By Jonathan Okanes
Sunday, August 24th, 2008 at 10:05 pm in Training camp.
The Bears have spent just a little over one practice preparing for MIchigan State, so game week begins in earnest tomorrow (Cal had today off). Truth be told, it still felt like training camp up until yesterday.
Now that game week is finally here (finally!), it’s time to examine training camp and find out what we learned.
We ran a story in the paper right before training camp started, posing the top five questions that faced the Bears. Let’s look back and determine what answers we received:
1. Who will be the starting quarterback?: Obviously, we now know that Kevin Riley is the Bears’ starter. But we also know that Nate Longshore will play in the season-opener against Michigan State. The lingering question is just how fluid this situation will be. Coach Jeff Tedford has said the competition between the two is extremely close and that the position will continue to be evaluated. Does that mean Riley will be looking over his shoulder? It will be interesting to see how quickly Tedford decides to make a change if Riley were to be ineffective, or if we will see quarterback shuffling all season. My hunch is that Riley will play well and remain the starter.
2. Have the Bears cured whatever ailed them during the second half of last season? It’s easier to have enthusiasm and get along during training camp, when the pressures of a game aren’t lingering and the team hasn’t experienced any losses. We’ll find out about the character and chemistry of this team once adversity hits. Last year at this time, the players were all talking about what great chemistry the team had, and that didn’t prove to pan out. But it does seem like there is more enthusiasm and leadership on the field so far. Center Alex Mack has become much more vocal, and he’s a player that commands respect on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Zack Follett has improved as a leader — on the days he was injured during camp he was very involved standing next to defensive coordinator Bob Gregory trying to aid with instruction or signal plays in from the sideline. Defensive end Rulon Davis has been full of energy and praise for teammates.
3. Do the Bears have any productive receivers?: This is a question yet to be answered. About midway through camp, I was convinced Cal’s receivers would get it done. Michael Calvin and Nyan Boateng had emerged as the hands-down top two pass-catchers. But Boateng fell off during latter stages of camp and won’t start the opener. LaReylle Cunningham had an excellent camp, but it remains to be seen how productive he can be in a game. Sixth-year senior Sean Young is a great story. He has earned a starting role and has always had talent — injuries have just got the better of him over the yeares. If Boateng re-emerges, and true freshman Marvin Jones is as productive in a game as he is in practice, Cal will be all right.
4. Is sophomore Jahvid Best healthy enough to be an every-down back?: Best may not carry the ball 20 times a game, but the Bears hope to get the ball in his hands a lot. That could come running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield, lining up at receiver, returning kicks and returning punts. The Bears have been extremely cautious with Best during camp; especially recently when he’s been held out of several practices. But the team insists there are no lingering complications from his hip injury, and Tedford said Best should practice every day this week in a full capacity.
5. Will the defense improve in the 3-4 alignment?: It sure seems that it will. The schemes allows Cal’s fast, playmaking linebackers to get more involved all over the field, and that works to the Bears’ advantage. And the Bears’ are getting strong play from their defensive linemen — Tyson Alualu and Rulon Davis had tremendous camps.
Following up on the top five questions, I also posted here on the blog a list of further questions. Let’s go back and look at those:
–How will Jahvid Best respond to the first practice in pads?: Best doesn’t appear to have suffered any complications from getting hit, although he has been rested a lot during camp. But he’s taken his share of hits and popped up each time, and says he feels fine.
–How will Nyan Boateng practice?: Boateng’s camp got off to an excellent start. But a few dropped passes and moving back down on to the second team appeared to demoralize him a bit. Near the end of camp, his body language looked a little more like it did during the spring, which wasn’t always good. Boateng says he’s motivated that he’s not running with the first team anymore and it’s going to make him work harder. If that turns out to be true, it will be good news for Cal.
–Will Tad Smith continue his impressive development at tight end?: After an eye-opening spring, Smith was solid in the fall. He didn’t make as much of an impact as he did during the spring, but he he still is solidly the No. 2 tight end behind Cameron Morrah. Perhaps Smith was overshadowed a bit by the emergence of Anthony Miller, who is expected to play as a true freshman.
–Was Richard Fisher a flash in the pan?: The walk-on redshirt sophomore impressed in the spring and improbably worked his way up to the first team. He began camp as the starting left guard but couldn’t hold off highly regarded redshirt sophomore Chris Guarnero, who converted from center and moved into the starting lineup. Fisher still can back up at either guard or center, although offensive line coach Jim Michalczik says Guarnero still is the backup center to Alex Mack.
–Who will play nose guard in the new 3-4?: This competition got messy during camp because both Mika Kane and Derrick Hill suffered sprained ankles and missed time. Kane only in the last couple of practices has come back to do just individual drills. Considering Hill’s camp got off to a strong start before he was injured and he returned faster from the injury, he has to be considered the starting nose guard right now.
–junior Tyson Alualu or sophomore Cameron Jordan? Alualu had too good a camp and is too proven a player to yield his position to Jordan, although Jordan may be more physically gifted. Alualu simply is the Bears’ most reliable defensive lineman. Case closed.