Jeff Tedford Faces Another Challenge
by Glenn Dickey
Aug 10, 2005

WITH MORE than 30 players on the squad who are new to the team, Jeff Tedford faces his biggest challenge yet with the Cal football team.

“Oh, definitely,” he said after practice this week. “We have to go over everything with the new guys, even the procedures. We have to remember to keep telling them what we think of what they’re doing, good or bad. With the veterans, if they screw up, you can just give them a look because they know what they did wrong. You can’t do that with the new guys.”

But, though the coaching will be more intense, Tedford’s plan will be the same. “I won’t cut back on anything,” he said. “We’ll put our whole offense in. I don’t want anybody to be surprised because we pull out something later that they haven’t seen.”

Tedford’s style in putting in his offense is the same as Bill Walsh’s: Both coaches put in everything right away and then work on polishing it, instead of perfecting one aspect and then going to another. Probably more coaches go with the second approach, but Tedford and Walsh are independent thinkers, which has been a big factor in their success.

Tedford's practices are as fast-paced as ever, too. Following the example of another Hall of Fame coach, Tom Landry, Tedford sets up 20 five-minute periods to work on specific areas. The segments are run at a rapid pace, and players run from one segment to the next.

To help smooth the transition for the incoming freshmen, Tedford had all 18 take the “bridge” classes this summer, a program which was started in the ‘80s to help marginal students get up to speed.

The program was mandatory for an unspecified number of the athletes, but Tedford thought it would help all of them. “They all agreed, which is a good sign,” he said. “In addition to the academics, it helps them get accustomed to the campus, to get over the homesickness we all have in that situation."”

With two classes of three units each, it also gives those students a running start with their academics.

Tedford keeps a close eye on the academic progress of his players. At last week’s college football luncheon at MoMo’s, we were trading vacation stories and he said he got very antsy while spending 10 days with his wife in Costa Rica because he was out of touch. Specifically, he said, he worried that he didn’t know if any players had academic problems.

That’s one of the reasons I don’t think Tedford will ever be a pro coach. He likes to be close to his players, to track what they’re doing, and he likes to teach. Pro coaches don’t teach. Most NFL head coaches today are more like the chairman of the board, delegating the actual coaching to their assistants. There are at least two layers of assistants between most head coaches and their players in the NFL, but there are no layers between Tedford and his players. He’s out there on the practice field giving specific instructions to players, and he frequently meets with groups of them to talk after practice.

OTHER THAN young, what will be the distinguishing characteristics of this team? For openers, speed. “We’ve got more team speed than we’ve ever had,” Tedford said. “Of course, if all they do is run fast, it’s not enough. They have to do something.”

There doesn’t seem to be any real concern about that, because there’s a lot of talent on the practice field. Two of the speedsters, for instance, are DeSean Jackson, the Long Beach Poly receivers who was The Los Angeles Times Southern California player of the year, and CCSF transfer Lavelle Hawkins, a teammate of quarterback Joe Ayoob last year. Tedford mentioned Jackson as a player who was especially impressive at Monday’s practice. Asked if Hawkins looked as good on the practice field as he did when he was scouted, Tedford broke into a big smile and said, “Absolutely.”

Defensively, the young players may make mistakes but they will punish opposing runners and receivers, too. Linebackers Desmond Bishop and Mickey Pimental, both junior college transfers, are especially intriguing. Bishop averaged 12 tackles a game at CCSF last season. He enrolled at Cal in the spring, so he has already shown his talent in the spring drills. Pimental was a JC All-American last fall and is another player with excellent speed for his position, 4.6 in the 40.

Though Tedford has a well-deserved reputation for developing quarterbacks, he has always tried for a balanced offense. Last year, the Bears started out with an excellent passing offense, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a group of talented receivers, but as the receiving corps was hit by devastating injuries, especially the one that knocked out hard-luck Chase Lyman, Tedford switched his emphasis to the running game, with J. J. Arrington becoming the nation’s leading rusher.

At least for the first half of this season, the Bears offense will probably again be run-oriented, while quarterbacks Nate Longshore, a redshirt freshman, and Ayoob try to master the offense. Longshore is the incumbent because he has been in the program, but that means little. Longshore has a better command of the offense, Ayoob is the better athlete but it’s too early to make a call on the starter.

Meanwhile, with the offensive line of last season intact and leading the way for a bigger, faster Marshawn Lynch, the Bears will be able to score points and control games with their running while Longshore and Ayoob, who will split time in the early games, are learning.

THE SCHEDULE breaks very well for the Bears, with the toughest games in the second half. By that time, the younger players should be experienced enough to be big contributors.

Tedford doesn’t make predictions about his team’s record but he did say when we talked in the spring that he thinks, by midseason, this team could be as good as last year. That’s good enough for me.

NOTE: For those who are curious about my reaction to Larry Krueger’s firing, check my answers to the latest e-mails in “Letters.”

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