before spring break

Before letting the players head out for spring break, Cal coach Jeff Tedford ran them through a pretty hefty scrimmage on Friday at Memorial Stadium.

I guess the thing that hit me most was the fact that linebacker Anthony Felder was in the middle of several plays, making tackles, blocking passes, being a force. That’s great news for Cal since Felder battled injuries all last season that kept him from building on his fine freshman season. It appears that he is ready to go again. Zack Follett missed the scrimmage and Greg Van Hoesen tweaked an ankle so Felder, Worrell Williams and Justin Moye saw plenty of action. Moye put a monster hit on Justin Forsett that I mistakenly thought was Thomas DeCoud. Moye’s parents were sitting behind me so we got that one straightened out :o)

Other things I noticed,

DeCoud looks very, very confident. Cal’s safeties should have a big season.

Forsett looks very quick, but he isn’t going to be the pass catching threat that Lynch was.

Freshman fullback R.J. Garrett is a BIG guy.

Brandon Jones looks like a playmaker.

If Cal lines up Daniel Lofton next to Nyan Boateng in 2008, teams are going to have trouble dealing with their size.

Kyle Reed and Kevin Riley have a long ways to go.

James Montgomery is ready to make a move. This kid is quick and his cuts come so effortlessly.

Eddie Young is going to get on the field. The guy is a load.

Cal opened some nice holes inside with Kevin Bemoll at right guard and Mike Tepper at right tackle.

I know that senior defensive end John Allen won’t be a starter, but it would be interesting to see this guy get some snaps. He often is a force during practice.


don’t lose your head

The Zack attack was on display on Saturday. Zack Follett tracked down wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins, who made a catch and then had his helmet ripped off by Follett. Fortunately for Cal, Hawkins’ head was not in the helmet as it bounced along the turf.

Instead, Hawkins went into a “You can’t hurt me dance” that energized everyone on the field. It was a great shot of energy.

After the practice, I asked Jeff Tedford if it was a little unnerving to see Follett line up one of his marquee wide receivers. “Nah,” Tedford said. “It was a good, clean hit.”

Cal’s entire practice session on Saturday was full of energy, somewhat unusual for a spring drill. Sure, the Cal coaching staff preaches enthusiasm and demands it, but the whole place was bursting with energy on Saturday. It kind of gives the indication that these kids have some lofty goals in mind.

Besides his big hit, Follett also tipped a pass during drills that was intercepted. He then got into a Follett War Dance where he stretched his arms out to each side and did about eight helicopter spins. Great stuff.

I think the most impressive thing on Saturday was the way Derrick Hill was moving around the field. The big guy can eat up some ground and he obviously is feeling pretty good.

Syd’Quan Thompson looks physically bigger and thicker this season so he obviously has been doing the work in the weight room.

Coach Tedford gushed about how well Chet Teofilo has been playing at tackle. Teofilo strugged last season as he moved from defensive line to offensive line, but Tedford said he is finally getting it.


time to hit

Can’t wait until tomorrow.

OK, that might be a take off Scarlet O’Hara (you young’uns are probably scratching your head on that one), but I really love that first day of hitting at camp.

So many of the players want to show what they can do, especially those kids that had to red-shirt last season. I want to see the young defensive backs mix it up, I want to see how far along Derrick Hill and Michael Costanzo are. Is Rulon Davis ready to be an impact player? Who’s ahead, James Montgomery or Tracy Slocum? Is Kyle Reed ready to step forward and is Kevin Riley another Aaron Rodgers?

It’s an exciting time of year to be around coach Tedford, who is stressed out all season as he prepares for each team. There are no games right now, so Tedford can concentrate on teaching, something that he loves to do. Those who feel that college coaches are all about winning and losing should take a trip to spring ball. To see these coaches’ faces when a kid picks up a technique, when he finally gets over a hump, when the light bulb goes on. It’s a joy to see.

I have fun just watching the special teams guys. Larson is a stud and Tommy Schneider is so consistent in practice that it’s silly. My question about Nick Sunberg is this, “Has a long snapper ever left early for the NFL?”

