Football: Training camp preview — Special teams

With the first training camp practice set for tomorrow evening, we’ve come to the final position preview. Stay tuned tomorrow evening for a full report off the first day.

WHAT WE KNOW: The Bears needs some serious improvement in this area (except at punter). Special teams coach Jeff Genyk and head coach Jeff Tedford need to take a long look at the placekicking situation during camp. Senior Giorgio Tavecchio has improved his kickoffs and looks to be a strong candidate to continue to handle those duties. But as we know, he’s been inconsistent on his field goals. With a potentially dominant defense and a lot of questions on offense, the Bears could find themselves in a lot of close games this season. That means there could be more than one game that comes down to a last-second field goal. Cal needs to find the guy who can win the game in those situations, whether it be Tavecchio or Vince D’Amato. The Bears are set with Ray Guy Award candidate Bryan Anger at punter, but what about returning punts? Jeremy Ross is gone, and he did a terrific job last season replacing Syd’Quan Thompson. Wide receiver Keenan Allen is a leading candidate to take over, but the coaching staff could be hesitant to increase his workload even more with their plans to involve him in the offense as much as possible. Allen also returned kickoffs last year and could be in line to do it again, but speedster Kaelin Clay is also a top candidate there.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: How Genyk is going to improve the coverage teams. Both kickoff coverage and punt coverage got worse from the 2009 season last year, and that’s supposedly what got former special teams coordinator Pete Alamar fired. The Bears have a lot of good young athletes that may be suited to play special teams this year before they start contributing on offense or defense.

IN SUMMATION: With the way the Bears are composed, special teams may be as important as it’s been in recent memory for Cal. Again, the Bears figure to play in a lot of low-scoring, close games, so field position and the kicking game will become paramount. Other than Anger, there are a lot of questions to answer during camp.


Football: Training camp preview — secondary

WHAT WE KNOW: At least three-fourths of the starting quartet looks pretty strong. The Bears look to be pretty entrenched at corner, where Marc Anthony and Steve Williams return. Anthony was a bit up-and-down in his first season as a starter but had a terrific spring and could be ready to emerge. Williams may be the team’s most talented defensive back. He started three games last season and the Bears are counting on him to continue to elevate his game. Cal also has to feel good about Sean Cattouse at safety. He should be one of the leaders of the defense after earning back his starting job during the second half of last season.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: Can the Bears find the next Chris Conte at the other safety spot, and how good are the incoming freshmen? D.J. Campbell enters training camp as the favorite to replace Conte, who came out of nowhere in his senior season to become an All-Pac-10 selection and get drafted in the third round by the Chicago Bears. Can Campbell make an impact anywhere near what Conte did? What about Josh Hill? He started at safety for the first half of last season before Cattouse replaced him. As of now, Hill, who sat out the spring to focus on academics, looks more slated to be a nickel back. Coach Jeff Tedford has said the team is thin at corner after the two starters. The only other returning player that figures to be in the mix there is Adrian Lee. That means incoming freshman Stefan McClure, Kameron Jackson and Joel Willis should get a chance to compete to be in the rotation during camp, something that Tedford hasn’t been shy about saying. McClure, the No. 18 defensive back in the country according to Athlon, could have the best chance of contributing. 

IN SUMMATION: While Cal’s linebacking corps may be the deepest unit on the field, the secondary might have the best starters. Cattouse has a chance to be one of the Pac-12’s top safeties this season, and while Anthony and Williams still have a lot to prove, both have demonstrated potential. But the Bears have to hope this group remains healthy because there is an unproven bunch on the sidelines backing them up.