capably fill the tailback spot, the more significant losses were defensive end Tyson Alualu and cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson.

In fact, the defense in general is the biggest issue for Cal this spring. This will be the first spring under Tedford in which Bob Gregory will not be the defensive coordinator. Gregory left in February, reportedly for personal reasons, and joined to staff at Boise State, and Tedford hired Clancy Pendergast, who was the Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator when they went to the Super Bowl two years ago.

He has the chore of improving a defense that did a poor job of defending the pass last season, and he will have to do it despite the loss of Cal's best cover man (Thompson) and best pass-rusher (Alualu). Two things about Pendergast make him a good fit. First of all, he has a reputation for working well with defensive backs, and the Bears' secondary, which was problem last season, faces even greater challenges now. Second, Pendergast employs a more attacking style of defense than Gregory did, and Tedford had suggested often last season that Cal needed to put more pressure on the opposing quarterback.

Pendergast also needs to find several new linebackers for the 3-4 defense, and he might have to wait until next fall and the arrival of some highly-rated freshmen to find some starters there.

Adjusting to a new defensive coordinator will be a major aspect of spring practice, which is split into two segments. The first segment of five practices ended March 19, and the second session, following spring break, will begin March 30.

NOTES, QUOTES

SPRING OBJECTIVES: Although four starters in the offensive line return, there will be a lot of juggling of positions to find the best positions for each. Matt Summers-Gavin, for example, was a starting right guard last season, but has spent some of spring playing left tackle.

The quarterback position is the one that is most in need of improvement, and Kevin Riley will have to fight to retain his No. 1 spot in competition with No. 2 quarterback Beau Sweeney and No. 3 Brock Mansion. Even if Riley wins that battle as expected, he needs to improve his mechanics and his ability to perform in the face of a pass rush.

On defense the battle for the two cornerback spots will be heated and significant. Cal would love for Darian Hagan to re-emerge as a starting cornerback after he won the job at the beginning of last season. But his playing time declined as the season wore on as his on-field play worsened and his off-field actions retarded his progress. Josh Hill and Bryant Nnabufie began the spring as the starting corners, but neither is secure in his position. Opponents simply hammered the side opposite Thompson all season long, and none of the other corners reacted well to the ball in the air.

Three of the four linebacker spots are open around inside backer Mike Mohamed, and any one of a number of players are fighting for those spots. That competition will continue into the fall.

Finding a new starting fullback and backups at wide receiver and tailback are also significant issues, but not as significant as the concerns at defensive back.

BUILDING BLOCKS: Shane Vereen showed his value when he started the final four games of the season after Jahvid Best sustained a concussion. In fact, some believe the Bears were better with Vereen as their No. 1 tailback. He averaged 141.5 yards over those four games, and showed durability as well.

Kevin Riley showed flashes of being a good Pac-10 quarterback, but he also had days in which he gave games away. He has the tools, and the Bears are hoping it all falls into place in his senior season. The team's success will depend on how well Riley performs. In any case, he will need to produce a lot of points, because the defense is likely to be young, inconsistent and vulnerable.

Inside linebacker Mike Mohamed was an all-conference player last season and led the Pac-10 in tackles. A versatile player who can stop the run, get a sack or intercept a pass, Mohamed's best attribute is his intuition and a ability to make big plays, something the bears need more. But he will be surrounded by inexperienced linebackers.

DE Cameron Jordan has the look of a star, and he could be as dominating as Tyson Alualu was last season if things fall into place. For one thing, the Bears need to do something to prevent Jones from being double teamed as much as he was last season. That will require production from the outside linebackers, and that position is unsettled.

Safety Sean Cattouse needs to act as the anchor for a secondary, which is the key to the defense but which also has serious questions at both cornerback spots.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Something needs to happen. I need to play better for us to win games. (Coach Jeff Tedford) is just giving the other guys an opportunity if I don't step up. It definitely keeps me motivated." -- QB Kevin Riley, to the Contra Costa Times, about understanding why he has to win his job again despite starting all 13 games in 2009.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

2010 OUTLOOK: Cal should be able to score points if QB Kevin Riley improves his consistency. But with all the questions on defense, including a new defensive coordinator, it appears the Bears will be expected to finish in the middle of the Pac-10 and are unlikely to get a preseason ranking. The Bears are expecting a lot from their highly-rated recruiting class, and several of those players could be starters by the end of next season. If they can fill a number of holes, the Bears could exceed expectations, but the problems in the secondary probably preclude a conference title. The most significant of the Cal schedule changes for 2010 was moving the game against Stanford from Dec. 4 to Nov. 20.

TOP NEWCOMERS

DE DeAndre Coleman -- A redshirt freshman, Coleman has the size (6-6, 309) and athleticism to have a major impact, and the Bears need somebody to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Tyson Alualu. He is raw, but has plenty of potential.

LB Ryan Davis -- A defensive line in junior college, Davis redshirted last season to lose weight and prepare to play outside linebacker, a position at which the Bears need immediate help. LB Steve Fanua -- He redshirted as a freshman in 2009, but could be a factor at linebacker. His biggest asset is his fiery attitude, and the Bears need somebody with a little meanness in its linebacking corps. That was lacking last season after the departure following the 2008 season of Zack Follett.

LB Chris Martin -- The most highly rated of the four freshmen linebackers who will arrive next fall, Martin has the strength, athleticism and toughness to be a Pac-10 star, and he could be in the starting lineup in the opener if he is as good as advertised.

WR Keenan Allen -- The most highly rated of Cal's recruiting class, Allen could be a defensive back or a wide receiver, and the Bears have immediate needs at both positions. He will work as a wide receiver when he arrives next fall, and he should earn playing time quickly. He could even be a starter if the Bears rely on a three-wideout attack.

RB Trajuan Briggs -- A freshman who enrolled at Cal during the winter, Briggs de-committed from USC late in the recruiting process before signing with Cal. The Bears like to use two tailbacks and the competition for the second running back behind Shane Vereen is wide open. Some say Briggs reminds them of Marshawn Lynch, but Briggs is not as big as Lynch yet.

RB Dasartay Yarnway -- The highly regarded back redshirted 2009 as a freshman because of injuries, but he should get playing time in 2010.

ROSTER REPORT: --Charles Satchell, who redshirted his freshman season, was moved from wide receiver to safety, and could see playing time at that position.

--WR Michael Calvin had arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome knee in February. He had surgery on that same knee just before last season, and that came after Calvin had had major surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Cal has been expecting him to emerge as a star but injuries have limited his productivity.

--RB Shane Vereen was pretty beat up after last season, and is not expected to get much work in the spring. He came out of the season with a meniscus tear in his knee as well as shoulder and rib problems.

--LB Mychal Kendricks, who began last season as a starter before his playing time dwindled, had shoulder surgery in the winter and will not participate in spring practice. He should be ready for summer workouts.

--Solomon Aigamaua moved from linebacker to tight end.

--LB Chris McCain, who signed with the 2010 class, is expected to greyshirt next season



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