This will complete our spring reviews, with a little different format…
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Marvin Jones’ emergence, Mike Tepper’s return, linebacker versatility, secondary depth and Giorgio Tavecchio’s improvement.
We’ve talked about it a lot already, that if the Bears can find a productive passing game, it could be the final piece to the puzzle for a very special season. We all know they need more consistent quarterback play, but Cal also needs a playmaker or two to develop among its receiving corps. Jones appears to be one of those guys. He was the standout receiver of the spring and demonstrated the ability to make all kinds of different plays. His emergence was a very welcome sight for Cal’s coaches.
The Bears expected Tepper to be finally healthy, but to get confirmation during the spring was a boost. Tepper appears to be in good shape and has assumed the role of leader along the offensive line.
Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory used Mychal Kendricks and Devin Bishop both inside and outside during the spring, finally settling on Kendricks inside and Bishop outside. Kendricks appears to have his spot locked down. Bishop could see competition in the fall with the arrival of JC transfer Ryan Davis. Still, even if Davis were to win that spot, Gregory knows he can get Bishop on the field both inside and outside, if need be.
With the improvement of safety Sean Cattouse and cornerbacks Bryant Nnabufie, Josh Hill and Marc Anthony, the Bears had to walk away from spring practice feeling better about the secondary than any other position on the field (except maybe running back). Syd’Quan Thompson and Darian Hagan likely will still be the starting corners, Marcus Ezeff will be one starting safety and either Cattouse or Brett Johnson will be the other safety. But Gregory has all kinds of options in case of injury or when using other packages.
Tavecchio has really improved his leg strength and accuracy and should be the frontrunner at kicker in the fall.
WHAT WENT WRONG: No separation at quarterback, passing game questions, uncertainty at guard and academic casualties.
Even though Jeff Tedford said the quarterback competition would linger on into the fall, he likely hoped somebody began to run away with the spot. That didn’t happen. Kevin Riley was the most consistent performer and still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but he wasn’t leaps and bounds better than Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney.
The passing game, frankly, still looks a lot like last year. Just not a whole lot of punch. Jones’ improvement helps, but Nyan Boateng, Jeremy Ross and others didn’t make a whole bunch of plays in the spring.
Of course, having Verran Tucker may have helped, but he had to miss the spring to concentrate on academics. Cornerback Darian Hagan only practiced once a week for the same reason. The loss of Hagan wasn’t as significant as Tucker in terms of development. The Bears need improvement from their wide receivers as much as any position on the field. But Tucker wasn’t on the field.
While Chris Guarnero appears like a good fit to replace Alex Mack at center and Tepper and Mitchell Schwartz are pretty locked in at tackle, there’s going to be a lot of competition at guard. Mark Boskovich, Chet Teofilo, Matt Summers-Gavin, Justin Cheadle and Donovan Edwards, among others, should all get looks to compete in the fall.
WHERE WE STAND: Where we stand right now seems a lot like where we stood at the end of last season. The Bears have a dominant defense and running attack but a questionable passing game.
MOVING FORWARD: The improvement of Kevin Riley and the wide receivers will be the key to Cal’s 2009 season. If they become a potent force, the Bears have a legitimate shot to win the Pac-10. If they don’t, 2009 could look a lot like 2009.