March 19, 2006
2006 SPRING OUTLOOK & NOTES
To the typical observer of college football, Jeff Tedford faced three different challenges when he inherited a struggling University of California football program in 2002.
Stage one would be the program flip.
Re-directing the fortunes of California from the pitfalls of the 1-10 team Tedford inherited into a winning program looked to be a process that could take lots and lots of energy, and possibly years and years to accomplish.
Mission accomplished in a matter of months. Tedford's first group of Golden Bears opened with three straight wins on its way to a 7-5 record.
Stage two would be the elusive climb into the polls and up the Pacific-10 Conference standings.
Another mission accomplished.
Four games into the 2002 season, the Bears were in the polls for the first time under Tedford and they have climbed all the way into the top five during his tenure with numerous weeks in the top 10. Over the last two seasons, California has been a fixture in the polls, ending each of the last two seasons as a member of the top 25.
The final challenge would be consistency. Under Tedford, California has become a consistent winner. The record shows four straight winning seasons, three straight bowl games, and at least eight wins in each of the last three campaigns.
Many of the milestones Tedford's teams have reached are feats that last occurred during the glory days of Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf in the 1950s.
Those accomplishments should satisfy the expectations and requests of a typical college football fan.
However, inside California Memorial Stadium, the mission continues. The non-stop drive to improve, reach new heights, and grow into an even greater national presence are far from being fulfilled, despite the bucket-load of accomplishments already attained by the Golden Bears under Tedford.
California enters the spring of 2006 with a habit of winning, a consistent presence in the polls and soaring respect. Offering evidence of that is the 2005 season. Despite returning the fewest number of starters in the Pac-10 Conference last season, the Bears were picked for second in the league and climbed as high as No. 9 in the Associated Press poll in what, on paper, was a rebuilding season. Injuries and a couple of nail-biting losses were a factor in an 8-4 season.
It was the kind of season that would have been wildly celebrated just a couple of years earlier. It was a season that provided numerous accomplishments considering the youth and injuries of the 2005 team.
It was the kind of season that might have just set the table for bigger things in 2006.
As Cal enters its 2006 spring practices, there is a buzz around the program that has become a steady hum. Less than two years removed from a run at the national championship and a run at the Rose Bowl, Cal's 53 returning lettermen and 18 returning starters have fans once again eagerly awaiting the opening kickoff with dreams of big things.
"We're a different team this season," Tedford said. "We are a year older after being very young last season. But we need to continue to build team chemistry and gain knowledge and experience. There is a lot of potential in a lot of places."
It was a year of transition for the Cal Bears in 2005. Gone was a 2,000-yard rusher, gone was a first-round draft pick at quarterback and gone was the school's all-time leading receiver.
How did the Golden Bears handle the losses -- by ranking ninth nationally in rushing with 235 yards per game and 26th in America in total offense, despite starting three different quarterbacks, and a virtually completely rebuilt receiving corps.
Things will be different this fall. For starters, Cal returns two of the top seven rushers in the Pac-10 in Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, a handful of big-play receivers that are still very young, an accomplished two-deep at tight end and all three of the quarterbacks who got starting assignments a year ago.
Up front, the Bears must replace some of the foundation with the loss of All-Pac-10 players Ryan O'Callaghan (tackle) and Marvin Philip (center). But there is talent and still some experience for a Cal offensive line that has cleared the way for some of the nation's most exciting offenses since Tedford arrived.
If possible, the Bears will have even more offensive firepower with the arrival of former Northwestern offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar.
"With the addition of Coach Dunbar, we will work to meld the two offensive styles together to see what components of the spread offense we will want to incorporate into our current offense," Tedford said.
There is little doubt that the Bears coaching staff will spend lots of time looking at scenarios in the offensive front, the only place on the offensive side of the field where the Bears suffered major losses.
"We will be looking for some of our young guys to gain some experience there and give them a chance to gel," the head coach said. "We thought before Mike Tepper's injury that he could have been a factor for us, and Mark Gray is a guy we brought in for the spring who is a smart and competitive player."
