Tedford Again In Charge of Cal Offense
“You saw that we were running some plays from the spread today,” said Tedford. “It’s a good change-up for us.”
Tedford brought in Dunbar from Northwestern last spring to install some elements of the spread. That sounded like a good idea at the time because Dunbar had run that offense successfully at Northwestern. But the corollary idea, that Dunbar would call the plays, not Tedford, did not work well.
Early on, the Cal offense looked great, especially when the Bears scored more than 40 points against Arizona State and Oregon, both presumed to be among the top teams in the Pac-10.
But as the season progressed, the playcalling became all too predictable. Teams scout their opponents, of course, and as opposing coaches studied the videos of 3-4 Cal games, it became too obvious what plays were likely to be called in specific situations. The Bears also ran up against tougher defenses, especially Arizona and USC, but they also struggled against not-great defenses, such as Stanford.
And even against a tough defense like Arizona’s, the playcalling was a big culprit. Just one play separated the Bears from a win and loss, a fourth quarter pass to the sidelines that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Don’t blame quarterback Nate Longshore. The primary problem was that it was a terrible call.
And, as it turned out, that one play kept the Bears out of the Rose Bowl.
Readers will remember that I predicted about two-thirds of the way through the season that Dunbar would be gone at season’s end. Tedford supported him publicly, but he knew it was not working. In previous seasons, he had really been his own offensive coordinator, much as Bill Walsh was when he was head coach of the 49ers. He will return to that type of operation this fall.
Though Longshore is not ideally suited to the spread, he will continue to be the starting quarterback. “Nate just has a great command of the offense right now,” Tedford said.
As do other coaches, Tedford prefers an orderly succession of quarterbacks, with the starter being somebody who has been in the system for a couple of years. He has not had that the last two years. Joe Ayoob, who started for most of the 2005 season after Longshore broke his ankle in the first game, was a junior college transfer. Longshore had played in only that one game when he took over as starter last fall.
Now, Longshore has a full season of experience behind him, which should be a big help. He does not have the mobility to take full advantage of the spread, but his decision-making should be better this fall. He has always been an excellent passer, with a strong arm that enables him to throw deep. Tedford says his arm strength is second only to Kyle Boller among the Cal quarterbacks he has coached.
The two other quarterbacks in the mix, sophomore Kyle Reed and redshirt freshman Kevin Riley, are competing for the backup slot now, said Tedford. “They’re still in a learning process with the offense,” he said, “but that’s what practice is for.”
Reed is easily the best athlete of the group, capable of running for good yardage when receivers aren’t open. He also has a strong arm, though he’s tended to spray passes in practice. Riley can make all the throws; he’s more mobile than Longstreet but not the runner Reed is.
Even with Marshawn Lynch gone, the Bears will have plenty of offensive weapons. Justin Forsett looks as quick as ever, and there are two outstanding running backs coming in as freshmen, Jahvid Best from Richmond and Shane Vereen from Valencia. Probably, one of them will play this fall with the other redshirted.
A talented group of receivers returns: DeSean Jackson, Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins.
The start of the season is still more than five months away, but it’s not too early to get excited. The Bears will again open against Tennessee, but this game will be at Memorial Stadium. They were clearly not prepared for the hostile environment at Knoxville last fall, but they’ll be among friends this time. They’ll be ready.
A MYSTERY NO LONGER: When the Bears came out in those horrible gold uniforms last fall, we all wondered why. Tedford was uncharacteristically vague on the reason, claiming that “some players” had suggested them. The players, though, said it was the coach’s decision.
Now, with the revelation that Nike is contributing to his salary, the mystery is solved. Nike CEO Phil Knight is an Oregon alumnus and has contributed large sums to the program in Eugene, but he and Tedford have also been close since Jeff was the offensive coordinator for the Ducks.
Unfortunately, Knight’s fashion sense is MIA; the Ducks have possibly the worst looking uniforms in collegiate football. Now, the Bears are tainted by that, too. But bad uniforms are a small price to pay for the kind of success we’re seeing now.
SPRING TRAINING: Some stories are repeated each spring. Among them:
--Mark Prior and Kerry Wood are headed toward the disabled list. This is a sad story because at one time, both of these pitchers seemed headed toward great careers. Now, they seem destined to be a case of what might have been because they just can’t stay healthy. It’s a reminder of how fragile pitchers can be – and also a reminder why baseball people say you can never have too many good pitchers.
--Eric Chavez is changing his swing. Every spring, Chavez tries something new, and every year, he goes back to his old swing when the season starts. Chavez is only following the norm. Pitchers can change their delivery because they initiate the action. Hitters find it very difficult to change because they’re reacting. Even if they do change their stance or swing, as soon as they start struggling, they return to their old, comfortable ways. So, it’s not difficult to predict that the Chavez you see on Opening Day will be the same one you’ve seen for years.
STEROIDS BEWARE: It seems to have flown under the radar for even the steroids-are-the-root-of-all-evil crowd but a couple of weeks ago, Major League Baseball announced that front office executives for all teams would also have to undergo testing for drug use. I suppose that was to prevent executives from setting a bad example for all those youngsters dreaming of becoming a general manager.
But it does pose a question: Was Brian Sabean on drugs when he signed Barry Zito to that ridiculous contract?
LETTERS: I’ll update this section later today.
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