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NFL combine

Some of you may have seen this, but here is a preview of the NFL scouting combine that begins today in Indianapolis. ESPN ranks DeSean Jackson as the player under the most pressure:

http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/draft08/insider/columns/story?columnist=mcshay_todd&id=3252856&action=login&appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fnfl%2fdraft08%2finsider%2fcolumns%2fstory%3fcolumnist%3dmcshay_todd%26id%3d3252856

Also, in a chat on ESPN.com, draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said either Jackson or Lavelle Hawkins could be a possibility for the 49ers at the end of the first round.

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Loose ends

A couple of tidbits during this down time before spring practice heats up (less than a month away now — spring practice starts on March 17):

–Incoming freshman running back Covaughn DeBoskie is one of five finalists for the Watkins Memorial Trophy, given annually to an “exceptionally talented African-American male athlete who, by their example, help promote high academic standards and a commitment to community service.” The winner will be announced Saturday at a special ceremony in Los Angeles. The other finalists are Matthew Daniels of Atlanta, Brandon Moore of Trotwood, Ohio, Kenneth Page of Columbia, S.C. and DeVier Posey of Cinncinati.

DeBoskie, from Chandler, Arizona, already graduated from Hamilton High School and is enrolled in spring classes at Cal. He will be able to participate in spring practice.

–I’m sure many of you read the story I wrote for last Sunday’s paper, focusing on the personal effect last season had on Jeff Tedford. Some points were touched on that didn’t make it into the story. Such as:

Tedford said he felt the most pain for the players. But he also said he felt bad for the fans as well. “To know our fans got right there — No. 2 and 12 yards away from maybe being No. 1 or whatever — and then for us to hit some really hard times, I’m sure was frustrating to everybody,” he said.

Tedford said there were a couple of reasons he didn’t seek out advice during the slide in the second half of the season. He didn’t think anyone could really give him better persepctive because nobody else knew the program like he did, and even if he got some credible suggestions, he didn’t feel like he could implement anything in the middle of the season. “Maybe I’m hardheaded, but other people don’t know what our problems are,” Tedford said. “They don’t know what we’re dealing with. People think they know what the issues are sometimes, and only we really know what the issues are.  

“And even if I did call som eone, it’s hard to implement something in midseason. You don’t just switch gears all of the sudden in midseason. That’s something I was kind of wrestling with midway through the second half of the season. Do we press the panic button and start to change the way we practice all of the sudden? We’ve done things the way we’ve done them forever and we’ve been fairly successful with it. Why all of the sudden shold we change everything that we’re doing?”

Tedford said he may call a play “here or there,” but new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti will be the playcaller. Tedford said it will be similar to the 2005 season, when offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar called the plays but Tedford chimed in as well.

–It appears Jahvid Best, James Montgomery and Shane Vereen are a step ahead of Tracey Slocum in the battle to get reps at running back. Tedford said Slocum will still compete, but has to get in better shape. Slocum should get an opportunity to increase his stock during practice because Best is out and Montgomery will be limited coming off knee surgery.

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NFL combine

Cal has seven players that have been invited to the NFL combine. They are:

RB Justin Forsett

WR Lavelle Hawkins

WR DeSean Jackson

OL Mike Gibson

TE Craig Stevens

DB Thomas DeCoud

P Andrew Larson

The combine is Feb. 20-26 in Indianapolis.

On another note, Cal says ticket prices will not change for the 2008 season. Of course, with one more home game, the total price of season tickets will go up. Tickets are expected to go on sale to the general public around the beginning of spring practice, in the middle of March.

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Happenings

It’s been an interesting few days around the Cal football office, to say the least. Most notably, of course, is the saga surrounding Kevin Hart, a high school football player from Fernley, Nevada who claimed he was going to Cal on a football scholarship. I’m sure most of you know the story by now. If you haven’t heard the latest, Hart finally admitted that he made up the whole thing. Here is the link to an updated story about the situation”

http://sports.espn.go.com/ncaa/recruiting/football/news/story?id=3234302 

Because of NCAA rules, Cal isn’t allowed to say much about this situation. But I can tell you that coach Jeff Tedford wasn’t exactly thrilled about it. It was unwanted negative attention about his program, right on the eve of signing day. He did have the following to say during his signing day press conference Wednesday:

“We didn’t recruit him. There is really not much more to say. It was total news to me. It’s unfortunate that whole situation is what it is. I don’t even know the whole story. But we never had anything to do with it. I never talked to the kid one time.

“It just seems like this thing is getting so big and egos are getting so involved that people want to have an identity or whatever. To get to that magnitude that I read about is really kind of unfortunate.”

