Spring Practice Preview: Offense

Photo: <b>Quarterback Kevin Riley</b> will take reps alongside Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney in spring ball this year.
Salgu Wissmath/File
Quarterback Kevin Riley will take reps alongside Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney in spring ball this year.


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Today's article is a preview of the Cal football team's offense going into spring ball. A preview of the defense will follow later in the week.

Here we go again.

With the Cal football team slated to open spring practices on Friday, coach Jeff Tedford described each position battle as "competitive," with only a handful of slots relatively set in stone.

Chalk it up as Tedford talk, if you will. But there are surely the seasonal share of uncertainties as Cal preps for a run in 2009.

QUARTERBACKS

Sophomore Kevin Riley should be the favorite to win the starting job by the time fall camp rolls around.

But Tedford sure is making sure that Riley will earn that distinction, while maintaining that he will give Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney a chance to compete as well as develop with the type of attention second- and third-string quarterbacks may not typically receive.

"I'm real excited to see the young guys, Brock and Beau, have a chance to do their thing," Tedford said. "I feel they have a lot of tools. They're competitive, they're smart, they're talented and they can run."

Tedford added that the competition will be "wide-open" at the position, and that he's not "counting on" one player to emerge as the clear-cut starter for the 2009 season by the end of April.

"Especially because those two guys are young, you have to let the progression happen, that they go through another cycle of summer and through fall camp, and then see how they compete in fall camp," Tedford said.

All three quarterbacks will receive at least a portion of first-team reps, according to Tedford, though the bulk of them should unmistakably fall on Riley and Mansion.

Tedford, though, had plenty of good things to say about Sweeney, who hasn't quite had the opportunity to receive Tedford's direct tutelage due to his time with the scout team.

"Now he has to step it up a little more," Tedford said of Sweeney. "He's a very intelligent guy, and through his time here in camp, when he was running our offense, he made very few mistakes and showed the ability to grasp a lot of things. I have no question that he's a good learner, and we'll be fine with that."

RECEIVERS

In 2008, injuries made it even more difficult to evaluate a unit that returned nearly zero playing time.

The case may be similar for 2009.

Junior Nyan Boateng, who racked up 439 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2008, has been sidelined with a groin injury -- osteitis pubis, to be medically precise.

"He's been doing more lately," Tedford said of Boateng. "But ... some of the side-to-side movement bothers him. We'll just have to see how he does."

Meanwhile, wideouts returning from injury -- freshman Marvin Jones and redshirt freshman Michael Calvin, who will sit out this spring while recovering from surgery -- find themselves in depth-chart purgatory.

Tedford said that Calvin looked to have the potential to be the team's top wideout prior to his injury, while "it's nice" to have Jones return and compete.

The recurring theme, though, is that it's a new year. And there are certainly no promises.

"I see it being a rotation right now, unless some people can really separate themselves," Tedford said.

That includes former junior transfer Verran Tucker, who quickly emerged as one of Cal's top options by the end of last season.

Tucker was forced to learn the system on the fly, having been a late addition at the onset of fall camp in 2008, but the wideout has proved himself a serviceable option to say the least, catching 21 balls for 364 yards and three touchdowns.

"I think early on when he was here, he was a little discouraged because he wasn't here for summer, he had just gotten here for camp, he had to learn the whole offense and he wasn't in very good shape when he got here," Tedford said. "So I think in the beginning, he was like, 'I just want to redshirt.' But we told him 'No, you're not gonna redshirt, you're gonna continue to compete,' because it was a long season last year and we had some byes in the beginning of the year there.

"But once he learned the terminology and the offense, then he could compete. I think then he started feeling better about himself and his contribution to the team."

Tedford also added that it might be assumed that Tucker, Boateng and Jeremy Ross will continue carrying the torch in 2009, but at this point in time, the thought remains an assumption.

RUNNING BACKS

Call it a tease.

In 2008, the Bears showcased two stud tailbacks in preseason Heisman candidate Jahvid Best and the versatile Shane Vereen.

This spring, both will be limited-Best is out of the wheelchair but still recovering from foot surgery, while Vereen has been training with the Cal track team.

"Jahvid won't play obvisouly in the spring time, and Shane will be limited," Tedford said. "We're not gonna beat up Shane completely."

Tedford said that he was fine with Vereen running track, as long as he doesn't overextend himself.

"I think his flat-out speed, track may help him," Tedford continued. "But football is more about change of direction and quick movements, and I wouldn't let somebody do track specifically and not do football, especially with (running backs). It's so much stop and start.

