Spring practice preview: quarterbacks

This is the first installment of a series of previews I will be conducting over the next week, leading up to the beginning of spring practice. Spring practice begins next Monday.

Each day, I will examine a different position. Today, we start off with what surely will be the most closely followed area of the team — quarterback.

Coach Jeff Tedford has said all positions are open heading into spring. That’s probably not entirely true. Center Alex Mack probably has nothing to worry about, nor does cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson.

But Tedford has not been shy about the fact that the quarterback position is no exception, despite the fact incumbent Nate Longshore is a two-year starter and will be a senior in 2008.

Nobody would question, including Longshore himself, that 2007 was a disappointment. Even before suffering an ankle injury that triggered a real tailspin to the rest of his season, Longshore wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire as the Bears got off to a 5-0 start. He was proficiently managing the team and letting running back Justin Forsett carry much of the workload for the offense.

Certainly, the ankle injury suffered against Oregon threw Longshore off. Already not a mobile quarterback, he was even more limited doing things like stepping up in the pocket or eluding the rush. Longshore was victimized by untimely interceptions, especially late in games as the Bears finished the regular season losing six of their final seven games.

There’s no question Longshore never was able to capture the effectiveness of the 2006 season, when he became just the second Cal quarterback ever to throw for over 3,000 yards in a season. I’ve written before that I don’t believe Longshore was quite as bad as some of his harshest critics believe, and I still believe that. Some of his apparent mistakes weren’t always his fault. Some of his interceptions were the fault of receivers running the wrong routes or making the wrong reads. But neither Longshore or Tedford would ever say this publicly because it sounds like excuse-making or calls out another member of the team.

That being said, it’s clear Longshore was nowhere near the quarterback he was in 2006. He enters the spring in a much different position as last spring. At this time last year, he was the only quarterback in the program who had ever played in a game and was the hands-down starting quarterback, no questions asked. This year, Longshore finds himself in a fight for his spot, not to mention his future. He entered last year ranked as the top junior quarterback in the nation by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. By the end of the year, he was nowhere to be found.

Now, Longshore finds himself being pushed by Kevin Riley, and probably by a lesser extent, Brock Mansion. This could be the best thing that ever happened to Longshore. By nature, Longshore is the laid-back type and didn’t have anybody pushing him last spring or fall. In 2006, he found himself in a heated three-way battle with Joe Ayoob and Steve Levy for the starting job and came out on top. Perhaps Riley’s breathing down his neck will give Longshore the kick in the pants he needs to recapture his performance of 2006.

Actually, Riley may not be breathing down his neck. He may be standing side-by-side with Longshore. Riley’s amazing performance in the Armed Forces Bowl left Cal fans salivating for more, and the way his teammates reacted hinted that he could be in a good position going into next season.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things, though. Riley’s performance came against a subpar defense, especially in the secondary. And it’s not as though Longshore was playing poorly before he came out of the game. In fact, Longshore had played quite well in the first quarter and was victimized by a crucial dropped pass by Sam DeSa. Longshore also didn’t have the services of starting wide receivers DeSean Jackson or Robert Jordan, who were suspended for the first quarter. Jackson and Jordan entered the game at the same time as Riley.

Could Longshore have done the same thing as Riley had he been left in the game? It’s hard to imagine anyone matching Riley’s efficiency in that game. The Bears scored touchdowns on six straight possessions after Riley entered the game (not including the short drive at the end of the first half that ended with a Hail Mary pass). Plus, Riley did a couple of things Longshore simply hasn’t demonstrated he can do — eluding pressure and throwing on the run on his first touchdown pass to Jackson, and scrambling for a crucial first down.

Obviously, Longshore has a much larger body of work, and with a larger sample size, more shortcomings can be exposed. We’ve only seen Riley play in two games, and have to be impressed with what we saw when you factor in his inexperience. Indeed, perhaps the most impressive thing about Riley’s performance in the Armed Forces Bowl is that he was that efficient despite not taking a snap in a game for almost three months.

So what will happen this spring? Well, Tedford likely won’t make any final decisions until the fall, but certainly one of the candidates could start separating himself or get some momentum heading into fall camp. If Longshore can’t get back to the level of 2006, he could be in trouble.

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.

  • Dan

    Great to have a bunch of position related features to look forward pre-Spring practice. Tedford, in comments to media and boosters, has been staunchly defending Longshore’s performance, saying the culprit was often breakdowns in other areas of the offense (receivers taking 6 step routes instead of 4 step routes, etc.). If that’s the case – then who is ultimately responsible when an offense with 3 NFL WR’s, 1 NFL TE, 1 NFL TB and an O-line that doesn’t give up sacks doesn’t produce over a 6 game period!?! I think fans just want to see an acknowledgment of responsibility!

