Football: Training camp preview — receivers

WHAT WE KNOW: That the Bears have a good starting point with their returning starting wide receivers. Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen should be one of the best tandems in the Pac-12. Jones has been a consistent threat the past couple years, albeit not spectacular. He doesn’t have the kind of explosiveness that keeps opposing defensive coordinators up at night but has good hands and knows how to go up and get it. Allen clearly showed immense potential last season, although his best games were against subpar competition. Still, when he was healthy, he was very productive for a true freshman. With his first spring practice under his belt, Allen should be able to do even more this fall. Cal should feel very comfortable with its tight end depth, with starter Anthony Miller and backup Spencer Ladner returning. Jarrett Sparks, Jacob Wark and Spencer Hagan all provide depth. Ladner needs to prove he can stay healthy this fall. Sparks didn’t practice this spring because of an injury so his status will be monitored. And Hagan opened some eyes with a good spring after converting from wide receiver. He was supposed to have spent the summer bulking up his frame, so we’ll see how his body has changed this fall.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: What the WR depth will look like after Jones and Allen. Senior Michael Calvin had a pretty good spring, but all the reports last summer was how strong he looked during the offseason but he still didn’t produce. This is Calvin’s last chance; he doesn’t appear to have ever mentally recovered from his ACL injury in 2008. This training camp will be the most important three weeks of his career. Redshirt freshman Kaelin Clay showed promise during the spring and is Cal’s fastest player. As good as Jones and Allen are, they can’t stretch the field like Clay has the potential to do. How good is incoming freshman Maurice Harris (Allen’s cousin)? Since the depth behind the two starters is unsettled, he may have a chance to get in the rotation immediately. And what about Coleman Edmond? He may be in the mix as a kick returner, but can he produce as a receiver?

IN SUMMATION: Jeff Tedford says the wide receiver position group is one of the strongest on the team. There’s no question you can say that when it comes to the starters. But there are questions about depth. Maybe Clay will become the home run threat the Bears need. Maybe Calvin will finally become a consistent producer. Maybe Edmond can contribute. It sure would have been nice for Cal to have Tevin Carter still on the team entering this fall. He would have given the Bears another potential player who could develop. Again, Cal should feel good about the tight ends. But the Bears and their re-united offensive staff now have to find a way to get them more involved in the offense.


Football: Training camp preview — running backs

WHAT WE KNOW: That Isi Sofele is going to carry the ball. Jeff Tedford has made it clear that Sofele is the team’s No. 1 running back. Does that mean he can’t be challenged for the starting job? Not at all. The problem is Tedford has been so dissatisfied with the rest of his corps of tailbacks that he hasn’t really publicly entertained that possiblity. Tedford was surprisingly candid in expressing his disappointment with his tailback group during the spring, other than Sofele. Some may see that as a motivational ploy, but I think it’s sincere. Part of that likely is because of the other returning running backs inability to stay healthy. Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, Dasarte Yarnway and Trajuan Briggs are all coming off of injuries last season.

When camp starts next Saturday, all of their returning running backs will be on the field and healthy. That may make Tedford allow for more competition. DeBoskie-Johnson has reportedly worked hard this summer to shed weight and get into good shape.

Tedford has made it clear he is going to take a long look at the incoming running backs, especially freshman Brendan Bigelow. After recovering from two knee surgeries, Bigelow is expected to be on the field for the first day of practice. Fellow freshman Daniel Lasco and JC transfer C.J. Anderson will also get  a look. And what about walk-on Mike Manuel, who opened some eyes at the beginning of the spring before falling off late (partly due to injury)?

Clearly, there are a lot of tailbacks in camp, and all of them could legitimately compete for playing time.

The Bears are a known commodity at fullback with Eric Stevens and Will Kapp returning.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: How healthy is Bigelow? Even with his knee injuries, Bigelow was one of the most sought-after running backs in the country. He’s been compared to Jahvid Best, and we know that Best was able to play as a true freshman. If Bigelow is at full strength and Tedford is still down on the other running backs, he could make a quick ascent up the depth chart.

The other unknown is where the returning running backs stand with their health, and with their head coach. Can DeBoskie-Johnson prove to Tedford and running backs coach Ron Gould that he is a legitimate candidate to start? Is Yarnway or Briggs perceived as an every-down back at this point in his career?

Anderson is another intriguing study. Since he comes from the JC ranks, one might think he should contribute right away. But Anderson also could have been brought in simply to provide depth since the health of three returning running backs was unknown (don’t forget Anderson was a late commitment in the recruiting season).

IN SUMMATION: With the quarterback competition settled at the end of spring, tailback now becomes the most intriguing position battle of the fall. Even if Sofele is considered the starter at the beginning of camp, it’s clear he will share the load with a backup (not only because Sofele is smaller in stature but because that is Tedford and Gould’s usual preference). Bigelow arguably is the most interesting player in camp, except maybe for new quarterback Zach Maynard. If you believe Tedford, the Bears need him (or another newcomer) to contribute right away. But Cal also has to be careful with Bigelow because of his knee. He missed his entire senior season because of it. Of the returners, DeBoskie-Johnson has the best shot at playing time. Yarnway is recovering from a torn ACL and missed the spring and Briggs is only a redshirt freshman.


Football: Training camp preview — quarterback

This is the first of daily position-by-position training camp previews leading up to the first day of practice on Aug. 6. We begin with the quarterbacks.

WHAT WE KNOW: That junior Zach Maynard will be the starting quarterback. Coach Jeff Tedford named Maynard the No. 1 signal-caller shortly after the completion of spring practice. While he still has a long way to go and is still largely an unknown at this point, Maynard at the very least demonstrated a brand of quick feet and athleticism that hasn’t been seen behind center at Cal in quite some time. Maynard seemed to get more comfortable and confident as spring practice progressed, and working out all summer with his receivers — especially his brother, Keenan Allen — should only help his development. Maynard appears to have a decent enough arm to make all the throws necessary playing in a BCS conference.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: How Maynard will handle playing against top defenses. During his one season as the starter at Buffalo in 2009, Maynard didn’t see the types of defenses he will week in and week out navigating Cal’s schedule. That being said, Maynard had a terrific game against Big East opponent Pittsburgh, completing 24-for-35 passes for 400 yards and four touchdowns. But Maynard still threw 15 interceptions that season with 18 touchdowns. Maynard will have to be on the fast track during all of camp digesting everything Tedford and the offensive staff installs. He needs to be comfortable enough with his own offense so he can successfully deal with what the scout team will show him from opposing offenses once the Bears start preparing for their opponents, beginning with Fresno State.

We also don’t know who Maynard’s backup will be. Tedford expects a close battle between senior Brock Mansion and sophomore Allan Bridgford.

IN SUMMATION: There obviously won’t be much suspense to this position battle, except for the backup role. But it still obviously should be a closely-watched position as a new quarterback attempts to get comfortable with the offense and on the same page with his receivers, not to mention developing his role as a leader.


Basketball: Kreklow excited about Berkeley

I talked today with Cal’s newest player, sophomore guard Ricky Kreklow, and he’s excited about attending school and playing basketball in Berkeley.

After visiting Gonzaga in June and Cal a couple weeks ago, the Missouri transfer said, “I really saw some promising things. The program is really moving in the right direction and is going to take some big steps. I felt like it would be great to be a part of that.”

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Pac-12 Networks

Commissioner Larry Scott announced today the formation of the Pac-12 Networks, which will consist of one national network and six regional networks. There will be a network specifically in Northern California to serve Cal fans (and Stanford).

Under this new agreement, every football and men’s basketball game not shown on national television will be aired on one of the Pac-12 networks.