Spring practice preview: special teams

This was a problem area for the Bears last season. Things went sour before the season even started when kicker Tom Schneider suffered a season-ending injury while warming up for the opener against Tennessee. His replacement, Jordan Kay, was inconsistent. He was just 7-for-14 on field goal attempts beyond 30 yards. He’ll need to improve on that mark this season.

Andrew Larson didn’t quite reach the level of his junior year, but Cal still has lost a potential NFL punter. The Bears feel comfortable inserting redshirt freshman Bryan Anger into the lineup. Anger was a prep All-American coming and Jeff Tedford has called him one of the best young punters in the country.

The Bears’ kick coverage was a problem last year, and it didn’t help when Schneider went down. Larson, who had a stronger leg than Kay, ended up handling kick duties. With Larson gone, the kick duties fall to Kay, Joe Robles, or perhaps walk-0n David Seawright, who reportedly has a strong leg.

After his electrifying punt return for a touchdown against Tennessee, DeSean Jackson didn’t make quite the impact some expected as a returner. Much of that is because opponents didn’t give him many chances, and at times Jackson looked like forced the issue on punts that weren’t very returnable. The Bears plan on giving Syd’Quan Thompson and Shane Vereen the first opportunity in replacing Jackson. It could be a nice way to start getting Vereen on the field.

James Montgomery likely would have been a top candidate to replace Lavelle Hawkins as the No. 1 kick returner. Now that he’s transferred out, Vereen could be a good candidate there as well. Jahvid Best handled part-time kick return duties last season, but now that he’s likely the No. 1 running back, the Bears may not want him back in that role.

One thing the Bears know they have going for them is long snapper Nick Sundberg, considered one of the best in the business. Sundberg is back for his senior season.

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.


    J.O.–Thanks for the heads-up on the Schneider situation. What a dumb-ass system the NCAA has in place to deal with regaining eligiblity due to injury. I thought there was a 25% rule (play in more than 1/4 of the games, not eligible for another year). Schneider never played a minute. The committee can’t make a decision more than three months after the season has ended? What a joke. What if it was a higher profile player? Lets say Danny Ainge had fractured his wrist in the Cal/Vols game last year and missed the rest of the season. Would they still not have decided HIS fate by this years spring practice. I seriously doubt it. I had heard that they were going to liberalize the rules last year “for the benefit of the student athlete.” What a crock that turned out to be.


    Sorry, meant Eric Ainge.

    Getting our kickoffs a few yards deeper (hopefully into the end zone) will help things but last year it seemed like every kick-off was being returned to the 45 yard line. Was that the fault of the players, the scheme, or the coaching?

  • CalBandGreat

    Steve, I may be wrong, but I think Schneider already used all his blue-shirt eligibility. Is that correct, Jon?

    With the exception of Best at gunner our kickoff coverage didn’t seem very effective (the UCLA game comes to mind). How are the Bears going to address this?

    Also, is Best seriously considered the #1 back? Sweet.

  • cal85

    I think that the poor kick coverage was as much a coaching error as it was a skill problem. With the kick-off moved back to the 30, you either had to have a superior kicker or utilize different strategies to keep teams off guard. After seeing that we didn’t have a kicker that could get it that additional five yards, the coaching staff needed to come up with different techniques to minimize the return, given the kick will only make it to the 10 yard line.

  • OCBear

    I’m really nervous about the kicking game next year. There is nothing worse than having the kicker line up for a 35 yarder knowing he has a 50% of making it. Especially when the game is on the line.

  • Jonathan Okanes

    Yes, Schneider already used his redshirt year. Best definitely is the No. 1 back.

  • soCALfan

    NCAA rules are arbitrary. Schneider was hurt, never playing a down. USC stud frosh linebacker Galippo was just granted another year, even though he played in 3 games. Schneider is a solid young man that should be treated fairly by NCAA and granted another year.

  • Juice

    What about Nick Demopoulos…is he in the running?