  • cal85

    At the end of the season, we were hoping to hear more about the dismanteling of the team chemistry. I don’t recall reading anything about that. I think we all agree that talent wasn’t the issue. This level won’t be the same this year, but better or worse, the chemistry will make or break this year. Cutting to the chase, did Nate lose the confidence of the team, did the WRs go off on an island, something else, or all of the above?

    Go Bears!

  • FedUpBear

    >>Riley’s performance came against a subpar defense<< Really? So Longshore faced a *better* defense vs Stanford? Washington? Arizona? Washington State? Seems to me, the ONLY reason that any of those defenses looked good AT ALL was because Longshore *made* them look good. And how about NL’s performance against AF? The AF D sure looked pretty good at the time. Riley is the QB of the future IF he gets the chance.

  • bearfan98

    No matter how much analysis one does, the team lost nearly all of its games during the latter half of the season, especially to lowly stanfurd.

    In the end, the bucks stops with the leaders of the team and that is Longshore and the Tedford. Someone should take reponsibility and either remarkably improve or step out of the way for someone else.

    You hint at the possibly that Longshore may not have enough motivation to work harder. If that is the case, Tedford is more at fault for sticking with a QB who is under-performing as well as not working hard enough.

  • Darryl

    This is easy. In terms of NFL potential, Riley WILL be a first round pick if he comes anywhere near his potential. He’s got physical tools than Longshore: better legs, quicker release, more accurate and most importantly a much stronger throwing arm. I like Nate Longshore and I think he’s an O.k player, but I think that Riley’s got a chance to be great. Besides, make all the excuses you want, but when you look at Longshore’s TD/INT ratio in the fourth quarter of games, you’d have to be George W. Bush not to know something is up.

  • dball

    What I heard from one of the WRs is that the team lost confidence in NL…and Tedford’s decision to keep starting him was based on the fact that NL kept “looking good in practice”. That’s just one voice, and I’m not sure that makes a consensus.

    Tedford’s preseason interviews/comments though, do give me some hope that he’s capable of righting the ship, and there seems to be a lot of youth and vigor filling the gaps left by the departing seniors…that youth doesn’t have any of the institutional memory (i.e. cultural and lockeroom issues) that plagued the team last season.

  • MattC

    Please explain to me how going 5/8 for 36 yards is “playing quite well”. Saying that DeSa screwed Longshore over on the 4th down play is silly – good QBs don’t need to rely on 4th downs to move the ball.

    You can point to the fact that we were running the ball a lot in the first quarter, but WHY were we doing that? Could it possibly have anything to do with the fact our QB was gimpy and not playing well? Could AF have been doing a better job at playing the run because it knew it was coming and weren’t worried about Longshore?

  • CalBearPete

    I have heard Steve Young discuss something he referred to as the “it” factor that the successful quarterbacks have. I believe, as probably many Cal fans, that Kevin Riley has that special “winner” quality that you need from the quarterback position. Quarterbacks need to lead, have no fear when under pressure, refuse to lose. The rest of the 10 guys on the offence looks at the quarterback for that “winner” look before each play. Nate is a good quarterback but I think Kevin can ba a great quarterback.

  • Steve in Concord

    Ideally, Riley will start this year and have two excellent years at Cal before leaving early for the NFL draft and handing the ball off to Mansion or Sweeney. In his short two games worth of experience, Riley has demonstrated that he can do the following things: throw both long an short with accuracy, throw while on the run, “thread the needle” with zip on the ball, put the ball where the receiver WILL BE, escape the rush, and gain yards running when necessary. Those abilities make him a definite NFL prospect, even at this stage of his career. Question for Jonathon: Will Riley work out at Cal’s Pro Day? If so, can you relay the pro scouts opinions of his performance/skills as well of those of the other Cal players who participate? JO: You set a high standard with your coverage of the team last year, we’re all looking forward to more of the same this year.

  • BearsLair72

    Immobile QB’s have gone the way of the 8 track tape, buggy whips, and the Edsel. Think Jeff George as your prototypical QB in that mold. Nate Longshore is, and always will be, immobile in the pocket. If you really need another example, think back to Riley’s first TD in the AFB when he eluded the rush and completed a TD pass. Nate would have folded up like a sack of beans on that play. To put it as mildly as possible, Nate is a “stiff” and Riley is a “keeper”. If JT can’t figure that one out, then I for one will not renew my season tickets and watcha nother 6-6 season….thank you very much!

    PS: Maybe Walsh should have kept Steve “iceburg” Deburg and traded Joe Montana too!

  • Peter M.

