Injured players who are to avoid contact always wear red jersies at practice. As I settled into my bleacher at Memorial Stadium today for the first day of spring practice, I couldn’t help but notice a familiar face wearing a red jersey during drills with the running backs.
It was none other than Jahvid Best, who was supposed to sit out the entire spring as he recovers from his hip injury. Turns out Best is well enough to participate in individual drills, a welcome sight for a team that recently lost fellow tailback James Montgomery, who is transferring.
That was the biggest news on the first day of spring drills. The quarterback competition got off to a quiet start as the Bears focused on the running game during team work. Best isn’t expected to get any reps this spring, but the fact that he is practicing at all can’t help but get Cal fans excited.
“I was just told to come out here and go as hard as I can and see how my hip responds,” Best said after practice. After today, I feel pretty good. The only thing I felt is that I’m a little bit out of shape from not doing too much in a long time. But I felt fine.”
Best may say he’s out of shape, but he looked like the blur he usually is during individual drills. The speed was there, and I saw him cut definitively a few times and it looked like the Best of last season.
“They basically just wanted to see how it responds if I act normal, and then go from there to see how it plays out,” Best said.
Coach Jeff Tedford said there are no plans for him to do anything but individual drills during the spring. But it will give the Bears a great dose of comfort if Best tests everything out physically during the next month and he comes out of it unscathed.
Best said today was the hardest he’s gone on the hip yet, and he felt no restrictions.
Some other significant news Monday was that cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson has been suspended for breaking a team rule. Tedford wouldn’t say how long Thompson would be out, other than to say “he’ll be out until I deem he can come back.” That has to be a disappointment for Tedford and defensive coordinator Bob Gregory, who has said he expects Thompson to become a team leader this season.
Tedford also spoke more about the departure of Montgomery and provided some insight. Although he said he was surprised Montgomery left the program, he did say “things weren’t going well for him.” He not only was referring to the fact that Montgomery was coming off knee surgery, but that he had “been in the doghouse a little bit.” Tedford said Montgomery was late to a couple of workouts. ”
Tedford also said he wasn’t aware Montgomery wasn’t happy in Berkeley.
“That was the first I ever heard of that,” he said. “We wish him well. He’s a good kid.”
When it was pointed out that the team probably has the depth to weather Montgomery’s departure, Tedford said: “We have quality depth there. I don’t know if that played into his decision or not. You hate to see that. You wish he would have given himself a chance to go through spring and see where he ended up. I thought it was a little premature.”
As far as the quarterbacks go, Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley took most of the reps while a few were sprinkled in for Brock Mansion. Each quarterback had his share of good throws and bad throws, but again, neither had much of a chance to throw at all Monday. Tedford’s only comment on the quarterbacks was “I was really happy with everybody. I thought they handled the huddle really well and did a nice job.”
As Tedford said would happen, Longshore took the first team reps and Riley ran with the twos.
The Bears did a lot of mixing and matching during team drills so the difference between first and second team was marginal at times. But for one day it appears, not surprisingly, Michael Calvin and Jeremy Ross are the first team wide recievers, with LaReylle Cunningham and Drew Glover on the second team. Cunningham is the team’s most experienced receiver, but is also coming off knee surgery.
Wide receiver Nyan Boateng, the transfer from Florida who was suspended from all team activities last fall as he dealt with some legal problems, got minimal reps.
Running back Shane Vereen also was limited because of a nagging hamstring problem. That meant Tracy Slocum and incoming freshman Covaughn DeBoskie got all the reps.
On defense, the Bears went exclusively with the 3-4 look Monday, but Gregory said not to draw any grand conclusions from that. While admitting again that it’s something the team is looking to do more of, he said spring practice is the time to try new things, so they decided Monday was a good time to just go with it.
“We started with it today because we thought it was a good place to start, but we’ve always had both in the package,” Gregory said. “If you’re going to put new stuff in, then you want to look at it now and not wait.”
Defensive tackle Derrick Hill worked out with the second team as he also recovers from knee surgery. The Bears used Rulon Davis and Tyson Alualu on the ends with Mika Kane in the middle. But again, there was a lot of subbing going on so take position groups with a grain of salt.
Just a reminder: All practices are closed to the public.