Cal Starting QB: Undecided
“If we had to play a game tomorrrow, Nate (Longshore) would take the first snap,” coach Jeff Tedford said – the same thing he said before spring practice started. Longshore was the starter for the first game last season, but a broken ankle suffered in that game sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Tedford quickly added that the quarterback situation is still very fluid. Joe Ayoob, who didn’t play in Saturday’s scrimmage because of a minor injury, has looked very good this spring. Part of that, as Tedford noted, is because he was in a spread formation for most of the spring. “That gives him a chance to use his ahleticism,” said Tedford, “but he’s also throwing the ball much better. His mechanics are much better and he seems much more comfortable out there. He knows what he’s doing out there now.”
Earlier in the week, a beat writer had implied that it’s a two-man race for the starting quarterback role, but Tedford denied that, specifically saying that Steve Levy, the quarterback in the Bears’ Big Game and Las Vegas Bowl wins last year, was very much in the mix.
The only one not in the mix is redshirt freshman Kyle Reed. His talent is obvious but he doesn’t know the offense yet, a point underscored when he made a classic mistake in Saturday’s scrimmage, throwing a pass into the left flat without noticing that cornerback Tim Mixon was there. Mixon just jumped in front of the receiver to make the interception and then ran 85 unimpeded yards for a touchdown.
Spring football is more like a laboratory, and Tedford also used it to work on the spread formation that he’s trying to work into his basic offense. “We (coaches) will sit down and look at the videos to decide how much of it we want to use,” he said.
That decision might also play into who starts at quarterback. Longshore has not yet recovered full mobility with his ankle. Ayoob is an accomplished runner, as he showed when he ran the spread offense for City College of San Francisco for two years. Levy is not an elusive runner but he’s an effective one, running like the fullback he was for one season.
Tedford still wants to use the power running (he refers to it as “downhill running”) attack he’s always used, a natural choice for a team that has Marshawn Lynch. Last season, Lynch seemed to do more “dancing”, looking for a chance to bust out to the outside, instead of hitting into the hole. “We try to tell him to hit the hole,” said Tedford, “but sometimes, he’ll break out and go 80 yards, so in that case, all we say is, ‘Way to go.’”
One player Tedford mentioned as having an especially good spring was redshirt sophomore fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou. At six feet and 250 pounds, this young man is a load. A couple of times Saturday, he hit into the hole and just knocked defenders away, like a bowling ball toppling the pins. He will be a factor this fall.
THE PREPARATION will be much different in summer camp because the Bears have to be ready to play Tennessee, at Knoxville, and Minnesota at home in their first two games, a far cry from opening against Sacramento State, as they did last season.
“You always like to think that your players are prepared, but I’m sure they’ll be much more aware of what’s facing them this season,” Tedford said.
When asked whether it was his idea to schedule two top teams to start the season, Tedford laughed and said, “Let me see, how can I phrase this? Well, let’s just say the university wanted us to play them.”
I reminded Tedford that he had told me three years ago, when he successfully pushed to get the Black College Association’s game against Kansas State on the schedule, that he wanted games against top opponents so his players could see the kind of competition they’d be facing to get in the top 10.
“Well, yes, but. . . “
“But not back-to-back?”
“Not back-to-back,” he agreed.
Even under normal circumstances, summer practices are much different from the spring because the team is preparing for a game. With Tennessee and Minnesota as the first two games, it will be even more concentrated. So, though Tedford said he’d still try to give every quarterback his chance in the first two weeks of the summer, by the third week he will be concentrating on the top two. “We just won’t be able to give each guy reps by then.”
THE CONCENTRATION on the quarterback situation notwithstanding, the most important development of the spring has been the defensive improvement. Defenders have been making plays, and backs and receivers aren’t slipping out of tackles.
When we talked earlier, Tedford predicted this would happen, as the young defenders became more sure of themselves. “It doesn’t do any good to have speed if you hesitate because you don’t know the system,” he said. “We try to tell players to just keep moving. If you keep moving, something will happen.”
The textbook example is sophomore linebacker Anthony Felder. As a freshman starter last year, Felder made some big plays but also got caught hesitating at other times because he wasn’t sure what he should be doing. With a year’s experience behind him, he won’t have that hesitation this fall, and he’s going to be a very special player.
There are still some questions about this team, chiefly in the offensive line, which has lost some great players, but the overall talent level of this team is high.It’s hard not to be optimistic. Bring on Tennessee!
TOMORROW: I’ll be writing about Bill Walsh’s thoughts on the 49ers, the NFL and Stanford, based on our conversation last Friday.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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