In the preseason Pac-10 media poll, the California Golden Bears were picked to finish seventh in the conference. While a lot of that stems from the disappointment of the 2009 season coupled with the loss of two first round NFL picks, one must also take a step back and realize that a lot of talent does return from a squad that was ranked as high as No. 6 in the nation just a year ago.
For the first time in five years, the Bears actually return an offensive coordinator for his second season. While the reviews of Andy Ludwig were fairly mixed for his first year, many coaches and players will tell you that a second season under a consistent offense and play-caller can work wonders.
|This is Riley's Team|
|Tedford Has Confidence in Senior QB
As senior quarterback Kevin Riley told me back in spring, the familiarity that him and Ludwig have for each other and for the offense means more time can be spent purely on game-planning and preparation. So how will the offense fare for the 2010 season? It starts with the quarterback.
Riley returns for his senior season. But this is the first camp that Riley has had the confidence knowing that he will be the starter.
For the past two camps, Riley had his focus on winning the quarterback job. In 2010, Riley was named starter heading in – a sign of confidence from head coach Jeff Tedford. Ultimately, Tedford sent the message that this is Riley's team, and nothing ultimately changed through fall camp. In 2009, "inconsistent" was the best way to describe Riley's performance, and while his numbers were fairly decent (2,850 yards, 18 TDs, 8 ints), Riley also knows that those numbers must improve if the Bears hope to get to their first Rose Bowl in 51 years.
While Riley is the most important player on this offense, there is no doubt a strong running game can only help the team's chances.
|Shane the Train|
|Vereen's Running Style Fits Tedford's Offense
Under running backs coach Ron Gould, the Bears have always featured a very strong rushing attack, and 2010 should be no different. Yes, the Bears lost big play guy and first round pick Jahvid Best to the NFL, but every Cal player and coach is excited for the opportunity of giving the ball to junior Shane Vereen. No, Vereen does not have the incredible stop-and-go move that Best has. But what Vereen does bring is a more physical mindset and a bruiser mentality, which some may argue is a better overall fit for Tedford's offense.
Last year against Stanford, Vereen carried the ball a whopping 42 times for 193 yards and three touchdowns. In that game, Vereen consistently pulled off 3-5 yards per carry, which turned out to be very beneficial for the offense. Overall, the Bears had one of their better offensive outputs that day, and thoroughly dominated time possession. No doubt, Vereen proved that he is a warrior on that field, and should finish near the top of the Pac-10 in rushing in 2010.
Vereen will not be carrying the ball 40 times every game. Therefore, it is imperative that the running back that spells Vereen also produces. The competition to be the second back proved to be one of the more interesting battles for fall camp, with the short, quick, and stocky Isi Sofele, the balanced playmaker Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson, and the big power freshman Dasarte Yarnway all vying for playing time.
Ultimately, Sofele took the lead about midway through and never really looked back. He has been described as a pinball, and has been compared to Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. As Tedford pointed out, the hope for the No. 2 back is to get between 12-15 carries to spell Vereen. Therefore, look for Sofele to get the touches and for the coaches to get him into open space. Without a doubt, Sofele has "playmaker" potential, and the coaches know that it is in their best interests to give him the ball.
The story for the wide receivers has primarily revolved around the incoming young guys.
|New Blood at Receiver|
|True Freshman Allen Makes Impact|
Aside from junior Marvin Jones, no returning Bear receiver had really made a significant impact to be guaranteed a starting position. Therefore, it was no real surprise when highly touted freshman Keenan Allen came in and almost immediately became a starter. Jones is the consistent playmaker, but Allen's potential is clearly off the charts.
For a kid four months removed from high school, Allen has the size and speed to make an immediate impact on the field. The Bears should be extremely excited about the prospects of Allen, who is the most dynamic receiver they have had since DeSean Jackson.
The other receivers that will be used will include junior Alex Lagemann, senior Jeremy Ross, and junior Coleman Edmond. True freshmen Kaelin Clay and Tevin Carter may also be a part of the rotation this year.
The offensive line returns four starters, and it should be quite improved.
|Finding a Left Tackle|
|Schwartz Moves to Fill Void|
Junior Mitchell Schwartz is the leader of the group, and is moving back to protect Riley's blind side. Chris Guarnero is the returning center, and has been consistent throughout fall camp. The other three positions are in a bit of a flux at the moment, mainly because of the health status of sophomore Matt Summers-Gavin.
Summers-Gavin, who has been battling injury for the last year, played some tackle back in spring, but moved back to left guard for fall camp. While sitting out with a bone bruise, Tedford gave increased reps to sophomores Brian Schwenke and Dominic Galas.
As it turns out, Tedford very much liked what he saw out of his sophomore guards, such that Galas was put at the top of the depth chart at left guard and Schwenke at right guard, thus moving junior Justin Cheadle into a backup role, and ultimately shifting Summers-Gavin to right tackle when he returns.
It will be interesting to see how this late switch affects the chemistry of the offensive line, particularly for the early games on the schedule. In 2009, the offense was clearly more consistent with Summers-Gavin on the line, and the line's performance is crucial to establishing a running game and giving Riley time to throw in the pocket.
|All-Everything Tight End|
|Miller is One of Pac-10's Best|
Tight End is the least of the coaching staff's worries on offense, as the Bears return junior Anthony Miller. He is listed as a preseason All-Pac 10 player. Miller does a great job catching passes and is a solid blocker, and should be a vital weapon to this offense.
Behind him will be sophomores Spencer Ladner and Jarrett Price, who both provide Riley with great receiving threats downfield. Ladner is a tall target at 6-foot-7, and Price was a wide receiver before being transitioned into tight end. Also look for the play of true freshman Jacob Wark, whom Tedford has been very complementary of since fall camp began. Wark will be fourth on the depth chart, but should get playing time on offense and on special teams.
As it has been stated, the offense will go as far as Kevin Riley takes it.
Of course, that revolves around how the rest of the offense performs. Can the receivers get separation and make plays? Can the running backs take pressure off Riley? Can the offensive line give Riley time? Can Andy Ludwig make calls that put his players in positions to succeed?
Such questions will determine how well Riley can do and how well he will do. The potential of this offense can be best measured with how the team performed at Stanford – a physical rushing attack lead by Vereen, means more opportunities downfield for Riley to make plays.
Therefore, look for the offense to be based more on possession and a physical run game in 2010. After all, consistent doses of Vereen can only mean more big things from the senior quarterback.
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