Now on to signing day: One of the bigger bits of news involved somebody who has already signed with the Bears — wide receiver Nyan Boateng. Tedford said Boateng has rejoined the team and will participate in spring practice. Boateng is currently going through strength and conditioning workouts with the team. For those who aren’t familiar, Boateng is a megatalented receiver who transferred to Cal from Florida but ran into legal trouble last summer. He was suspended for the fall, although he had to sit out the season anyway because of NCAA transfer rules. If Boateng actually gets it together and can legitimately compete for playing time, he could be a huge addition to the Bears, who are in desperate need of quality receivers after the departure of DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan.

Much of the discussion Wednesday was about the wide receivers Cal has signed. There are five of them, and the Bears need as a big a pool as possible to find some productivity. Marvin Jones and Jarrett Sparks may be the best candidates to make an immediate impact, along with junior college transfer Verran Tucker.

As it always does on signing day, Cal shows a video to the press featuring clips from every player in the recruiting class. A couple of players who stood out on film included the two offensive linemen the Bears have signed — Tyler Rigsbee and Dominic Galas. Both looked dominant, and Tedford compared Galas to current center Alex Mack. Galas was rated the 6th-best center in the country by ESPN.com.

Still, offensive line is an area where Cal has great depth, and traditionally it takes a while for offensive linemen to work their way into the playing rotation. But it looks as though the future is in good shape.

The two tight ends in the class — Spencer Ladner and Anthony Miller — also were impressive. Ladner even threw a touchdown pass on a double pass play. Miller looked to be the better receiver. One of them could become the backup to Cameron Morrah next season, although the Bears have a few other tight ends returning, such as Skylar Curran and Garry Graffort.

Running back Covaughn DeBoskie looks like an explosive back. Of course, he’s joining a deep pool of running backs so it may be harder for him to get on the field immediately. But DeBoskie does have one thing going for him — he graduated from high school early and is already enrolled in classes at Cal. That means he can participate in spring practice. And he may end up getting a lot of reps because Jahvid Best is sitting out the spring with his hip injury and James Montgomery might be limited as he recovers from minor knee surgery.

Quarterback Beau Sweeney also looked good on film, displaying a good arm and excellent mobility. But that’s another position where the Bears have a lot of talent in front of him, so his time should be down the road.

Defensive tackle Kendrick Payne also is already enrolled at Cal and will be available for the spring. Tedford compared Payne to Brandon Mebane.

A few other notes: Tedford said defensive back Brandon Jones has left the program because he “needed to make a change.” Jones was one of the Bears’ better special teams players last season and some players said he was the fastest guy on the team. With Thomas DeCoud and Brandon Hampton graduating, the Bears could use some defensive backs. Tedford said incoming freshman Marc Anthony has a chance to play as a true freshman.

Also, Tedford said defensive end Phillip Mbakogu has given up any thoughts of trying to come back. Mbakogu hasn’t played since the 2005 season because of knee problems.

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A quick Jahvid Best update

I talked to Jahvid Best a couple of days ago for a story that will be running in the next couple of days. Not surprisingly, he is sitting out the track season as he continues to rehab from his hip injury. Best seemed cautiously optimistic about his progress. He is currently rehabbing daily with the sports medicine staff, doing leg work to increase his strength and range of motion.

It doesn’t sound like he will participate in spring practice. Best is really focusing on just being completely healthy by the start of training camp in August. He sounded confident he will be ready to go by then. (“I should be good,” he said.)

Best admitted the injury scared him a bit because he didn’t think it would be serious but turned into “a big deal.” But he said now  ”it’s under control.”

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An unlikely happy ending

Some of you may have heard about this already, but backup wide receiver Alex Stroud was involved in an unlikely story. Stroud lost his 2006 Holiday Bowl ring and 2006 Pac-10 championship ring when his Berkeley apartment was broken into last summer. He had a lot of other items taken as well, but figured he would never see those rings again.

Then Wednesday, about eight months after the rings were swiped, Stroud received a phone call from an Oakland Police sargeant who said his rings had been found. They turned up when the police busted an operation in which stolen goods were being resold.

Stroud was supposed to go pick up the rings from the police on Friday.

“I had been telling myself that I wasn’t getting anything back,” Stroud said. “I figured they were long gone. I didn’t expect that. They were gone for eight months. I don’t know how many people had it.”

Stroud said at the time of the break-in of his apartment, the police told him it was highly unlikely he’d ever get the rings back. When he got the call Wednesday, it was just a sargeant on the phone leaving a message. All he said was to give him a call back.

“I thought, ‘Oh know. Did I do something wrong?’” Stroud said. “A sargeant is calling me. This isn’t good. Sure enough, he asked me if I had been a victim of a burglary or robbery and lost some rings. He said he had them right there.”

It was easy for the police to return the rings because Stroud’s name and number are inscribed on them.

Stroud said he really never wore the rings, maybe on special occassions. And now?

“I might wear them all the time now. I might even wear them in football games,” Stroud joked.”