The Bears lost three solid starters up front, including the headliners in O'Callaghan and Philip. Also gone is the steady Aaron Merz, who started 10 games and super sub Jonathan Murphy, who had starts at both tackle spots last season.
Senior Scott Smith will hold down the fort at one tackle spot. The senior has spent part of his time in Berkeley as a center. As a tackle, he took over starting duties last season when Andrew Cameron was lost to injury. Smith is an intelligent player and helped Cal through its injury woes by starting in eight games.
Also on the depth chart this spring is redshirt freshman Kevin Bemoll. One of the most heavily recruited players out of California as a senior, the Mission Viejo product will get his first real look this spring.
Across the way at the other tackle slot, there are a couple of early candidates to replace O'Callaghan, the winner of the 2005 Morris Trophy, which is presented annually to the Pac-10's best offensive lineman. The early leader is Tepper. He would have likely been a contributor in 2005 had he not been sidelined by a non-football injury.
The early leader is Tepper. He would have likely been a contributor in 2005 had he not been sidelined by a non-football injury. He is an athletic player who spent much of his youth on the soccer field which has resulted in excellent footwork.
Tepper enters the spring as a starter with two other young players, sophomore Chet Teofilo and redshirt freshman Matt Laird, behind him on the pre-spring depth chart. Teofilo saw action on the defensive line last season after coming back from injury. Laird is another athletic lineman who spent most of his prep career at tight end.
Like the tackle position, Cal returns a starter and must replace a starter. The returning player is senior Erik Robertson. He held down the left guard slot all of last season and is a strong upperclassman. If needed, he could also move inside and help out at center. Robertson will be one of Cal's most experienced offensive linemen entering the 2006 season.
Robertson's early backup is sophomore Jeff Fritch. The Torrance native was a standout defensive lineman in high school who brings good size to the position and will get his first hard look by the coaching staff this spring.
On the other side of the ball, the early starter is the hard-working Brian De La Puente. He enters his junior season as a strong candidate for starting honors after spending two seasons working behind the scenes.
"Brian is a former walkon who earned a scholarship last year," Tedford said. "He is a hard worker."
Noris Malele will also be a candidate at guard. He saw spot duty behind the 2005 veterans as a redshirt freshman and was the former offensive scout team player of the year for the Bears.
Cal must replace a two-time Rimington Award finalist at center where Marvin Philip has departed. Sophomore Alex Mack is a talented candidate to fill the void. He helped spell Philip in 2005 as the senior fought through a variety of injuries. In 2006, the sophomore will get his chance to take the job on a full-time basis.
Newcomer Gray arrived in Berkeley in time for the spring semester, and the community college transfer will also get a long look as Cal works to develop depth in the middle of the offensive front.
The tight end plays an important part in the Bears' attack, and that role could increase in 2006. Returning is Pac-10 honorable mention all-conference selection junior Craig Stevens and top reserve senior Eric Beegun. The duo combined for 19 receptions last season, but are capable blockers and athletic enough to cause matchup problems.
Senior David Gray, a converted wide receiver, also added seven receptions and averaged more than 16 yards on his catches in 2005.
A newcomer to keep an eye on in 2006 is redshirt freshman Cameron Morrah. He is a fleet-footed big man who caught the eye of the coaching staff early and often while a member of the 2005 scout squad.
"Craig brings some strength and stability to the position," Tedford said. "There is some experience with Beegun and a talented underclassmen in Cameron."
One year after rebuilding the receiving corps, Cal's returning talent is sure to cause concern to opposing defensive coordinators. There is a lot of speed that can stretch a defense, plenty of youth and now, thanks to a year in the trenches, some experience for the receivers to draw upon.
As a whole, Cal returns 154 of its 167 receptions from a year ago (92.2 percent) with the only losses coming from the graduation of fullback Chris Manderino. That also translates to more than 2,100 receiving yards returning in 2006, along with 20 of last season's 22 touchdown receptions.
"There is a lot of big-play ability in that group," according to the head coach, "that generally comes with speed.
Junior Robert Jordan is the elder statesman of Cal's still young group of receivers, and he is the returning starter at the Z spot. Jordan was second on the team last season with 34 catches covering 455 yards with four touchdowns. He averaged 13.4 yards per reception a year ago and showed big-play and big-game capabilities.
