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Updates

Well, tomorrow is the deadline for underclassmen to submit the paperwork for the NFL draft, and still nothing from DeSean Jackson. Does that mean he might actually be staying? The delay could mean two things: Perhaps Jackson’s departure to the NFL wasn’t as much of a slam dunk that many, including yours truly, believed. Maybe he’s taking more time to think about his decision because it truly is a tougher decision than some of us gave him credit for. Or, maybe Jackson, who loves the flair for the dramatic, just figured he’d make us all wait. Maybe since he kept hearing how much of a sure thing it was that he was going pro, he decided to make us think it’s not as much of a sure thing as we thought.

Either way, we’ll find out tomorrow. Word is Jackson isn’t going to make his decision today and likely will hold a press conference tomorrow at Cal to reveal his plans. Stay tuned! If I get any further information between now and then, I will of course pass it along.

In other wide receiver news, some of you may have seen it already, but Robert Jordan was one of the few bright spots for the West team in Saturday’s Hula Bowl. Jordan caught four passes for 84 yards and the team’s only touchdown in a 38-7 loss. I’d be surprised if Jordan isn’t drafted.

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All-Stars

I think I’ve posted most of this before, but here is a recap of what Cal players are participating in postseason All-Star games:

Hula Bowl (this Saturday, 3 p.m., Versus): WR Robert Jordan

East-West Shrine Game (Jan. 19, 4 p.m., ESPN2): OL Mike Gibson, TE Craig Stevens

Senior Bowl (Jan. 26, 1 p.m., NFL Network): RB Justin Forsett, WR Lavelle Hawkins, DB Thomas DeCoud

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Mack is back

Just received word that junior center Alex Mack definitely is coming back to Cal next season. There had been some talk that Mack may enter the NFL draft this year, but I never really thought that was a serious possibility. Centers typically are never drafted that high, no matter how good they are. Mack definitely is one of the best centers in the country, but he still likely wouldn’t have been a very high pick this year.

Returning to Cal is both good for Mack and good for the Bears. Obviously, he is Cal’s most skilled offensive lineman and has a complete understanding of the offense. So complete, in fact, that he could probably play guard or tackle, too. That wouldn’t be completely out of the realm of possibility, either. The Bears are losing left tackle Mike Gibson. Could the Bears move Mack to left tackle and insert highly regarded prospect Chris Guarnero at center? It’s something to consider. It would keep the Bears’ line strong, and playing tackle would greatly improve Mack’s draft stock.

No word yet on DeSean Jackson’s decision. I’ve been convinced all year that he is leaving, but you do have to wonder what is taking him so long to announce his decision. Could the delay mean there’s more of a chance that he’s coming back than you might think? Several other top underclassmen around the country have already declared. Why hasn’t DeSean? My gut tells me he’s still leaving, but the delay might give Cal fans hope.

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Road to recovery

I think Jeff Tedford took a big step in curing some of the ills from the season by hiring an offensive coordinator today. If you haven’t heard, Tedford hired Frank Cignetti today as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Cignetti has been around for awhile, most recently as quarterbacks coach with the 49ers.

The biggest implication with this move is that Tedford will no longer be calling the plays. It’s a responsibility that I think may have been too consuming for Tedford during the season, and that may have made it harder for him to figure out how to stop the bleeding when things started going wrong.

Tedford has always been well-regarded as an offensive tactician, and it’s something he obviously takes seriously. But is it possible that he spent so much time trying to figure out how to get a first down on 3rd-and-7 that he lost a little sight of the big picture? It’s at least worth considering.

I asked Tedford as much today and he didn’t think so. He said he hadn’t let his duties as a play caller make him neglect other aspects of the program. He said he tried to always have a finger on the pulse of the team.

I am not doubting Tedford tried his hardest to oversee every facet of the program. But it’s possible that his responsibilities as play caller may have diverted his focus from other things without him really realizing it.

After all, Cal’s biggest shortcomings during the second half of the season were “big picture” type things like turnovers, penalties, mistakes, etc. I think Tedford’s new role will allow him to be more of an overseer and allow him to set a better tone that will impact every aspect of the team.

While Tedford said he didn’t feel as though his role as play caller caused neglect elsewhere, he did say hiring an offensive coordinator would allow him to focus on other important duties.

“The main reason for all this realignment of the staff is so I can be more efficient with my head coaching duties — spend more time with a lot of things,” he said. “Right now as the play caller, I kind of get so involved with the offense. I want to be able to have a chance to do some things with the defensive players and special teams.”

