Bears Future Is Bright
In the spring of 2003, talking to coach Jeff Tedford, it was obvious that Tedford was very excited about Rodgers, who didn’t enroll at Cal until the fall. Reggie Robertson would start the season for the Bears because he was the holdover, but Tedford’s enthusiasm made it clear that Rodgers would be on a fast track, depending how fast he picked up the system. You know the rest of the story.
I don’t sense the same kind of excitement from Tedford about either of his quarterbacks this year. Neither one has yet poked his head clearly in front. “Nate came in with an edge because of his experience,” Tedford said after yesterday’s practice, “and he’s maintained that edge, but it goes back and forth between them each day, one guy looking better one day, the other guy the next.”
Tedford said he would announce his starting lineup on Monday for the opener against Sacramento State on Sept. 3, but that both quarterbacks would play. If one quarterback is definitely superior in that game, he’ll be the starter. If their play is fairly equal, Tedford will alternate quarterbacks for at least the next game.
(A parenthetical note about the Sac State game: San Jose State was originally on the schedule but the Spartans backed out at such a late date that it was impossible to schedule another Division 1-A school. So, Sac State was put on the schedule.)
My guess is that Longshore will remain the starter for the season, but my hope is that Ayoob will show enough to move in there because he has much more potential. Ayoob has had problems adjusting to the Cal offensive system, after running the spread offense at CCSF the last two seasons – similar to the problems Alex Smith is having with the 49ers. Quarterbacks who are unfamiliar with the system can sometimes struggle physically, and Ayoob’s passing has been inconsistent. He’ll no doubt look much better when he’s more comfortable, but that may take a season.
Ayoob was also a very good runner in junior college competition, but Tedford said the offense would remain the same, whoever is playing quarterback. “Nate can run straight ahead,’’ he said. “”He’s got 4.7 speed for the 40. So, they’ll be running the same plays.’’
THE QUARTERBACKS will also have some very good targets, because this is a good, though young, receiving corps.
Tedford has made one intriguing move, shifting David Gray from wide receiver to tight end. “That’s a good matchup for David,” Tedford said, “because he’ll be covered by linebackers. He’s still got 4.5 speed (despite his multiple injuries), so he can run away from them.”
Gray has had everything from a shoulder injury which sidelined him for the last 11 years of his freshman season in 2002 (he got a medical redshirt year, so he’s now a junior, athletically) to a deep groin muscle pull, which is known as a “sports hernia” last year.
Still, everybody remembers the first play of his Cal career and also the first of Tedford’s – the 71-yard touchdown reception on a halfback option against Baylor in 2002. “Do you remember where David was lined up for that play?” asked Tedford. “As a tight end.”
Tedford said he’d probably be rotating a group of five receivers for at least the first game – “It doesn’t make a lot of difference who starts, because they’ll all get plenty of playing time” – returning players Sam DeSa, Robert Jordan and Noah Smith, and newcomers Lavelle Hawkins and DeSean Jackson.
Hawkins, who played with Ayoob at CCSF last fall, has been perhaps the most impressive receiver in practice. Jackson is part of a freshman group that Tedford said has been his biggest surprise.
“With freshman, you know they have ability, but sometimes, they don’t show it right away. I tell them there are three parts to this: physical, mental and emotional. They may have the physical ability but line up in the wrong place. And just being in a college camp, going from 6:30 in the morning to 11 at night, overwhelms some of them emotionally. But this group of freshmen has really reacted well to everything.”
The Bears’ biggest offensive threat, though, may be running back Marshawn Lynch, who has yet to start a game for Cal but has already drawn superlatives. Chuck Muncie, who held the single season rushing record until J. J. Arrington broke it last season, was at practice yesterday, marveling at Lynch’s ability to find holes where none seem to exist and his determination to stay up and get more yardage.
THE BEARS have been ranked between 15th and 19th in the pre-season polls, primarily because of Tedford and their play last year, but anybody looking at the inexperience of this team would think this would be a down year.
But when you watch them on the practice field, see that team speed, see the hard hitting on defense and see the big plays on offense, it’s easy to think this team could be very special.
Tedford thinks so, too. He never makes predictions about records or finishes, but he talks glowingly about this team. If you could look into his heart, I think you’d see that he thinks this could be his best team yet at Cal. I think so, too.
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