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Clock management

Some of the Cal players talked Tuesday about the clock in the locker room that counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until kickoff. The clock runs for each game, but obviously goes a lot longer for the season-opener.

“You’re like, ’176 days. Sweet, we have time’,” Right tackle Mike Tepper said. “Then it’s 60 days. OK, it’s getting closer. Then we were going into camp and we had 30 days. I’d say it hit me in the middle of July. I was like, ‘Wow, we have Tennessee coming up. I thought about it all the time — 3, 4 hours a day.”

Free safety Thomas DeCoud added: “Once it gets to single-digits, it starts getting serious. Your mental clock really kicks in.”

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Jeff Tedford needs you

There is a lot of talk about how much a difference it will make that Cal has Tennessee at home this time around. No, Memorial Stadium can’t pack in over 100,000 fans like Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, but the Bears are counting on having a decided home-field advantage Saturday.

Coach Jeff Tedford made a point at Tuesday’s media luncheon to implore Cal fans to do their part against the Volunteers.

“I’d like to challenge our fans right now to make it the same environment we faced last year at Tennessee,” he said. “Our fans have done that. They’ve always answered the bell when you’ve asked them to step up. We need that this year. We need to make sure that we make it difficult on them when they’re on offense.”

The game essentially a sellout, although earlier in the week Cal made a limited amount of single-game tickets available. Those tickets came from a group of potential season-tickets that weren’t purchased.

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Center of attention

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!

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A couple Tennessee notes

Some may have read this already, but Tennessee running back LaMarcus Coker definitely will not play against Cal on Saturday. Coker was suspended indefinitely earlier during training camp. Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer reinstated Coker last week, but said he will not make the trip to Berkeley. Coker was the Vols’ leading rusher last season.

Also, Tennessee punter Briotton Colquitt, who is a first team All-American by some publications, is nursing a quadriceps injury. It sounds like he will play against the Bears.

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Saturday morning

I’m heading out to practice in a bit but I wanted to follow up on Thursday’s practice, in which Jeff Tedford announced afterward that Kevin Riley is the backup quarterback.

Tedford stressed this in no way means that Riley is the heir apparent to Nate Longshore, that he and Kyle Reed were extremely close in the competition and that he simply had to pick someone right now. The thing that surprises me is that if that’s the case, that he didn’t go with the older guy in Reed.

Neither quarterback has looked particularly great in camp, but each has held his own. Tedford has said that physically the two are about equal, and that the decision would be based on other things such as team management, understanding of the offense, etc. I get the feeling they are close in that regard as well, but that Riley might have a slight edge. That’s what could have put Riley over the top.

As for Reed’s future at Cal: Kyle declined to comment Thursday and I will try to talk to him when he agrees to. I know there are some people who think he might transfer. But he may be more inclined to stay if he truly believes that Riley isn’t necessarily the heir apparent to Longshore now.

It makes sense. Longshore is only a junior and a lot can happen over the next two years. Reed could outplay Riley next spring, next fall, the following spring or the following fall. Of course, Riley could continue to stay ahead of him on the depth chart as well. But Reed may still see plenty of opportunity to move up.

And then there’s this: By the time Longshore leaves, Brock Mansion will be a redshirt sophomore. Mansion has looked very good in camp as a true freshman and will only get better with time. You figure he will be a legitimate candidate to start by the time the position is open once again. It could make for some heated competition.

Of course, we’re still talking about the backup quarterback right now, and unless Longshore is injured, the decision won’t have much of an impact, especially because Tedford says the competition essentially is ongoing.

Cal fans should be happy to know that Longshore has looked very sharp in camp. I think he’s going to have a huge season.

Cal practices this morning, and the it will be Contra Costa Times Fan Appreciation Day afterward. The Bears are off Sunday and then practice Monday through Thursday in preparation for Tennessee. For those of you who have been counting down the days, you can finally say the season is only a week away!

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Back in business

As many of you may have noticed, due to technical problems, the blog was out of order for a few days. But we’re back up and running.

I’m sure most of you have kept up with the proceedings through the paper, but here are some more tidbits to pass along from the past few days:

–While it looks as though Brandon Hampton has won the open cornerback job, Darian Hagan has been coming on. Earlier in the week, he made a fantastic interception of a pass from Kyle Reed, blanketing LaReylle Cunningham down the left sideline before hauling it in. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory was unhappy with Hagan’s work habits at the beginning of camp, but says Hagan has really been improving. I don’t think the coaches would be hesitant to use Hagan if Hampton stumbles.

–There was kind of a funny moment during Wednesday’s practice. The Bears were going thorugh a mock game, working on substitutions and changing packages in different situations. They even wanted to get the training staff some practice because center Alex Mack faked an injury after a pretend extra point. A trainer came on to the field and “helped” Mack to the sideline.

–The Bears started game planning for Tennessee on Wednesday. They will have eight practices to prepare for the Volunteers.