"So he's in our circuit training where there's a lot of change of direction that we implement in our conditioning program."

In the meantime, freshman Covaughn DeBoskie may get a growing share of reps, especially considering that redshirt sophomore Tracy Slocum has been released from the team.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The Bears will enter 2009 with "10 guys that all have ability."

The question for the coaching staff, then, will be to determine their eight-deep, a typical number of offensive linemen that will get regular playing time throughout the course of a season.

"I like the group because even though we lost a couple guys, we still have a lot of experience," Tedford said. "Last year's injury really forced us to create some depth."

Alex Mack and Noris Malele, both three-year starters, are gone. But a lot more return, perhaps players that may have not seen the field as much without all the injuries Cal suffered last season.

"Now the key is, how do we find the top eight guys, the flexiblity of moving guys around," Tedford said. "But it's a good group. I'm looking forard to seeing them gel."

Tedford said redshirt Dominic Galas will be familiar with the unit's terminology and such by the virtue of having practiced with the offense, not the scout team, in 2008. Justin Cheadle and Chet Teofilo are also guys that may not necessarily start in 2009, but will provide important depth regardless.

Mike Tepper, who was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, will show at left tackle, while freshman Mitchell Schwartz will return to compete at right tackle, perhaps his more natural position, according to Tedford.

"It's nice to get back not only his talent level, but also his experience," Tedford said of Tepper. "He's a returning starter."

Chris Guarnero will move to center and compete for a chance to replace Mack. Freshman Donovan Edwards may move inside, according to Tedford, as a "290-pound guy with athleticism."

"He can run, he's bigger," Tedford said of Edwards. "Really, he got thrown into the mix last year before he was ready physically. He competed hard, but he was a little bit light last year ... I think he brings a lot of flexibility to us."

But perhaps the biggest move of the offseason was first-year offensive line coach Steve Marshall's move away from the Cleveland Browns of the NFL to the Cal program.

Tedford said that his offensive linemen may have to learn several new calls implemented by Marshall, whom Tedford described as someone who "brings a wealth of knowledge."

"You talk about how to attack things, he can give you five different ways to do something," Tedford said of Marshall. "With his experience ... he's very knowledgeable, is a good technician and coaches with a lot of energy.

"There may be some new calls up front for these guys to learn, things that coach Marshall may implement for the teaching progression that he's used to."

TIGHT ENDS

Cameron Morrah surprised many by opting out of his fourth year of eligibility and entering the 2009 NFL Draft.

Freshmen Anthony Miller and Spencer Ladner could surprise even more with what they end up doing for the Bears in 2009.

Miller played in 2008 and will return as a sophomore next season, while Ladner redshirted. Tedford seemed thrilled about both regardless.

"Anthony Miller was a guy who got some playing time and was on that end of the field all year, so he's familiar with the offense," Tedford said. "And I'm really excited to see Spencer Ladner step up. He's gained some weight, he's very athletic, catches everything and now it's just growth and development at the line of scrimmage."

Miller came around particularly near the end of the last season, and his progress was on clear display as he caught the game-winning touchdown in the Emerald Bowl against Miami.

Ladner didn't have a bad end of the season either, being named as one of five Scout Team Players of the Year.

"I think Anthony and Spencer both have a lot of potential," Tedford said.

The youngsters will likely begin the season backing up junior Tad Smith, who made the switch from defensive end to tight end in 2008 and served as Cal's second option behind Morrah, particularly in running situations.

The Bears have another converted tight end in redshirt Jarrett Sparks, who was recruited as a wide receiver coming out of high school and will add depth to the position alongside junior Skylar Curran in 2009.

"He was getting too big to play receiver, so it was easier for him to put on some weight and play an H-back, tight-end-type of a guy," Tedford said of Sparks. "Kind of a move-guy. I think that's where he'll be more comfortable."

FULLBACKS

Often the least glorified position in football, the Cal fullbacks will get plenty of attention during the offseason.

There simply isn't a clear-cut starter for 2009.

"That's a big question right there," Tedford said. "It's gonna be an open competition. We have a lot of young guys there."

Brian Holley, Eric Stevens, John Tyndall, Matt Russi and Will Kapp are all candidates to replace 2008 standout Will Ta'ufo'ou.

Peter Geurts, who's been more or less a reserve tailback thus far, will also see some time auditioning as a fullback, according to Tedford.

Tags: JAHVID BEST, TRACY SLOCUM, KEVIN RILEY, JEFF TEDFORD, CAL FOOTBALL


Contact Andrew Kim at [email protected]



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