I wish I could see more of you out there at the stadium, but practice of course is closed. Of course, you do get to see the spring scrimmage, and perhaps coach Tedford will open up another scrimmage some where along the way. If he does, I will let you know. But I will let you know how things go on Saturday, when big hits return to Memorial Stadium. Hopefully, Bernard Hicks doesn’t hurt anyone.


spring cleaning

It was very impressive watching Cal’s throwing drills on Wednesday during spring practice. Not only did Nate Longshore look very sharp, but Kyle Reed and Kevin Riley were very impressive. This Reed-Riley showdown is going to be very interesting. For one, Reed has come a long way in a year. He sets up very quickly now and gets ready to throw in a hurry. He has some very impressive athletic skills and a very strong arm.

Riley’s accuracy was uncanny on Wednesday. He isn’t quite the athlete that Reed is, but he is very fluid and every pass seems to hit his receivers chest high in the hands. It was very impressive watching him throw out pattern after out pattern right on target.

Of course, the competition probably is more important to Reed than Riley, who as a redshirt freshman is a year behind Reed. If Reed doesn’t secure the No. 2 spot, it will be interesting to see what he decides to do. He obviously has the talent to play Division I-A football. But Longshore will be just a junior next season and Riley has four years of eligibility remaining. Plus, more quarterbacks are on the way.

Young quarterbacks seldom realize they are just one or two snaps from being the starter. It appears to be the exception, not the norm, that a quarterback keeps his health through an entire season. If Jeff Tedford can find a way to keep all three happy, it bodes well for team depth.

As far as other observations, new tight end Skylar Curran looks very gifted as a receiver, but he has the bulk to be effective on the line as well. Although Cal is well stocked at tight end, I would imagine that Curran will contribute this season.

Tailback Justin Forsett looked very quick in drills.

Junior wide receiver Drew Glover made a great diving catch of a long pass, but of course, he is buried on the depth chart.

Walk on tight end Garry Graffort was given quite a few opportunities to make plays during scrimmage opportunities. The kid has some talent.

Lavelle Hawkins, DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan all flashed their talent at times during the workout. What a trio.

Derrick Hill looks healthy after last season’s knee injury and he should be a force. He runs very well for a big, big man.

Transfer wide receiver Nyan Boateng is a beast. He has very strong hands grabbing the ball away from defenders and has a big body that makes it tough on small defensive backs. He will be just what the doctor ordered when Cal loses Jordan, Hawkins and possibly Jackson (to the NFL draft) after this season.

Cal is stocked at linebacker, but Eddie Young looks like he could become a force in the near future. His physical talent is impressive.

Also, just thought I would note that Ken Delgado is now the assistant head coach. Good stuff for a guy who knows how to assemble talent.


Zack attack

So how many of you are looking forward to seeing Zack Follett on the field all the time?

It’s hard to fault Cal’s coaching staff for most of the decisions it has made since Jeff Tedford took over, but I often wondered last season why Follett wasn’t on the field more. This guy was a monster playmaker and, obviously, he had the speed and desire to get the job done.

Granted, Cal had major talent at linebacker, but Follett is a special athlete and, I believe, will become a marquee player in the Pac-10.

Certainly, he will be in the middle of everything this season as he accepts the Desmond Bishop role. I also would imagine that defensive coordinator Bob Gregory will continue to line him up on the edge at times in passing situations. I always have admired the fact that Gregory doesn’t lock guys into a position. He will develop schemes to utilize his players’ strengths, even if that means going outside the box.

Follett said he has been issued the challenge by the coaching staff of proving that he is an every down linebacker. It’s one thing to come off the bench fresh and go full steam for a series. It’s another thing to carry out excellence over an entire game. We’re talking stamina.

My guess is that Follett has that stamina and he is going to be a hard guy to get off the field.


spring breakouts

Although spring football doesn’t always have a huge sense or urgency, it would appear to be important for this Cal football team if it expects to forge through to a Pac-10 championship.

This team has incredible strengths, but some huge holes to fill.

Those of you who have followed my stuff over the years know that I believe it is a huge bonus for a football team to take five starting offensive linemen through the spring and into the season. Teams that can’t do that tend to struggle. Fortunately for Cal, it has a great offensive line coach in Jim Michalczik. His importance has been hidden the past few years, but consider some of the injuries Cal has had along the offensive line and still managed to keep a high level of play. Look at last season, when Cal lost three NFL players off the line yet still managed to put together an above average offense.