As many of you may have heard, there were other coaching changes. Defensive backs coach R. Todd Littlejohn was fired and replaced by Al Simmons, who coached cornerbacks at Cal from 1998-2000. Wide receivers coach Dan Ferrigno is also out, with former quarterbacks coach Kevin Daft replacing him. Cignetti is also the quarterbacks coach.

Also, defensive line coach Ken Delgado has left the program for another job, and graduate assistant Tosh Lupoi was promoted to replace him.

Jim Michalczik, who was the offensive coordinator last season, will return to being solely an offensive line coach. In reality Michalczik’s duties won’t change all that much. He wasn’t calling the plays anyway, but helping Tedford out with game planning. Michalczik will still do that.

As far as the rumor that Tedford was considering hiring 49ers quarterback Trent Dilfer as offensive coordinator, he said “I don’t know where that came from.” Tedford did say that he is good friends with Dilfer and talks to him frequently, and talked to him to get his opinion about Cignetti.

Tedford said wide receiver DeSean Jackson and center Alex Mack are still going through the process to determine whether or not they should enter the NFL draft. They have until Jan. 15 to declare.

Tedford also said running back Jahvid Best likely won’t require surgery on his ailing hip. Best is off crutches now and still is waiting for some of his bruising to disappear to undergo some follow-up tests. Tedford seemed cautiously optimistic about Best’s prognosis.

That’s it for now. Thanks to all of you who posted your kind words about the season. I look forward to doing more and improving the coverage I can give you on this blog. I hope to have more coverage on some of the new coaches in the days to come.

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Immediate aftermath

Reflecting on the season is much different than I thought it would be after what transpired in the Armed Forces Bowl. Obviously, there are still a bunch of issues to be resolved following a disappointing season, but the incredible play of Kevin Riley as well as the adjustments made by defensive coordinator Bob Gregory suddenly put a new perspective on where the program stands.

There’s no question much went wrong during the year and Jeff Tedford has some major evaluating to do. But he also now knows, if nothing else, he will have some major competition at quarterback in the spring. To do what Riley did against Air Force _ to pick apart an opponent after not taking a snap in a game for almost three months _ was downright surreal. I was hesitant most of the season to jump on the Riley bandwagon because he was an unproven commodity, but it’s hard to imagine anyone could doubt he is at least ready to compete for the starting job in 2008.

Riley entered a game that was the climax of Cal’s season, on national television, and pivotal for setting the tone for the offseason. His team also was down 21-0 when he took the field. He proceeded to throw just three incomplete passes, one of which was a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Not counting the possession that ended with the Hail Mary, the Bears scored on each of the first six drives Riley led.

You can tell Cal’s players really like Riley, also. They were hooting and hollering while he accepted the MVP trophy on the field after the game, and while he did a live ESPN interview.

For the record, Nate Longshore didn’t do anything wrong yesterday. He only was on the field for two possessions and completed 5 of his 8 passes, and one incompletion on 4th-and-16 should have been caught by Sam DeSa. Speaking of DeSa, don’t forget that Longshore didn’t have the services of DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan. They were replaced by DeSa and LaReylle Cunningham for the first quarter.

Tedford was going to get Riley into the game no matter what, to get him some experience. When Riley immediately sparked the offense, it was apparent he was going to stay in the game.

Turning to the defense, Gregory deserves some kudos for solving Air Force’s option by switching to a 3-4 defense after falling behind. The Falcons were picking the Bears apart against their base defense, but the minute Gregory switched to three fast defensive linemen along four linebackers, the option slowed to a crawl. Not only did the alignment of Rulon Davis and Cameron Jordan on the ends with Derrick Hill in the middle give Cal some speed up front, the scheme also allowed Gregory to utilize the speed of his linebackers. The 3-4 basically gave the Bears their fastest defense possible, and Air Force couldn’t get away from them.

Even though Gregory wanted to go to the 3-4 to specifically defend the option, it may serve as a model for more. Looking at what Cal has coming back, the strength of the defense definitely is in the linebacking corps. Why not get as many of them on the field as you can? Gregory said he’s going to consider using the 3-4 more next season. It would give the Bears a chance to maximze the talents of Zack Follett, Anthony Felder, Worrell Williams, Michael Mohamed, Eddie Young and D.J. Holt.

Those are just some initial thoughts after a day of traveling back to the Bay Area. I will provide much more season-ending material in the days to come.

Just a quick thank you for all of your interest and feedback this season. It was a learning experience for me in my first year covering the team, and I’ve enjoyed it.

Jonathan