Spring practice for 2008 came to a close this morning under a beating sun as the Bears capped off their workouts with a three-hour session that included two long stints of situational scrimmaging.
After spending most of the spring practicing in the brisk early evening that typically saw media types and friends of the program trying to keep warm in heavy jackets, it was t-shirt and shorts weather Saturday as the Bears wear their full uniforms under a warm sun. As has been the case each Saturday during the spring, the Bears brought in an officiating crew to simulate game conditions and cut it loose with some spirited hitting and practicing.
Both the offense and defense did some good things. In general, the defense had the upper hand as the Bears get more and more comfortable with the 3-4 defense. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory still won’t say definitively that the Bears are switching their base to the 3-4, but he’s done everything but. When asked today if he was ready to acknowledge the 3-4 is now the team’s base, he just smiled and asked reporters “What did you guys see this spring?” But he basically admitted the change when he answered a question about other teams using the 3-4 and said, “I think we’re the only base” in the Pac-10.
Unlike earlier this spring when the coaching staff was unhappy that the defense gave up too many big plays in the situational competition, it was the defense that made more plays Saturday. Defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu, linebacker Zack Follett and safety Gary Doxy had sacks and the Bears registered a handful of other quarterback pressures. Follett and defensive linemen Rulon Davis and Mika Kane also came up with a handful of tackles of running backs behind the line of scrimmage.
Davis had an especially good day. He tackled running back Tracy Slocum behind the line on two different plays and also forced quarterback Kevin Riley to throw a pass away with pressure. Davis had an excellent spring, once again proving that if he can ever stay healthy, he could be a real force up front.
Backup defensive back Charles Amadi also had a big play when he forced freshman running back Covaughn DeBoskie to fumble right before crossing the goal line.
While the defense played well, Riley and the receiving corps finished up a good final week of practice that should make them feel good about themselves heading into the summer. Riley and the inexperienced receiving corps was inconsistent for most of the spring but started to click during the final three or four practices. Riley looked much sharper this past week and receivers Michael Calvin and Nyan Boateng became more consistent as well.
Calvin had an especially good week of practice. Saturday, he came up with a big play after catching a pass over the middle and then bouncing off a potential tackle by safety Marcus Ezeff. He also caught a short touchdown pass from Brock Mansion, and would have had another TD catch but the officials blew the whistle to give Follett a sack.
Coach Jeff Tedford agreed that Cal’s receivers came on during the final week of spring practice. “As you install plays all through the spring, there’s a lot on their mind,” he said. “When things started slowing down, they were just able to play. When they can just cut it loose and are sure about what they are doing, they can play unconscious, and that’s the key.”
The offense scored another touchdown when Mansion rolled right and dumped a pass to fullback Peter Geurts, who rumbled into the corner of the end zone.
When asked what he learned most this spring, Tedford said “I learned that I’m really happy with the team chemistry, the way we’re working together, the attitude of the team, the focus, the camaraderie — all very positive.”
Tedford and several players have raved about team chemistry this spring, something the coaching staff has placed an emphasis on since the end of last season. Clearly, chemistry and other intangibles were a problem last year, and Tedford and the staff want to make sure they improve in that area.
The Bears also appear to be improving in on-field leadership, something that was a glaring weakness last season. Davis and Worrell Williams have emerged as leaders this spring, especially Davis. He’s become one of the most recognizable voices on the field during practice and looks like he has the potential to become one of the inspirational leaders of the defense.
“He’s really taking charge and starting to get the guys going,” Gregory said. “He plays with a lot of energy. We talked to all the seniors about (leadership). He’s kind of taken to it.”
Tedford reiterated that Nate Longshore’s absence for most of the spring doesn’t have any effect on the quarterback competition. Tedford said Longshore played well before suffering a pulled pectoral muscle that sidelined him after the first week of practice, and that he was there every day taking mental reps. He said the decision still won’t come until near the end of fall camp.
“Nate was doing a great job the first week,” Tedford said. “He really showed well. Kevin did a nice job through spring. Brock got better as spring went along. We’re going to go through summer and we’re going to go through fall camp, and then see how it shakes down through fall camp.
“We’re in a good position. We have two very good quarterbacks and a young guy who has a lot of ability as well. We feel like we’re in good hands at quarterback.”
Gregory seems very impressed with the leadership skills that Williams exhibited throughout the spring.
“He did a really good job of really communicating on the field, being a vocal leader in terms of x’s and o’s, and getting guys going off the field.”
Converted tight end Tad Smith didn’t practice the last few sessions because of bone bruise in his knee. The coaching staff kind of held its breath with Smith because he has a history of ACL problems, but Tedford said it’s not serious. Smith was a revelation after switching from defensive end and could push Cameron Morrah for the starting job this fall.
Tedford also reiterated that tailback Jahvid Best will be 100 percent at the beginning of fall camp. Best looked sharp all spring during individual drills, displaying the same explosiveness and speed as last season.