Weekend complete

Cal finished up its first weekend of practices in preparation for the Armed Forces Bowl, and it seems like the Bears have an extra bounce in their step. The past couple of days were Cal’s  most energetic practices in weeks. There was a lot of talking, hand-slapping, ooohing-and-ahhhing and energy. A couple of theories for the extra pep: These are more like training camp practices because the Bears haven’t started game planning for Air Force yet. That means there are no scout teams, and Cal’s offense goes against Cal’s defense the entire time. You can tell the players enjoy the competition for team bragging rights, etc. Also, game week practices can sometimes bog down with walking through plays, etc. This is just good ole-fashioned football.

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson appears to be moving better and better. He was back returning punts at practice today.

A lot of younger players are getting reps since it’s not like game week practices. All four quarterbacks are playing. It’s fun to watch some of the younger players who have been in scout uniforms all season with their Cal jerseys back on. Freshman running back Shane Vereen, for instance, is getting a little  chance to strut his stuff.

The Bears are off tomorrow, practice Tuesday, then don’t practice again until they go Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Finals begin Thursday.


Looking ahead

Cal held its first post-regular season practice Saturday. Technically, practice started up again Friday, but the Bears decided to just go with a short conditioning workout like it was a Sunday following a game.

I believe in an earlier post I wrote that Cal wouldn’t start game planning until it arrived in Fort Worth. That was a misunderstanding. Jeff Tedford said the game plan will start being installed the week of Dec. 17th. Until then, he said the Bears will practice against each other, with a lot of the younger players getting reps. Cal will have a total of 13 practices before the Armed Forces Bowl.

Tedford talked about the importance of getting those extra practices, which is one  of bigger assets of playing in a bowl game. It allows the coaching staff to start looking ahead a little bit toward next season by giving more time to younger players. Tedford said “it’s like an extra spring practice.”

The Bears will practice intermittently until Dec. 22, when the team will part ways for Christmas. They will recongregate in Forth Worth.

I’ve heard from some fans that are wondering about DeSean Jackson’s attitude. I asked Tedford about it and he said Jackson’s attitude “is still great.” Earlier in the season, Tedford said repeatedly that Jackson had a great attitude even though he wasn’t putting up the type of numbers some expected. Tedford said that’s still the case. “He’s not a malcontent by any means,” Tedford said.

Tedford also said he expected Jackson to play in the Armed Forces Bowl. Jackson has missed the past game-and-a-half with a thigh contusion.

Tedford looks better than he has in weeks. It seems like he’s been coughing for two months and hasn’t slept much during that time. He seems a bit refreshed. He admitted he’s sleeping a little more this week because there isn’t a game immediately pending. He said he was going to let the air out of the famous air mattress in his office.

Left tackle Mike Gibson is going to take a couple of weeks off. He suffered a concussion against Washington, missed most of practice for two weeks, played against Stanford and suffered another concussion. He said he probably won’t practice again until the team gets to Fort Worth but fully expects to play.

I had a conversation with Zack Follett, who has talked a lot during the latter stages of the season about becoming a leader. He said he plans on using the next month practicing that role for next season. Follett said he believes leadership fits him but has been hesitant to really let it out because he’s not a senior.

I’ll have more after practice tomorrow.



A definitive Nate Longshore post

OK, there obviously has been a lot of discussion about Nate Longshore lately. I’ve received a lot of e-mails about him and there have been a lot of comments on the blog. So I thought I would just kind of throw everything out there to hopefully answer some questions and let you know where I stand.

I haven’t felt as strongly as some of you that Longshore should be replaced. Granted, he hasn’t played as well as most expected this season, but I also don’t believe he’s been as bad as some people make him out to be.

The most frequent question I get is how Jeff Tedford can continue to play Longshore when he’s injured. First of all, some of you seem to believe the media hasn’t asked this question. But we have. His answer has been consistent. He believes although Longshore may not be 100 percent, he is moving well enough and his experience and grasp of the offense makes up for his lack of mobility. As I’ve stated before, you may not agree with this answer, but the question was asked.

So just how much has the injury affected Longshore’s play? There’s no question it’s been a factor. But it’s not always that simple in some cases. Let’s take the UCLA loss, for example. Don’t forget Longshore was 16-for-19 for 173 yards and two touchdowns at halftime of that game. Some believe the reason why he wasn’t effective in the second half was because he wore down on his ankle. That’s certainly possible. But I felt like the playcalling put Longshore in a bad position. The Bears were moving the ball through the air very effectively in the first half and even in the third quarter, but seemed to go away from it down the stretch. That resulted in too many unmanageable third downs, the last of which resulted in the interception that sealed the win.

