Well, today was the first media luncheon of the season and you can tell that there is tons of interest in Saturday’s game. There must have been up to 20 media members present, including a reporter from the Knoxville News Sentinel who is out here doing stories on Cal leading up to the game. ESPN’s Lisa Salters also is in town.
Jeff Tedford touched on several subjects, and I will provide many excerpts from his comments as the week goes on, as well as interpretations and insights. Personally, I have spent the past couple of days working hard on material for our season-preview package, which begins Wednesday with more of the national stuff — top 25, Heisman hopefuls, national notebook, etc. On Thursday, we will have a Cal season-preview and a Pac-10 preview. Friday and Saturday will be devoted more to the game itself.
Mike Tepper, Thomas DeCoud, Anthony Felder, Justin Forsett, Lavelle Hawkins and Zack Follett all came by the luncheon, and again, I will have much from what they had to say as the week goes on. The prevailing theme, obviously, was that the Bears would like to redeem themselves for their performance last year in Knoxville. Hawkins talked about a 10-minute highlight clip Tedford put together that strung together all the mistakes and poor plays the team made against the Vols last year. He showed it to the team just before the beginning of spring practice.
Some of the players also talked about the need to be more physical with Tennessee, and much of the intense focus on building up strength over the summer was done with the Vols in mind. Tennessee won the battle of the trenches last season, and the Bears need to change that.
Speaking of Tepper, who will start at right tackle, he’s someone Tedford repeatedly praised during training camp. Tepper has dropped about 25 pounds since last season and is moving well. Tepper said he notices the change in his movement, and it’s allowed him to perform better in pass protection. He said having less body mass actually could hinder his run blocking, but he said he’s more muscular so that should help.
Of course, a lot of the discourse also focused on Syd’Quan Thompson, who was beaten twice by former Tennessee star Robert Meachem for long touchdowns last year. Teammates say Thompson is as determined as ever to make up for last season’s poor showing. I will have a feature on Syd’Quan in Friday’s paper.
One of the things my story will examine is how the Bears can make sure they don’t get put in that position again. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory has said that he should take the blame for those plays because he didn’t put Syd’Quan in a good position. Not only was Thompson playing in his first college game in a hostile environment against one of the top receivers in the nation, but he was asked to defend Meachem one-on-one, “on an island.” DeCoud said today that was simply a product of the team’s defensive scheme, but they may try to do things a bit differently. Yes, Thompson probably shouldn’t have gambled on those two big plays to Meachem, but he also didn’t get much support defensively. Meachem was allowed to simply streak up the field after getting by him.
I have a lot of notes to go through and will provide all of you with as much as possible leading up to the game. I’m really looking forward to finally playing a game!