    I appreciate your comments but you overlook the fact that Riley had a good game against OSU (which has one of the best defenses in the PAC-10) in his first appearance ever leading the Bears. Yes there were rookie mistakes like the last play when he failed to throw the ball out of bounds. But overall it was a good rookie performance against a strong defensive team.

  • Jan K. Oski

    First of all, I want to see Riley behind Big Mack on August 30th for the reasons already clearly stated by J.O. and others. However, if Nate is chosen by Tedford, I’ll still be at Memorial Stadium for my 20th season. I’ve witnessed plenty of pathetic play in that time, and the Tedford era doesn’t have many comparable seasons in that time. So, I say to you fair weather fans, ado!

    On the reply about pocket passers being a thing of past. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are all pocket QBs, and guess what, they all have Super Bowl rings! Go figure! But, they all look bad when they are hampered with an injury, so your point is somewhat legit. Still, these 3 QBs have an ability similar to Nate, and they can excel. I agree with J.O.’s insightfulness that Nate could have a huge year with Kevin by his side. It will be an exciting spring to read about.

    Thanks, J.O.!


  • RollOnBears

    i really hope that cignetti/tedford realize the pacten cranked up across the board on the defensive side. thank goodness the stanford defensive coordinator left, because he demolished/embarrased cal by blitzing nate all day long last year.

    fans can debate the brains/arm/leadership of longshore and riley all day, but one thing that would not be questioned is that riley has much more escapability. in 2 games riley has slipped more tackles than nate has in 2 years.

    qb escapability will be a huge difference between the elite teams and the also-rans in what will be a blitz-happy pacten.

  • If a healthy Kevin Riley is not named the starter in ’08; I will know at that point, I am truly in the Twilight Zone. It is such an easy call to make, even a crooked, lying gangster like Hillary Clinton would have to admit it.

  • morencsarecoming

    Any of you want to predict where the preseason Top 25 poll will place you? I saw the first one out the other day didn’t have you rated.

  • morencsarecoming

    I apologize if this is the wrong forum but please tell me my cousin who went to Stanford is wrong. He said this year so far Stanford swept its crosstown rival in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball (3 games). I don’t follow basketball and don’t know the answer.

  • Dio

    I have an idea lets go to Trojan forums and talk about how good our school is! YES! What an amazing idea I just had! How much cooler am i now, guys? Guys??

  • dball

    Sorry Dio, I would have replied sooner but I was already hanging out on the U$C forum.

  • CalAlum97

    Actually guys, you’d have to hang out at the UC Davis web site, as that’s where Amy (moroniscoming) goes to school. Of course that’s why she hates Cal so much, she got denied from our fine institution at least twice, so goes the public knowledge. But that fact doesn’t stop Amy from claiming $C. Why? Who knows, only one as pyscho as she could provide insight…

    “Burkalee”…tee-hee, I’m clever and funny!

  • CalAlum97

    morencsarecoming Says:
    I apologize if this is the wrong forum but please tell me my cousin who went to Stanford is wrong. He said…

    And I apologize if this sounds impolite, but you’re a retarded pyscho.

  • Dixon Bear

    Cal fans,

    Quick! Think of any highlight from Nate in 2 years.

    Me neither.

    Go Bears!

  • morestupidcommentsarecoming does not, nor ever did go to any UC school. I’d be shocked if he/she even attends a JC. This pathetic blob still lives with mommy, and has proven to be the most pitiful little girl on the Scout network.

  • waterbear

    has there ever been a timely interception??

  • Survivor

    Easy. Kneeling down on the last play of the game in Oregon last year.

    “Dixon Bear Says:
    March 11th, 2008 at 9:03 pm
    Cal fans,

    Quick! Think of any highlight from Nate in 2 years.

    Me neither.

    Go Bears!”

  • Morencsarecoming

    DBear Says:
    March 11th, 2008 at 9:56 pm
    morestupidcommentsarecoming does not, nor ever did go to any UC school. I’d be shocked if he/she even attends a JC. This pathetic blob still lives with mommy, and has proven to be the most pitiful little girl on the Scout network.


    My dad was one of the earliest developers of El Dorado Hills and my uncle lives in Serrano. So I ended up going to Folsom JC for a semester. It is still better than Cal State Berkley

  • “It is still better than Cal State Berkley.”

    I can’t believe you don’t know how to spell with that awesome JC education under your belt. [Or should I say girdle?] It’s no surprise you’re such a pathetic hater. By the way, it’s ‘The University of California at Berkeley’, you nutless wonder.

    Thank you for proving my point, AMY.

  • Why are you on this site in the first place, AMY? You supposedly hate all things Cal, and yet you spend your pitiful existence constantly posting your third-grade level insults at the Bears; until you finally get kicked off every site you visit.

    Don’t you ever get tired of yourself?