That being said, being above average isn’t good enough when it comes to winning a Pac-10 championship.Cal is going to be challenged this coming year because two of its potential starters, Mike Gibson and Noris Malele, aren’t playing in the spring. That becomes more critical because Michalczik said he is going to experiment by moving center Alex Mack to tackle. Cal could get into summer camp with a lineup such as Mack at left tackle, Gibson at right tackle, Malele at right guard, Brian De La Puente at the other guard and Chris Guarnero at center. That would leave Gibson and Malele as the only guys who played that same position last season. They would have a crash course in terms of learning each other’s moves. The key here seems to be Mike Tepper. He’s got the size and strength to be a force. If he can prove himself in the spring, it could allow Mack to stay at center. Personally, I think a starting lineup of Gibson at right tackle, Malele at right guard, Mack at center, De La Puente at left guard and Gibson at left tackle would work well in terms of cohesion. Guarnero is a huge talent, but breaking in new centers every year is a dangerous practice. That being said, teams seldom flourish if defensive ends can blow past the left tackle.

I also wonder what it would be like to have Tepper at left tackle, Kevin Bemoll at left guard, Mack at center, Malele or De La Puente at right guard and Gibson at right tackle. In terms of running the football, Wow. Tepper is huge, Bemoll is a beast and Mack is the top center in the Pac-10. Need that extra yard? You know where to go.


The arms race

This is the final of the series on the positions going into spring. I put three blog entries up today (Friday) since I will be off Saturday and Sunday. This will be a look at the quarterbacks. In entries below are special teams and tight ends. It was a lot of fun getting together with all the position coaches and seeing the excitement in their eyes going into spring. Certainly, there are some key questions to answer, but there also is a ton of talent that should propel the Golden Bears into a race for the conference championship. Anyone who believes that Cal can’t compete for a Pac-10 or even a national championship simply hasn’t been paying attention or wants to be buried in the “Sam Old Cal” days. To those people I say, “Go climb a tree.” Opps, that’s probably not politically correct.

As Jeff Tedford noted, the race to be the backup quarterback might be one of the more significant battles during camp. Certainly, Nate Longshore is the starter unless he does something like gain 40 pounds during the summer. His window washing job should keep the weight off.
Of course, everyone who follows college football knows that a team seldom gets through a season without having to use a backup. So either Kyle Reed or Kevin Riley could put their stamp on the 2007 season at some point.

Certainly, everyone hopes that Longshore stays healthy and continues improving into one of the conference’s top QBs. “Nate played well last season,” Tedford said. “He did a good job. His decision making was good. He gained a lot of experience and handled the game planning very well.
“He needs to shed weight and improve his mobility. He was pushing 240 at the end of last season. He is a big person. He has to watch it. Trent Dilfer was the same way. If Trent did squats, he would blow up to 250 pounds. Nate is the same way. I want to keep him in the 225 to 230 range.”

Tedford was asked if Longshore bogged down at the end of last season. “He made his share of mistakes like anyone. But I thought he played well. Everyone made some mistakes in those games (Arizona, USC, Stanford).”

While Longshore should continue to pick up experience reading defenses and making decisions, Tedford will be keeping a close eye on Reed and Riley. “We are going to see how far these young guys have come. Both are very talented physically. They have to learn how to run the offense, manage the clock, handle field position. They just need to get there.

“Kyle is a big, strong, fast guy. He has a nice arm and can throw all the balls. He is competitive and tough.

“Kevin also is fairly mobile, but he is not as fast as Kyle. But he is a kid who really understands what is going on. He throws good balls and he is pretty calm in the pocket. He keeps his eyes downfield. I’m very interested in seeing Kevin in competition.”

Please see below for special teams and tight ends.

By the way, I would like to thank all the readers. We had a very nice response to the series and I enjoyed doing it.


A very special (teams) spring

Cal should have a very special year in special teams play this season. Tom Schneider has developed into a top college kicker and he should be rock solid his senior year. Last year, we discovered that punter Andrew Larson could be an NFL quality guy. DeSean Jackson is the best punt return man in college football. Nick Sunberg might well be the best long snapper in college football. Wow. Cal special teams coach Pete Alamar must be sleeping well at night.

“Tom (Schneider) has grown so much every year,” Alamar said. “He understands that kicking is his craft and he works on it. He has improved his body with Pilates. He looks for ways in all areas to improve himself.”

“We do graduate our holder (Joe Ayoob), so we have to look for somebody there.”

