April 12, 1999
Berkeley - Cal should have three of the four special teams areas rate with the best in the country as punter Nick Harris has a big leg and Deltha O'Neal is a threat every time he touches the ball on kickoff or punt returns.
The big question mark for the Bears is whether they can improve on the placekicking department and that continues to loom large for a team that missed eight field goals of 45 yards or shorter last season.
PUNTING: Nick Harris (6-3, 215) was absolutely superb over the last half of the '98 season, as he averaged 44.7 yards on 36 punts over the final five games. The first half of the season, he was asked to pooch punt on regular occasion, and while he managed to place nine inside opponents 5-yard-line and had 27 punts over the course of the season inside the 20, his average did suffer some. If he booms the ball like he did late last season, there's nobody better in college football and he should get serious All-America consideration.
PLACEKICKING: Senior Igancio Brache (6-0, 210) returns as the starter, but will need to show more consistency if he hopes to hold on to that job. He hit 11-of-19 field goal attempts and missed several extra points over the last two seasons, and he'll need to gain the coaching staff's confidence before they'll hand him another starting assignment.
Redshirt-freshmen Joshua Feldman (6-0, 215) and Mark-Christian Jensen (6-2, 180) will contend for playing time after unspectacular debut seasons, but the real important development could be the arrival of true-freshman Jeremy Hershey (6-0, 180) in the fall as he was rated by some as the second best placekicking prospect on the West Coast last year.
RETURN SPECIALISTS: Deltha O'Neal has been doing the same thing now for three straight seasons, causing opponent special teams coaches sleepless nights. He is a game-breaker in every sense of the word as he had five kickoff returns over 40 yards and seven punt returns over 20 yards last season.
He has good speed and fine quickness, but what sets him apart is his instincts in finding the seams and making the right cut at the right time. He ended last year ranked No. 7 nationally with a 28.4 kickoff return average and was No. 21 in the country in punt returns (11.8 ypr).
While he'll handle the great majority of returns, several candidates could provide help, including Chidi Iwuoma, LaShaun Ward, Phillip Pipersburg, or one of several incoming freshmen who have shown breakaway abilities in the prep ranks.