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A change

Not surprisingly, for the first time this season, free safety Thomas DeCoud is not a captain. DeCoud was pulled from the starting lineup, along with wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan, for violating team rules. DeCoud had been a captain for all 12 regular season games, along with tight end Craig Stevens. Today’s captains are Stevens, running back Justin Forsett, linebacker Greg Van Hoesen and cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson.

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The windy city?

Greetings from the press box at TCU. The weather here the past few days has been terrific. Just a slight chill in the air, calm blue skies. I woke up this morning to find a brisk wind, making it by far the coldest morning so far. Looking across the stadium now, the flags at the top of the concourse are whipping in the wind, so it looks as though it’s going to be a cold one today. But hey, these guys are football players, and they still are warming up in their t-shirts and shorts on the field as we speak.

Funny moment a few minutes ago: Jordan Kay and Andrew Larson were kicking field goals, when defensive end Rulon Davis butted in. His 50-yard attempt fell harmlessly at the 10-yard line.

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has been playing the size card all week, painting his team as smallish underdogs. The size differential is apparent as you watch warm-ups. But as Jeff Tedford has been saying, the Falcons won nine games somehow.

I’ll check in a little bit later as we get nearer to kickoff.

8

Happenings

On the eve of the last game of the season, there was quite a bit of news coming from Cal.

First and foremost, coach Jeff Tedford announced that wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan, as well as free safety Thomas DeCoud, will not start today’s Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force because they violated team rules. Tedford didn’t elaborate but said it wasn’t a major violation. He said the three players still will play but didn’t know how long they would stay on the bench at the beginning of the game.

It’s got to be a blow to DeCoud and Jordan, who are seniors playing in their final games. It also could be another sign that Jackson is indeed leaving for the NFL after the season.

Tedford also said that backup quarterback Kevin Riley will see some limited playing time today. Tedford said Riley will probably play a series or two, because he wants to get him some experience in a bowl game. This news follows Saturday’s news that Tedford is going to open up all spots in spring practice, including quarterback. Tedford said Riley definitely will play no matter what is going on in the game.

The Armed Forces Bowl held its day-before press conference today. It got off to a light-hearted start when linebacker Greg Van Hoesen toppled over when he tried to sit down at the podium. Van Hoesen raised his arm above the podium and said “I’m all right.” After he picked himself back up, he looked to the back of the room where the television cameras were and said, “Did you get that?” “Could you do it again?” a camera operator joked back.

One thing that makes me chuckle is that this is the Armed Forces Bowl, and Cal’s opponent is none other than one of the armed forces. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Tedford spoke at the press conference of the meaning of playing in this game.

“We’re going to make sure we play this game in honor of the people who fight for our country and keep us safe on a daily basis,” he said. “We’ve made that a big priority to know that not only is this a football game, but it’s much more than that.”

Van Hoesen said his cousin, John Cortez, is in the army and currently serving in Iraq. ”With everything going on around the world these days, it’s hard not to take the Armed Forces Bowl seriously.”

Van Hoesen has been a little bit of a rock star around here. He unveiled his art exhibit in the lobby of the team hotel, a collection of 13 portraits that made up his senior project. Van Hoesen, a fine arts major, hopes to sell them after the game to make money for his future. Van Hoesen can’t start selling them while he’s still a collegiate athlete.

A lot of Cal fans who are here stopped in their tracks to look at the portraits Sunday, and many of Van Hoesen’s teammates did the same after they returned from walk-through. Jordan took a bunch of pictures of the one of him.

Van Hoesen did portraits of Jordan, Justin Forsett, Justin Moye, Andrew Larson, Lavelle Hawkins, Nate Longshore, Anthony Felder, DeCoud, Mika Kane, Zack Follett, Jackson, Syd’Quan Thompson, Craig Stevens and Tedford. The one of Follett and and Thompson are especially striking. Follett has his tiger-striped haircut while Thompson is shaking his hair. As it should be, Tedford is holding his handy play card in his hand.

Forsett spent the morning speaking to about 5,000 children at The Potter’s House, a ministry in Dallas where his father, Rodney, is on staff. Forsett is from nearby Arlington.

“I just talked about my faith and how I’ve come along at Cal and grown as a person,” Forsett said. “That I came from a small school and grew as a person, spiritually and personally.”