Who every is back there holding, they know the ball is on target. “Nick is the best long snapper in the conference,” Alamar said. “He is a snap-aholic. He snaps at least 200 balls a day, every day. How important is that guy?”

Then there is Jackson. “Obviously, with DeSean back there, we have to take a look in the spring at what people were doing. We will look at a couple of different things. It became a situation where teams were not going to punt to him. We’ve been to that movie ourselves (remember UCLA’s Maurice Drew?). Against A&M in the Holiday Bowl, that one-yard punt was because they were not going to put to DeSean.
“We’re thinking about dropping two guys deep. Vary our stuff. We know that people won’t want to punt to DeSean, so we have to sell our punt return group on the idea that we must take advantage of our opportunities.”

There is a move in the NCAA to move the kickoff spot back to the 30-yard line. Alamar said he will have to deal with that issue in the spring because such a move will put more pressure on his kickoff team.

In terms of kickoff return, Lavelle Hawkins is a leading candidate. Young guys such as James Montgomery, Daniel Lofton, Jeremy Ross and Bryan Schutte will get a long look. Sam DeSa figures in that mix.

OK, so why not put Jackson back there, or Syd-Quan Thompson or Robert Jordan? All three are hovering around the 170-pound area and kickoff returns mean high-speed collisions. “I would hate to have something happen,” said Alamar, who doesn’t want to explain to coach Tedford that one of the nation’s top wide receivers or his top corner is out because of a train wreck on a kickoff. “We have to ask ourselves if we are being smart,” Alamar said.

Alamar has a strong cast of potential candidates in terms of blocking and tackling. Guys such as Justin Moye, Kyle Kirst, Marcus Ezeff, Matt Russi, and Will Ta’ufo’ou have shown that they take pride in their special teams assignments. “We had Mike McGrath and then Byron Storer, so the bar has been set high,” Alamar said.


Tighten down the ends in spring

So he isn’t a perfect tight end.

Craig Stevens is a flat-out stud when it comes to mauling a guy at the line of scrimmage.

Did you wish Cal would have used more spread last season? Blame it on Stevens. Jeff Tedford didn’t like the look of his team when Stevens wasn’t on the field.

“There is something you always look for in your very good players,” said Cal tight ends and special teams coach Pete Alamar. “That’s continued growth. You can always look at the film and say, ‘here are some things we need to work on.’ ”

Simply put, though, Alamar said Stevens is the best blocker at point of attack in the Pac-10 (and perhaps a whole lot of other places as well). “He is one of the most dominating run blockers in the country,” Alamar said.

Stevens has become a better receiver over his previous three seasons and there is some more work to do. “Every guy has a spot that is kind of a blind spot for him,” Alamar said. “We know that Craig can make those tough catches over the middle. He is good at making that catch into his body. He has some trouble with the ball over his outside shoulder, it has got to do with transferring his eyes. It is something he is working on.

“Of course, every receiver wants to catch 1,000 balls. He is trying to grow more into that role. He also keeps working at getting stronger, and in terms of being a leader, I’m watching that grow.”

Alamar said that if there is a perception that Stevens isn’t pretty darned good catching the ball, it is wrong. “If you are a tight end and you drop one, everyone remembers it,” Alamar said. “You don’t have 60 other catches to hide the one you dropped.”

He also noted that Stevens is not just a glorified offensive lineman. “On timing day, he ran a 4.7 in the 40 and he has run that consistently. If you go check what the tight ends were running at the NFL combine, you now that’s not bad.”

Now a senior, Stevens is the sure thing at tight end. But charging to the forefront might be Cameron Morrah. He is a sophomore now and appears ready to make an impact.

“This is the year we expect him to blossom,” Alamar said. “We want to see him play with confidence and let it loose. This should be an exciting time for Cameron. He runs well, catches well, has good hands and is very athletic. He has to improve his run blocking, but that’s just a matter of coming off the ball and knowing that he can do it. The big thing for him is just learning what it takes to play at this level.”

Alamar said Morrah doesn’t look like he is running fast at time, but his long stride just gobbles up ground. “It’s like Wow, he just took off. Now he just needs to run like that all the time. It will be interesting to see if he can take it to the next level.”

Julian Arthur is a former water polo player who is now a 275-pounder who should contribute on short yardage and goal-line situations. “He is just a great story,” Alamar said. “He is a walk-on who has busted his hump. Unfortunately, he has a little knee injury and is going to miss some of camp.”