Junior Lavelle Hawkins is also listed at the Z position. He is coming off his first year at the Division-I level, and he had 18 receptions in 2005. He was sidelined for part of the year by injury, but his presence gives California two impressive options at the position.
True sophomore DeSean Jackson returns as the starter at this position. As a freshman, he led the Bears in receptions (38), receiving yards (601) and touchdown receptions (7). The exciting Long Beach Poly grad can also be a factor on special teams, as he returned a punt for a touchdown in the 2005 season opener.
Another fleet-footed wideout, Sam DeSa, is listed as Jackson's understudy. The junior saw action in 10 games last season.
Cal also returns LaReylle Cunningham and a healthy Noah Smith to the wideout group. Smith, a junior, was off to a strong start in the opener before going down to injury and Cunningham, a sophomore, was a key in the Bears' come-from-behind win over Washington State.
It would be hard to find anyone in the country with a better situation at running back than what California carries into the 2006 season.
Junior Marshawn Lynch is back and could be a contender for every national honor available. His 1,246 rushing yards last season came in less than 10 full games. His total was the third best ever by a Bear, and that was all accomplished in his first season as a starter.
Justin Forsett, a junior, filled in so well for Lynch in 2005 that he ran for 999 yards and averaged 7.6 yards per rush.
Also returning is senior Marcus O'Keith, who has also flashed big-play capabilities. O'Keith, in limited backfield duties a year ago, averaged 11 yards on his 22 carries, including a team-best 71-yard run.
Cal will be looking to replace the invaluable Chris Manderino at fullback. He was a four-year starter who had a knack for the big play. A likely candidate for that spot is Byron Storer, a senior, who is a heavily decorated special-teams player. Will Ta'ufo'ou could also see time at fullback.
In the first half of play in the first game of the 2005 season, redshirt freshman quarterback Nate Longshore was lost for the season due to an ankle injury. He is recovered and tops the early spring depth chart at quarterback. He is a big, accurate quarterback that never had the chance to fully display his talents.
Also back in the fold is senior Steve Levy. The quarterback-turned-fullback-turned-quarterback led the Bears to two straight wins to close 2005 with victories over Stanford and Brigham Young in efficient fashion.
Also returning is senior Joe Ayoob, who took the majority of the snaps for the Bears in 2005. He passed for 1,707 yards a year ago with a 49.2 percent completion ratio.
New to the fray this spring will be former Oakland prep standout Kyle Reed. He is a talented athlete who will get lots of reps in the spring in what will be his first extended action in the Cal offense.
"The spring is really important for Nate and Kyle," Tedford said. "Joe and Steve really gained some experience last season and Nate and Kyle didn't have that opportunity. We are really anxious to see those two develop during the spring."
One year after the Bears saw lots of new faces in lots of new places, California's defenders should have a familiar look in 2006. The Bears have experience and talent up front, a fleet-footed linebacker corps that is still very young but experienced. In the secondary, the Bears have proven corners but will break in new starters at safety.
Overall, a Bears defensive unit that is often overlooked because of Cal's marquee offensive numbers will likely field another strong unit in 2006.
"The general thought is that with so many people returning, you can do a lot more on defense," Tedford said. "But I'm not always sure that more is better. I do think that with our returning experience, we can do a good job of eliminating mistakes."
California returns virtually its entire two-deep across the defensive front, including two all-league performers and some active role players who figure to be improved.
"We really have everyone back with Tosh Lupoi the only loss," Tedford said.
Seniors Nu'u Tafisi and Abu Ma'afala return as starters on the defensive ends. Tafisi, who tallied 10 tackles for loss in 2005, ended the season by being named second-team All-Pac-10. He is one of Cal's most active defenders and seems to cause constant disruption along opposing offensive fronts. Ma'afala was a part-time starter a year ago and saw action in every game.
Listed as backups for Tafisi and Ma'afala are junior John Allen and freshman Tad Smith. The Bears will be without some mainstays on the defensive line during spring workouts, including defensive ends Phillip Mbakogu, Fahim Abd Allah and Steve Kelly, as they recover from injury.