 That’s it for now. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be at the stadium during pregame. I’ll check in then.

0

Another culmination

Cal held its last practice of the season at Memorial Stadium last week and players carried the seniors off the field. Saturday, the Bears held their last practice of the season, period, and once again the seniors were escorted off the field, this time to the weight room at Texas Christian University for some post-practice lifting.

The Bears will hold their usual walk-through before a game Sunday, and then it will be time for the Armed Forces Bowl. This may not be one of the high-profile bowl games, but it could be very important for this program. A loss would put an exclamation point on the Bears’ collapse, and would put them on more shaky ground heading into the spring. A win, especially if they play especially well, could serve the returning players a reminder of how good they can be, and that could give them some momentum going into the offseason.

The Bears still appear to be having fun at practice, something that has been markedly different since the regular season ended. Several players have told me they felt like the bowl game gave them a new lease on life, and with it one final chance to show the world what they can do.

This game is a big deal for tailback Justin Forsett. He said he expects upwards of 300 family members at the game (Forsett is from nearby Arlington). His father, Rodney, and younger brother, Javon, attended practice Saturday. Rodney is a local minister and Justin plans on speaking at his church on Sunday morning. Javon is a free safety at Butte Community College and is getting some looks from Division II schools.

I was happy to find out when I got here that the media is indeed allowed to watch practice. Originally, the Armed Forces Bowl guidelines said the media would only be able to watch the first 15 minutes of practice, but that was scratched. It’s more of an intimate atmosphere than at Memorial Stadium, where the media sits in the stands. Here, we are able to stand between the two fields where the offense and defense break up into scout team work.

TCU, where the team practices and the game is being played, has a new indoor practice facility next to the outdoor field and stadium. Air Force practiced inside today. Both teams have pointed out that the grass on the outdoor fields aren’t in the greatest shape. Linebacker Zack Follett said today he was happy they didn’t have to practice on those fields anymore.

Just like they did before they faced Oregon, the Bears are using wide receiver Drew Glover at times as their scout team quarterback. Glover did a good job emulating Dennis Dixon and now is dressing up as Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney. The Falcons run primarily an option attack that features Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year Chad Hall. Freshman Shane Vereen has been emulating Hall at practice.

When asked to describe Hall’s value to the Falcons, defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said “Unbelievable.” Hall leads Air Force in both rushing and receiving.

“It’s unbelievable how much that guy gets the ball, and rightly so,” Gregory said. “Carney is a good player, but they clearly want to get the ball to this guy.”

Gregory said the Bears haven’t faced anybody that runs what Air Force does since…well, Air Force. Cal played the Falcons to open the 2004 season and won, 56-14. Air Force also has added some pro-style elements to its offense, which Gregory says makes the Falcons even tougher to defend.

0

The culmination

Hi, everyone. I’m back after a few days off for the holiday. Cal took off for Fort Worth today and was immediately scheduled to practice at TCU, followed by a team dinner tonight. I won’t be arriving in Fort Worth until Friday.

It will be a little different this week because most of practice is closed to the media. The media will be allowed to watch only the first 15 minutes. During the season, the local media is allowed to watch all of practice (it’s closed to visiting media). But since the Bears aren’t at home now, they obviously don’t have as much control over the facility they practice in.

That’s one of the things I’m grateful to Jeff Tedford for. Some programs don’t let the media into their practices at all, or only let them watch the first portion. It obviously makes for better access for a beat reporter, and it’s something I don’t take for granted.

This will be a fun week for Justin Forsett. He said he may have as many as 300 friends and family at the game. Forsett has been in town since the 21st (he’s from nearby Arlington).

The Bears have a couple of bowl activities planned over the next few days. There will be a Madden video game tournament Friday night. Saturday, the team will visit a nearby hospital.

Air Force arrived Wednesday. Both teams are practicing at different times each day at TCU, the site of the game.

I will have more when I get to Texas. I hope everyone had a happy holiday.

Jonathan

0

The curtain falls

Well, the Bears held their last practice of the season at Memorial Stadium today. It was kind of a fun moment at the end when the players carried the seniors off the field on their shoulders. The camraderie of the team appears to be at an all-time high for the season.

Cal met as a team immediately after practice and then went their separate ways for the holidays. Most guys are going home to spend time with their families. For tailback Justin Forsett, he gets to go home for the holiday and for the bowl game. Forsett is from Arlington, Texas, just a short drive from Fort Worth, where the Armed Forces Bowl will be played.