Cal gets another JC transfer tight end from Butte in Skylar Curran, who will have three years of eligibility remaining. Alamar said his biggest concern with Curran this point is that he just gets used to the speed of the game. “He is going to go through some growing pains,” Alamar said.

Alamar also mentioned Garry Graffort. “What a great kid,” Alamar said. “I don’t know when, but at some point, he will help us. He is passionate about the game. Guys like that, at some point you know they will find their way on the field.”


Wow, it’s the wide outs

For Cal fans, it’s got to be a sweet sound. No where in the country is there a faster trio of receivers than at Cal. DeSean Jackson, Robert Jordan, Lavelle Hawkins. Hmmm. That’s impressive stuff and an indication of the kind of recruiting that is going on in Berkeley. You’ve got the monster of USC and you still manage to field this kind of lineup. Very impressive.

Whether they turn out to be the best trio of wide receivers in the country remains to be seen. The potential is there.

Cal wide receivers coach Danny Ferrigno took time out this week to talk about his group going into camp.

“DeSean Jackson is coming off a very good year,” Ferrigno said. “He is a big-play receiver. But I look for him to improve even more. He is getting stronger and he is putting on more weight. His blocking needs to improve. He’s only 165 pounds and I would like to see him at 175 just for his own health. That extra weight won’t affect his speed.”

Jackson took a monster shot against USC, but in general Ferrigno said he doesn’t take a lot of dead on shots. “He’s very shifty,” Ferrigno said.

I asked Ferrigno why Jackson didn’t play baseball this spring. He had indicated toward the end of last season that he was interested. “That conversation never came up between he and I,” Ferrigno said. “I think he realizes that his future is in football.”

Ferrigno said some of this spring’s camp will be about finding ways to best use the talented trio. “We have to find the things that DeSean does well and take advantage of it,” Ferrigno said. “The same could be said of Hawk and Robert.”

Although Hawkins and Jordan aren’t quite as fast as Jackson, they are burners as well. And besides all that speed, Hawkins has size at 6-foot-2 that the other two do not have.

“Lavelle really had a good year,” Ferrigno said. “His overall play was excellent. He blocked very well when he was in the slot. He is a really fast, tough kid. He still needs to improve on his discipline as far as route running. But he is getting better. He also has to get more consistency catching with his hands. When he does drop one, it’s often because he is not concentrating.
“He can be a very explosive player for us.”

Like Jackson, Jordan is about 165 pounds. “He needs to put weight on,” Ferrigno said. “He needs to get to 175.”

Besides his speed, Ferrigno said Jordan is an amazing technician. “In all my years, he is one of the best route runners I’ve been around. He really pays attention to what he is coached on. He has great ability to get in and out of a cut. He has great ability to separate from a defensive back. He needs to work on his blocking strength. But he is the best practice player I’ve ever been around.”

Ferrigno was asked if he ever has had a faster trio of wide outs. “No, not as fast,” he said. “If we run the ball, with these fast receivers, we will have the ability to run the ball, then put it into the running back’s belly, and if the secondary freezes at all, we will have the ability to pull it out and get behind people and make big plays. We are not afraid to throw the ball deep.”

With Cal’s talented trio, it’s going to be tough for the other players to get snaps at wide out. Sam DeSa is knocking on the door, but he has yet to show his talents in game situations. “Sam needs to prove he can consistenty catch the ball in game situations,” Ferrigno said. “He gets in and out of breaks well. He can block. But when he doesn’t catch the ball, it hurts his chances. This is a guy who knows what to do. I think he should contribute a lot.”

“Sean Young is a guy with good speed but his route running needs to improve this spring. He needs to work on his overall concentration.

“LaReylle Cunningham, I would hope he will be a contributor. He needs to improve on his ability to run fast. That holds him back a little.”

Redshirt freshman Jeremy Ross is trying to fight his way up the depth chart. “He seems to have what it takes,” Ferrigno said. “He is big and physical. He is a good all-around athlete. He is very strong. We have to see if he can pick up the system.

“Daniel Lofton is a big, fast kid. He seems to be a good route runner. He needs to improve catching the football.”

“It’s going to be difficult to break in, but that’s what I challenge them to do. I will play the guys good enough to help us win. You have to prove to me that you can help us win. That’s what spring practice is all about.”