By Jonathan Okanes
Tuesday, August 26th, 2008 at 10:37 pm in Training camp.
Hey, folks. Sorry about the lack of presence on the blog today, but this is a busy time for us college football writers. I spent most of the day working on some season-preview stories that will appear in the paper over the next couple of days, and of course attending the first Cal weekly press luncheon of the season. I know many of you have posted comments recently and I will respond to them as soon as possible.
You know the season is in full swing when the first luncheon comes around. Media coverage is light during training camp, with only a handful of print and internet writers attending practices and an occassional appearance from a television camera. The weekly luncheon is a chance for everyone to get into the act, and Tuesday’s first installment was a well-attended affair.
This one didn’t have the same level of excitement as last year’s season-opening luncheon to get folks ready for the Tennesee game. Obviously, there were major storylines about that game because of what had happened the year before, and the Bears started the season highly ranked. Jeff Tedford only spoke for 12 minutes today, substantially shorter than usual.
Tedford touched on a handful of topics, commenting further on his decision to choose Kevin Riley as the team’s starting quarterback, evaluating Michigan State tailback Javon Ringer, expressing his satisfaction with the receiving corps and reminiscing about the Bears’ big win over the Spartans in 2002, in just his third game at Cal.
Tedford praised Nate Longshore for how he’s handled losing out to Riley in the quarterback competition.
“Nate has been awesome,” he said. “Obviously, the first meeting I had with him, was very disappointing to him. But there is no other person on this team that is dedicated like Nate to team success. He still provides great leadership to Kevin and the offense.
“He has a great attitude. It’s really impressive to see a guy take that approach of not going into the tank and feeling sorry for himself but really, really dedicated to the success of this football team.
Tedford said it was tough having to inform Longshore of his decision.
“You never want to disappoint anybody,” Tedford said. “It’s hard when you disappoint somebody. It’s emotional for them. It’s not easy to do. But he understood what I was saying.”
The highlight of a conversation with linebacker Zack Follett came after he was asked about the big hit he laid on Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge last season, one that led to a fumble return for a touchdown by Worrell Williams.
“At Fan Appreciation Day, I think every person I saw wanted another hit like that,” Follett said. I told them I’d do my best.”
Williams talked a little about Ringer, the third-leading returning rusher in the country. Cal linebackers coach Kenwick Thompson compared Ringer to former Cal back Justin Forsett, and Williams said he can see the resemblance.
“He’s a great back,” Williams said. “He resembles Justin Forsett a little bit. I think he’s a little bigger, but he’s fast, he can make all the cuts and all the moves. He has the physical tools to get the job done. We have a huge task.”
Follett added: “We have experience going against a guy like Forsett (in practice). We’ve had great running backs here every year since I’ve been here. I don’t think it will be that big of a challenge, but you definitely have to respect him because he’s a great back.”
Riley hung around the luncheon for quite awhile talking with several different members of the media. He said it’s definitely different preparing for a game taking the first team reps.
“I’m focusing a lot more, watching more film,” he said. “You get more reps at practice, which is good because you get more looks.”
There’s a dose of sincerity about Jahvid Best which is refreshing considering all the talent he possesses. You get the feeling he isn’t totally comfortable with all the attention he is receiving this preseason, but he’ll politely answer every question thrown his way (“Yes, the hip is fine.” “Yes, I am fast.”). You get the feeling Best is going to get very used to all the attention.
Tuesday, he talked about how excited he is to return to the field after sitting out the final three games of last season and spring practice.
“I’m anxious, a little bit nervous,” he said. “I’m ready.”
Best was rested a lot during camp becasue the coaching staff wants to keep him fresh for the start of the season. Best wasn’t exactly thrilled with that approach but learned to deal with it. He found himself trying to sneak in reps when running backs coach Ron Gould wasn’t looking.
“It bothered me,” he said. “They’re looking out for my best interest, but I feel like I need the reps and I need the drills to make myself better, so I tried to get in there as much as possible.”
Best said he’s definitely going to be returning kicks and still could return punts as well. The Bears hope to get Best the ball in a variety of ways this season.
“I want to do all of it,” Best said. “If I had my choice, I’d still be playing gunner (on punt team). I’m just excited about it. Any way I can help the team, I’m ready to do it.”
All-American center Alex Mack closed down the luncheon with some pretty entertaining stuff. He said the offensive line’s goal is to not allow a sack all season. When asked if that was realistic, he said: “Probably not. Set the bar high and see where you can go. As an offensive line, that’s our job, to protect the quarterback. To me, it sounds kind of obvious.”
Mack’s on-field persona has changed substantially this fall. He’s become one of the more vocal players on the field, something he set out to do as the Bears tried to solve their leadership problems from a year ago.
“Last year I tried a little bit but I don’t think I did a good enough job,” he said. “I’m much more of a quiet guy. I’m growing into it.”
And when talking about the progress nose tackles Derrick Hill and Kendrick Payne have made, Mack said: “I hope I gave them a good look and they’ve got used to going against me. Hopefully I’m still a good center and not just a bunch of hype.”
Uh, yeah, he’s still pretty good.