The Bears spent the past couple of days continue to put in the game plan for Air Force. The Falcons are led by running back/wide receiver Chad Hall, the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year. Hall is the only player in the country to lead his team in both rushing yards (1415 ) and receiving yards (448). Hall basically does everything for the Falcons.

Usually, the only player on the scout team offense to wear a different color jersey is the quarterback. But this week, freshman Shane Vereen emulated Hall and also wore a different color. Obviously, the Bears are concerned with stopping Hall.

Defensive end Rulon Davis has returned to practice after taking some time off to deal with the death of a family member. You can tell Davis is chomping at the bit to play again. It’s been a frustrating year for the junior. He earned a starting spot in training camp but has missed seven games with foot and knee injuries. It’s the second straight season Davis has been dogged by injury. At Thursday’s Armed Forces Bowl press luncheon, Davis said he feels as good as he has since spring practice.

Davis also has a fiery attitude, something the Bears could use. He was motivated by ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit’s comment that Cal was the likeliest team to get blown out during the bowl season. Davis also stuck up for the Bears much-maligned defense this season, saying “The defense is outstanding. I’m so proud of this defense. For everybody out there, don’t give up on this defense. We’re good.” You can make the argument that Davis’ comments may not be completely accurate, but if nothing else, Cal needs more players to take a little more of a fighter’s attitude.

Several players attended Thursday’s luncheon, including wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson and quarterback Nate Longshore never were available to come to weekly luncheon’s during the regular season because of class conflicts.  They were able to come by Thursday now that classes are over. Jackson said his thigh contusion is completely healed and he feels 100 percent. He said he was close to playing against Stanford but just felt like he wasn’t capable of utilizing his speed and quickness in a way that would help the team.  He also reiterated that he is going to wait until after the season to decide about the NFL draft. He said he will consult his family and Jeff Tedford before making a decision.

Longshore talked a little about last Saturday’s ceremony to honor the opening of the new “Todd Longshore Park” in Santa Clarita near his hometown. Todd Longshore, Nate’s father, was a longtime commissioner of the city’s park district but passed away suddenly last year. Longshore is returning home for the holidays. “We have some Christmas football games going down at the house every year, so I have to get in some of those,” he said. “I usually specialize in middle linebacker. They don’t let me play quarterback.”

Coach Jeff Tedford mentioned that he called Rich Rodriguez to congratulate him on becoming Michigan’s new coach. Some believed Tedford may have been a candidate for that job, but I don’t think there was anything to that. Tedford was asked Thursday if inquiries about his services have diminished this year in light of the team’s struggles, and he said it hasn’t been much different. “There are inquiries here and there, but nothing I’m interested in listening to. I’m not listening to anything.”

0

Practicin’ in the rain

Cal practiced in a downpour Tuesday. It actually might be good preparation because the forecast for Fort Worth is calling for some rain during the week leading up to the game. You never know, it could rain during the game itself.

Tuesday’s practice looked more like a practice during the season, as the Bears started putting in the game plan for Air Force. The Armed Forces Bowl should provide a stiff test for Cal’s defense, as the Bears have had their struggles stopping the run and the Falcons rank second nationally in rushing (298.5 ypg).

It looks like defensive tackle Derrick Hill might start the bowl game. He’s been running with the first team recently. Matt Malele is out with the knee injury and Mika Kane has been banged up. Kane practiced with the second team Tuesday. Defensive line coach Ken Delgado said as of right now, Hill would be the starter. But that could change.  I’m guessing it won’t. Giving Hill more snaps would be a boost for him going into spring ball. The Bears really need Hill to become a top-level play next season.

Right now, it appears Hill and Cody Jones are starting at defensive tackle with Tyson Alualu and John Allen on the outside. Rulon Davis has missed some practice time recently to attend to a family matter, but Delgado said he should return to practice Thursday (the Bears are off today).

It looks as though Greg Van Hoesen and Justin Moye will still start at linebacker in place of Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder.

Left tackle Mike Gibson is practicing again. He suffered concussions in each of the final two regular season games. He returned over the weekend. Tight end Cameron Morrah, who missed the Big Game with a knee injury, has also returned to practice in full capacity.