That’s not to say Longshore is off the hook for throwing the interception. Of course, it was a very untimely turnover. But perhaps had the Bears stuck with the passing game, in which Longshore clearly had found a good rhythmn, they wouldn’t have been in that position.

Longshore also couldn’t be blamed for the Washington loss. Obviously, the defense was mostly the culprit. Yes, the Bears’ offense couldn’t get going in the second half, but that wasn’t Longshore’s fault. He threw a 42-yard pass to Robert Jordan to the 3-yard line, but Justin Forsett couldn’t punch it in. A personal foul on another possession gave Cal unmanageable second and third downs. A penalty and big loss on a running play gave the Bears a 3rd-and-22 on yet another drive.

Longshore aggravated the injury in the Arizona State loss and he clearly was affected by it. Tedford was asked after this game whether he considered taking him out, and again he felt as though Longshore was moving well enough to execute the offense. Granted, Longshore didn’t play well in this game, but nobody did. The Bears simply played poorly all across the board, on both sides of the ball, with mistakes and penalties haunting them (and yes, I realize Longshore contributed to the mistakes).

There was some question whether Longshore would play against Washington State because he aggravated the previous week against ASU. I recall him actually looking pretty healthy in practice. I’d say he played OK against the Cougars. It seemed like the Bears were really conservative on offense in that game, as they had two really long drives where they nickel-and-dimed their way downt he field.

That brings us to USC. Don’t forget that by this time, nobody really was talking about Longshore’s ankle anymore. It seems like everyone is saying Longshore has been hurt all season. But I think the couple of games before re-injuring it against Stanford, his health wasn’t really an issue. Perhaps this is a reaction to Tedford’s comment recently that Longshore has a chip in his ankle (more on that later).

There’s no question Longshore didn’t play his best against the Trojans and took all the blame for the loss after the game. Again, I’ve never said Longshore has been great. The debate is whether he has been bad as some believe, whether he should be replaced with an inexperienced backup or whether he has been healthy enough to play.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. Should Longshore been benched in favor of Kevin Riley? If Longshore was not healthy enough to execute the offense, then yes. Some might argue that Longshore hasn’t executed the offense well enough, healthy or not. The question is whether Riley would have given Cal a better chance to win. Let’s not forget that Riley has played in one college game and played well for about a quarter-and-a-half. His fourth quarter comeback efforts certainly were impressive, especially for a rookie, but in general he is an uncertainty.

Some may believe that Riley should have been given a chance once the losses started piling up. I can see that a little bit more once the BCS and Rose Bowl were out of the picture. But Tedford still was trying to win every game, and he still felt Longshore gave him the best chance to do so.

Perhaps Tedford was doing what I think I’ve been doing: Giving Longshore a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. This is my first year around the program and all I can base it on is observation, but Longshore had a good year last year. Perhaps Tedford believes that game is still in Longshore somewhere, and each week he believes it’s going to come out.

There is still much more that can be discussed on this topic, and I welcome your comments and questions. I will have more to say about Longshore and other issues with the team as we work our way up to the bowl game.


Bowl mode

The Bears are on a bowl schedule now, meaning they will practice only intermittently for the next few weeks. They are off all this week until Friday.

Coach Jeff Tedford did address the media Monday and much of the discussion focused on quarterback Nate Longshore (seems to be a trend). Tedford revealed that not only has Longshore been bothered by a sprained ankle, but there is a chip in the back of that ankle as well. Tedford went on to reiterate what he has said all year, that although the injury may have an effect on Longshore’s mobility, it’s not enough to knock him out of the lineup because of his intangibles and grasp of the offense.

Until they get to Fort Worth on Dec. 27, Cal’s practices will be a lot like bye weeks. The younger players will get most of the reps. This is one of the major advantages of playing in a bowl game. The team gets a bunch of extra practice time that enables them not only to prepare for the game, but look ahead to next season as well.

Once the Bears get to Fort Worth, they will resume normal practices with the first team and second team taking reps together and implementing the game plan.

I didn’t go to the team’s year-end banquet on Monday, but I am kind of wondering what the vibe was like. Here, less than 24 hours after the disappointing end to the season at Stanford, they all got together to talk about all the positives from the season. Don’t get me wrong, there still are some things worth celebrating for the Bears, but I imagine it must have been hard to really put things like that in perspective after closing out the season so dreadfully.