Senior Brandon Mebane returns as a first-team All-Pac-10 performer who is worthy of national honors consideration. He rarely has the luxury of competing against just one offensive player, and his disruption up front allows for big plays to be made by the California linebackers.
Mebane is clearly the anchor up front as illustrated by his seven quarterback sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss last season. The other starting tackle entering spring drills is sophomore Mika Kane, who saw his role in the middle increase as the 2005 season progressed.
Playing backup at the tackle positions are senior Jason Miller and freshman Tyson Alualu. Alualu joined the Bears in the spring after originally signing with the Bears before the 2005 season. He was rated the No. 2 player in Hawaii in 2005 by Rivals.com.
"Brandon is a force inside that you can't really address one-on-one," the head coach said. "He can be a dominating factor, no doubt about it. He really helps our linebackers because he draws so much attention."
Matt Malele will miss spring workouts while recovering from injury.
California's linebacking corps is just ...well, fun to watch. The returning group includes an All-Pac-10 choice, two Freshman All-Americans and a couple of other returning players that made more than one jaw-dropping playing during the course of the season.
As a whole, the group may rival any unit in the west with the ability to fly sideline-to-sideline as well as plug up the middle.
"The linebackers are still young and when you take Desmond Bishop out of the picture, they're very young," Tedford said. "They are a very talented group with a lot of competitors. They can really create a mindset for your football team."
Senior Desmond Bishop, who led California with 89 tackles last season on his way to second-team All-Pac-10 honors, returns to the inside. He is an athletic backer who played well in his first year of Division I football and could be an "all" candidate as a senior. He figures to be one of the defensive headliners in 2006.
Junior Greg Van Hoesen, who started three games on the outside as a sophomore, is listed second on the depth chart inside entering spring drills. He can obviously give Cal help in several spots and has seen lots of playing time in his first two years on campus.
Like Bishop, Van Hoesen has shown big-play capabilities, including a defensive touchdown after an interception last season.
Sophomore Anthony Felder, one of Cal's two freshman All-Americans, is the leader at this position. Felder was a starter for eight games and saw action in all 12 games in 2005.
Justin Moye, a standout special-teams player in the past, is also listed on the depth chart at the strong side linebacker spot.
Senior Mickey Pimentel will miss spring workouts while recovering from injury.
Worrell Williams saw action in nine of Cal's 12 games, displaying his powerful and bruising style of play. Zack Follett, one of Cal's two freshman All-Americans, will back up in this slot. Follett, who showed big-play capability last season, saw action in all 12 of Cal's games.
California returns two starters and several contributors in the secondary. It's an athletic group with playmaking abilities, especially at corner.
California lost a major contributor and leader on the defensive side with the graduation of Donnie McCleskey. His presence will be missed, but there is talent waiting for its chance.
Junior Brandon Hampton, a former walkon running back, was a steady contributor last fall, and his athletic ability and nose for the football figures to provide him a chance to nail down starting duties at rover.
The depth chart is completed by another athletic player, redshirt freshman Robert Peele, a former SuperPrep All-American.
Along with McCleskey, Cal lost another force at safety with the graduation of Harrison Smith, who had 72 tackles, two interceptions and eight pass break-ups during 2005.
The heir apparent to the position is junior Thomas DeCoud. He has been on the field often during his first two years on campus and has recorded six blocked kicks in his career. He is a big safety whose size brings a new dimension to the secondary.
Cal has the luxury of a pair of returning starters at corner in seniors Daymeion Hughes and Tim Mixon. Hughes was a first-team All-Pac-10 selection as a junior when his impressive numbers included 62 tackles, five interceptions and 12 breakups. He is a candidate for national honors at corner.
Across the field, reliable Mixon returns. His numbers featured three interceptions and 10 pass break-ups during his junior season. He was also among America's leading punt returners in 2005.
The Bears also return big-play capabilities in the return game with Mixon and Jackson both recording punt returns for scores a year ago.
The position of punter is open with the graduation of David Lonie. However, Cal did ink a solid prospect in community-college star Andrew Larson.