The Bears have two more practices — Thursday and Friday — before they break for the holidays. Players will be free to go their separate ways before they reconvene on the 27th to take off for Fort Worth. Cal will hold two full practices in Fort Worth — on the 28th and 29th — then hold a walkthrough on the 30th.

0

Fun in the sun

I continue to be amazed by the atmosphere at practice these days. It is so much more lively than it was during the regular season. Guys are chirping away, yelling, celebrating, talking trash, everything. It looks like they are truly having fun. You have to wonder where it was a month or two ago.

I wouldn’t make too much of it, though. It’s kind of expected at this time. Practices aren’t as tedious right now because there is no game planning going on. The offense is going against the defense, instead of each going against scout teams. The players really get into going head to head.

But I think part of it also is the guys realizing they have just one game left, one more chance to prove what they are all about. Practice also can be a diversion from finals, which are going on right now.

Practice was real lively yesterday. Lavelle Hawkins, who professes to be a running back in a wide receiver’s body, took some reps at tailback and looked like he was having a blast (then again, he always looks that way). The guys really got into it. Cornerback Darian Hagan was having a spirited one-on-one showdown with DeSean Jackson.

A handful of guys missed practice because they had finals. Quarterback Nate Longshore also missed practice because he was down in Southern California to attend the dedication of Todd Longshore Park in Santa Clarita. Todd Longshore, Nate’s father, passed away last year. He was the commissioner of the city parks commission for a long time.

Coach Jeff Tedford didn’t have anything new on Jahvid Best’s injury, but did say the bruising is going down. He said Best will need another MRI once all of his bruising has disappeared, and it should give a better diagnosis. Best still is on crutches.

Tedford said he has a special focus on some of his younger guys during practice these days, as he keeps one eye on the future. He singled out wide receiver Michael Calvin and tailback Shane Vereen as guys who have stood out so far on offense. Defensively, Tedford said linebacker D.J. Holt and safety D.J. Campbell have looked good.

0

Loose ends

I’m sure most of you have seen some of the honors handed down over the past couple of days. Center Alex Mack won the Morris Trophy, given annually to the best offensive lineman and defensive lineman in the Pac-10. It’s an award players truly appreciate because it’s voted on by other players. The starting defensive linemen in the conference vote for the offensive winner, and vice versa. It says a lot about Mack that his peers hold him in such high regard. Mack clearly is one of the top centers in the country and should be again next year as a senior. He was one of six finalists for the Rimington Trophy, given annually to the nation’s top center. Arkansas’ Jonathan Luigs won the award. Luigs also is a junior.

I was a little surprised to see DeSean Jackson get named third team All-American as an all-purpose player by the Associated Press. If anyone from Cal should have got it, it probably should have been Lavelle Hawkins. Hawkins had more catches and more receiving yards than Jackson and ranked fourth in the Pac-10 in all-purpose yards. Jackson wasn’t even in the conference’s top ten in all-purpose yards. Jackson did finish second in the Pac-10 in punt returns but Hawkins was still in the top ten in kick returns. Simply put, Hawkins was more consistently productive.

One other note: Tight end Craig Stevens has been invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game.

The Bears were off today and don’t practice Thursday, either. They practiced Tuesday afternoon without coach Jeff Tedford, who was off recruiting. Cal still seems to be enjoying these practices before game planning for Air Force. They scrimmage against each other and the players get into it. They seem to be having more fun than they’ve had in awhile. At the end of Tuesday’s practice, offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik raced his offensive linemen toward the tunnel at Memorial Stadium. Gotta say Michalczik held his own.

A bit of bad news for the Bears, but not unexpected: Defensive tackle Matt Malele had knee surgery last week and will miss the Armed Forces Bowl. Malele has been battling that cranky knee all season and apparently it just became too much to overcome. Malele missed the last two games of the season. It’s a big loss on a defensive line that already has some holes. Mika Kane has been banged up too so Derrick Hill has been getting reps with the first team in practice.

0

Bob Gregory

Washington papers are reporting that Eastern Washington coach Paul Wulff will be named Washington State’s new coach at a news conference tomorrow.  Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory was considered a candidate for the job. He was contacted by the school but it is unclear if he ever interviewed. Wulff was a teammate of Gregory and Cal offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik at Washington State during the mid-1980s.