March 24, 1998
BERKELEY, Calif.--The Cal football team will begin its first steps toward the 1998 campaign with the start of spring practice on Monday, March 30. The Bears will go through four weeks of drills, culminating with the final Blue-Gold scrimmage on Saturday, April 25.
Practices are generally set at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays with scrimmages set at various times on Saturdays during the month-long spring session.
Head coach Tom Holmoe welcomes back 53 lettermen, including 18 starters (7 offense, 9 defense, 2 kickers), and that experience should bolster Cal's bid for the program's fifth bowl berth of the current decade. However, there will be several interesting issues to watch during the spring.
The foremost may be what type of impact a trio of new coaches establish. Holmoe certainly added experience to his coaching staff during the offseason with the appointments of Monte Clark on the offensive line and Bill Dutton on the defensive line. He added some balance with the hiring of a younger coach in Al Simmons as cornerbacks coach, but Clark and Dutton clearly will play the more significant role in '97.
"We feel like we're ready to contend for postseason and be competitive in the league race, so we think Monte and Bill are a perfect complement to our program right now," said Holmoe. "We have good players on both lines and these coaches can push them to a new level right now. I know our players are going to benefit just being around them."
Solidifying the offensive line will be a major priority during the spring. Losing Jeremy Newberry to the pro draft was a big blow, but the Bears still return 19 of 22 players from last year's offensive two-deep chart. The biggest questions will be who fills the vacant offensive tackle position opposite John Welbourn. Langston Walker, who checks in at 6-8 and 340 pounds, is the person the Cal coaches would love to reach out and nail down that starting spot.
The other issue is at center, where Caleb Brown and John Romero are the leading candidates. Brown recently had arthroscopic surgery on his knee but had enjoyed a quick recovery and so the competition at that spot should attract a lot of attention. Sophomore Reed Diehl, who spent last season at tight end, will move back to center this year and will also get a look for playing time. He is up to 280 pounds and has the frame to carry as much as 290 pounds by the fall.
The coaches believe strongly that Justin Vedder will elevate his game for his senior season, benefiting from a year of experience in the West Coast offense. However, Holmoe has said that he wants redshirt-freshman Sam Clemons to get every chance to show his skills and display how far he's come in a year.
"Sam has worked so hard to improve on his understanding of the offense and he has some phenomenal physical abilities," said Holmoe. "On the other hand, Justin returns as our starting quarterback. He'll be much better this year, have a better command of the offense and benefit from some of the speed we've added at the wide receiver position. It's hard to imagine him not being our quarterback."
Cal's secondary is another area that will get a lot of attention in the spring. Two players who redshirted last season, Drae Harris and Harold Pearson, along with new JC transfer Damion Marzett and the multi-talented Deltha O'Neal, who has moved over from tailback with the idea that he could start at cornerback, all figure to bid for playing time. With Marquis Smith settled in at strong safety and Derrick Gardner, Pete Destefano and Chidi Iwuoma all returning with starting experience, it will be interesting to see how the depth chart looks following the conclusion of spring ball.
Golden Bear Notes...
* Practices are Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week with scrimmages generally set for Saturdays. The first Saturday practice will be at 2 p.m. April 4, while the Bears will take the next Saturday off for the Easter weekend. Cal will practice at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday April 18 and finish up in Santa Rosa at 10 a.m. on Saturday April, 25. Weekday practices are begin at 4:40 p.m. each day. The one change to the schedule comes on Monday, April 20 when practice is postponed one day due to the Bear Backer Golf Tournament.
* Cal has a small injury list going into spring ball, with the most notable being Yauger Williams, who will sit out spring drills after arthroscopic surgery in January on his knee. Linebacker Keith Miller injured his wrist while snowboarding and will be out for spring drills but back in full health for August camp, while Nate Geldermann (knee) and Brandon Willis (knee) will be able to play in limited fashion this spring.
* Cal will travel to the Oakmont Polo Fields in Santa Rosa for the team's final Blue-Gold Scrimmage on Saturday, April 25. The full-contact scrimmage will start at 10 a.m. with a barbecue lunch following the practice. Wine tasting is also scheduled for the event. For more information, contact Joan Parker in the Bear Backer office at (510) 642-2427.