–Coach Jeff Tedford has yet to name a No. 2 quarterback, but Reed still appears to be the frontrunner. Tedford could make it public as early as tonight’s practice, but he may wait until the beginning of next week. There really is no reason for him rush. If it were the starting job, obviously that would be different.

–It looks as though Cameron Jordan is in the mix to play this season on the defensive line as a true freshman. HIs athleticism for his size (6-4, 260) is remarkable. Fellow freshman defensive lineman Ernest Owusu likely will redshirt.

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Responses

There seems to be some technical problems posting comments on the blog right now, so I thought I’d respond to a couple recent comments through this entry.

Jan, regarding Cameron Morrah: He does appear to be a good pass-catching tight end, but I’ve heard his blocking could use some work. Plus, the Bears have arguably the best tight end in the Pac-10 with Craig Stevens, so Morrah is probably at least a year away from making a significant impact.

Laughing, yes, Zack Smith is the Duke transfer. He really hasn’t gotten enough reps to form an opinion.

More, I haven’t herad from Jay.

Matt, I wouldn’t read too much into the kickoff returns. It’s more of a time for the special teamers to work on their coverages, so the returner really has the advantage.

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Scrimmage follow-up/Friday

Cal’s first team offense only played one series during Thursday’s scrimmage, but looked sharp. On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Nate Longshore hit DeSean Jackson with a 21-yard pass. The possession ended with a 13-yard touchdown run by Justin Forsett.

Unfortunately for the Bears, they may have lost starting fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou during the drive. Ta’ufo’ou caught a short play action pass from Longshore nad was hit hard by strong safety Bernard Hicks. Ta’ufo’ou limped off the field with a injury to his left knee.

Ta’ufo’ou was examined Friday morning. Coach Jeff Tedford didn’t have any update on the severity of the injury after Friday morning’s practice, but said it likely was an MCL. That could keep Ta’ufo’ou out for 3-4 weeks, at the very least. Tedford said Brian Holley and Zack Smith would be the leading candidates to replace him.

Tedford decided to delay his decision on the backup quarterback. Kyle Reed had a better scrimmage than Kevin Riley, but neither clearly stood out. Reed still seems to have an edge because he’s been in the program one year longer than Riley. Tedford said he would likely make a decision by the middle of next week.

While Jahvid Best has been getting a lot of attention during camp, fellow freshman running back Shane Vereen quietly has been impressing the coaching staff as well. He took several snaps with the second unit during the scrimmage, and showed some toughness by coming back in after sitting out one play after getting his bell rung, and scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run.

Junior defensive end Rulon Davis appears to making a move to challenge for a starting spot. He started the scrimmage playing with the second team but saw some action with the first unit as well. He registered a sack on Reed, although Tedford said that was a result of a missed assignment by an offensive lineman.

Redshirt freshman running back Tracey Slocum has become somewhat of a forgotten man with the Bears’ impressive stable of running backs, but he had one of the better runs of the scrimmage with an athletic cutback for 23 yards. He also had a 7-yard TD run, and a potential 20-yard scoring run was wiped out by a holding call.

Jahvid Best had an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Brandon Hampton added a 94-yarder.

Tom Schneider made field goals of 48, 40 and 38 yards and missed a 52-yarder. Backup kicker Jordan Kay missed two attempts, both from 42 yards.

Longshore looked sharp on his one possession, completing all four of his passes for 46 yards. Vereen was the Bears’ leading rusher, totalling 52 yards and one TD on nine carries.

Tedford and defensive coordinator Bob Gregory raved about true freshman cornerback Chris Conte afterward. Conte played with the first unit because Syd’Quan Thompson sat out with a minor ankle sprain. Thompson was back at practice Friday morning.

Another player who missed practice Friday was Hicks, who sustained a mild concussion during the scrimmage when he was accidentally kicked attempting to make a tackle.

The Bears typically run sprints after practice, and starting right tackle Mike Tepper stood out Friday. Tedford has been very pleased with the improvement Tepper has demonstrated during camp.

Tedford said it’s still too early to determine which freshman will play immediately and which will redshirt, but it looks as though Cal will have more true freshman see time this season than usual. Conte looks like a lock, and defensive line coach Ken Delgado has said at least one freshman likely be part of the regular playing rotation. Right now the most likely candidates are Cameron Jordan and Ernest Owusu. Best is so special it may be hard to resist the temptation to find a spot for him on the field.

A glimpse of the future from Friday’s practice had Conte breaking up a pass to freshman Michael Calvin. Calvin made a terrific play just to come close to catching the pass, and Conte made an even better play to knock it out of Calvin’s possession.

Some other highlights from Friday’s practice:
–Middle linebacker Worrell Williams used pinpoint anticipation to intercept a pass during 7-on-7 drills
–Marcus Ezeff also had an interception during two-minute drill work, and Jon Karacozoff and Greg Van Hoesen recorded a sack of Reed.
–The Bears spent some time working on changing offensive and defensive packages on the fly, practicing getting the right players on and off the field.