The curtain falls

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.

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.

  • When does summer camp start?

    Can’t wait for camp. Sounds like the team made a lot of progress this spring. Excited to see what these guys are made of come fall. Keep the updates coming JO throughout the summer. Please!!!

  • HungryCalBears

    Thanks JO for your regular reports. Can you please comment on your observation of the new OC? Does it look like they’re installing a lot of new plays? How is his interaction with JT? Do you observe Tedford changing his role? How do the player respond to their new OC? Things like that. Thanks!

    Hunger for more.

  • Steve in Concord

    Glad to hear that things picked up during the final few sessions. Sure hope that Rulon Davis can stay healthy all year because it sounds like he could be a key defensive factor with his play and leadership role. The receiver play of Boateng and Calvin will be key to the passing offense. If they play well, good performances by Glover, Cunningham, and Ross will be gravy. Will it be running back by committee for at least the first few games of the year or will that be decided in summer/fall practice?

    How does it affect the development of the offense if the defense they practice against is usually in the 4-3 which the offense won’t see much of from opponents? Thanks again, J.O. for the excellent spring coverage.

  • George

    Fantastic reports, JO. Thank you!

  • Bob Johnson

    Thanks for the informative reviews. Have not heard much about Skylar Curran this spring. Seems likes he is built to compete also. Was he injured?

  • CalAlum97

    “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.”
    And this is going against one of the BEST offensive lines in NCAA football! Imagine what they’ll do against lesser O-lines?! Woo, I can’t wait to watch!

    Good to hear team chemistry is improving! I was surprised that it ever became an issue because I clearly remember an old California Alumni Association Magazine article that came out in Tedford’s 2nd year that described how it was an issue under Holmoe but that Tedford had came in and “cleaned house,” organized unity meetings, etc. and really encouraged the team to gel.
    Glad to see he’s back to shaking things up! Here’s the old CAA article: http://www.alumni.berkeley.edu/Alumni/Cal_Monthly/September_2004/Waking_up_the_Bears.asp


  • dball

    JO, what’s the team’s schedule between now and the start of the season? Do they continue to practice in pads, are there set dates for summer camp, etc?

    I wish the team’s site on calbears.com was updated with more current info. Its a little disappointing that there isn’t more official news to feed us Bears.

  • Jonathan Okanes

    Hungry, it’s hard to draw any grand conclusions of Frank Cignetti yet. One thing that strikes you is he’s definitely enthusiastic and energetic. And it seems as though he’s hit ground running. He’s worked very closely with the quarterbacks, something that Tedford has always done in the past. And while Tedford obviously is still involved, it’s apparent Cignetti doesn’t feel like he has to look over his shoulder while he works with the QBs and the offense.
    DBall, there are no practices in pads. They will be undergoing their usual offseason conditioning and workout routine.