Speaking of the banquet, no real surprises to the year-end awards. Justin Forsett was the offensive MVP and Thomas DeCoud the defensive MVP. Forsett was a slam dunk. Defensively, I thought it also may have gone to Zack Follett or Anthony Felder. But DeCoud has been steady all season and ended up leading the team in tackles (not that the Bears want their free safety having the most tackles, of course)

A glimpse into the future: Scout Team Player of the Year honors went to offensive lineman Sam DeMartinis, wide receiver Michael Calvin, safety D.J. Campbell, linebacker D.J. Holt and fullback John Tyndall.

It was also good to see the Pac-10 coaches recognize the efforts of freshman Jahvid Best on special teams. Best may be the best special teams player I have ever seen, which is saying something considering he never had to do such things in high school. His speed obviously is an asset as a gunner on kicks, but he also is such a sure-handed tackler, again something he wasn’t required to do on the prep level. Best was voted All-Pac-10 first team as a special teams player. I would hazard to guess not too many true freshman earn that honor.


Destination: Fort Worth

On the one hand, I am surprised Cal has wound up in the Armed Forces Bowl. It seemed like everyone I talked to was pretty convinced Arizona State was going to go to the Fiesta Bowl if it beat Arizona on Saturday. The Sun Devils were BCS-eligible and why wouldn’t the Fiesta Bowl want the local team?

On the other hand, the Fiesta Bowl made the right choice. Arizona State simply isn’t worthy of a BCS game. Yes, the Sun Devils are 10-2 and shared the Pac-10 title with USC. But they played eight of their 12 games at home and lost to both USC and Oregon.

Had ASU been picked by the Fiesta Bowl, Cal would have wound up in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco. Since the Sun Devils weren’t, they were slotted No. 6 among the Pac-10’s six bowl-eligible teams and therefore in line for the Armed Forces Bowl bid.

Sometimes, bowls make deals with each other within the conference so it wasn’t set in stone Cal was going to Fort Worth. In fact, Armed Forces Bowl executive director Tom Starr said Sunday night that he was talking to the Las Vegas Bowl about swapping with UCLA. But both bowls stayed put.

Cal will be playing Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Bears beat the Falcons in 2004 but lost to them in 2002. In fact, the loss in ’02 was Jeff Tedford’s first as Cal’s coach (after starting his first season 3-0). Air Force is 9-3 and finished second in the Mountain West Conference.

It should be a nice trip for running back Justin Forsett, who is from nearby Arlington, Texas. I talked to Justin’s father last week for a story and he was really hoping the Bears would wind up there. Freshman quarterback Brock Mansion is the only other player on Cal’s roster from Texas (Dallas).

The Armed Forces Bowl is on New Year’s Eve at 9:30 a.m. Pacific Time, and on ESPN.

You have to wonder what the next month is going to be like for the Bears. How motivated will they be to play in this lower-tier bowl game after their sights were set so high two months ago? They certainly haven’t given a very inspired effort the past couple of games. If the Bears felt like they had something to prove, why didn’t we see it against Stanford? If the Big Game can’t get them to play closer to a higher level, will the Armed Forces Bowl? It may be a big game for the underclassmen, to set things up for the spring and next season.

Reflecting on the Big Game, obviously Cal was disappointed with its offensive performance. The Bears went to a lot of two-receiver sets because of the absence of DeSean Jackson. I’m not sure how much that affected the Bears. When Robert Jordan sat out the UCLA game, Cal stuck with more three-receiever sets.  For the record, Tedford said it didn’t affect the game plan that dramatically.

The defense is what it is. Giving more reps to Greg Van Hoesen and Justin Moye at linebacker didn’t make much of an impact, good or bad.

Some leftover comments Saturday’s postgame interviews:

Linebacker Worrell Williams: “They’re not a better team than us. No way, no how. You guys know that. Everybody knows that. But you couldn’t tell from today’s game. Take nothing away from them. Coach Harbaugh has those guys playing hard. They’re a good team. But we killed ourselves today. That’s what we’ve been doing.”

Moye: “That was the best Stanford team I’ve ever played against. They came out hitting hard. We just couldn’t answer it, I guess.”

Linebacker Zack Follett: “We were riding so high on what we had going. Once we faced a little adversity, everything kind of tumbled down from there. Once again, I don’t think we had the leadership to bring it up. Me being a senior next year, I’m going to have to fill those shoes. That’s going to be my biggest thing in the offseason to work on so it doesn’t happen again.” 


Early second quarter

Not only has DeSean Jackson not got on the field yet, I don’t think he’s even put on his helmet. He may not be as available as initially anticipated.

Free safety Thomas Decoud hardly ever leaves the field, but he did for a couple plays earlier. That got little-used Brett Johnson a couple of reps.

Backup tight end Julian Arthur got his first career catch early in the second quarter.