Midweek Notebook: Week 2

Photo: <b>Cal running back Shane Vereen</b> carried 10 times for 48 yards and a touchdown against Maryland, and also caught three passes for 46 yards and a score.
Anna Hiatt/File
Cal running back Shane Vereen carried 10 times for 48 yards and a touchdown against Maryland, and also caught three passes for 46 yards and a score.

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If the linebackers were supposed to be the weak link on defense coming into 2009, it looks like the Cal football team is going to be all right on that side of the ball.

Bears coach Jeff Tedford was pleased with the linebackers' play against Maryland on Saturday -- the first real test for a unit that graduated three seniors (the only three starters lost from last year's defense) following the 2008 season.

"They played well," Tedford said. "There's areas where they can improve, with their fits and the discipline and things like that, but they played hard and they ran well."

Sophomore Mychal Kendricks led all players with 12 tackles, including one for loss. Most of Kendricks' game experience last year came on the outside, but he moved inside during fall camp and, as he said, "found a home" there. Junior Mike Mohamed recorded nine tackles and a sack against the Terrapins. Devin Bishop and D.J. Holt combined for 13 tackles.

Although the unit returned few career starts this season, Tedford was quick to point out that each had considerable experience in relief of Zack Follett, Anthony Felder and Worrell Williams last season. Furthermore, the new group is getting noticed for its quickness.

"I think overall our speed has improved there," Tedford said. "All four guys, I think, can do a nice job of getting to the football."

Defensive end Cameron Jordan said he noticed the same thing.

"They might not be as tall, but they definitely move as fast," Jordan said of the new backers. "I think they're a little faster than last year's group, a little bit more aggressive."

Five of Cal's 11 tackles for loss came from the linebackers. So did 2.5 of the Bears' six sacks, including the first of junior college transfer Jarred Price's career.

More on Owusu

It was sophomore defensive end Ernest Owusu, however, who spent the most time in Maryland's backfield. Owusu, who came into the game with five career tackles, sacked Terrapins quarterback Chris Turner twice and had three tackles for loss.

And he picked the right time to have a breakout game. Owusu, who hails from Tennessee, had his parents in the stands and his friends from high school watching on TV -- with Maryland as the opponent, it was a rare East-Coast telecast for the Bears.

Tedford said that Owusu came into fall practices still figuring out the defense, then made a "strong move" in the latter part of camp.

"Ernie's playing a lot faster now," Tedford said. "I think he was a little bit paralyzed in the beginning, over-analyzing things or whatever, but he's playing fast and physically and he's got all the tools."

Owusu agreed that simply thinking too much may have kept him from taking full advantage of his physicality -- he benches 450 pounds and squats 585 -- in his freshman season. With a year of experience in the 3-4, now he feels like he can let himself go more on the field.

"One of the biggest things that players have a problem with is not necessarily what they do, but cutting it loose and trying to adjust to just playing," Owusu said. "That was probably the big problem I had last year was trying to get rid of that as much as I possibly could."

When he does, as he showed on Saturday, the results can be explosive.

"With Ernest, the experience that he gained from last year definitely helped," Jordan said. "And all of a sudden he was sort of beastly out there."

Evaluating the Kickers

After winning the kickoff battle in fall camp by consistently landing his kicks inside the five-yard line, Giorgio Tavecchio didn't look like the same kicker against Maryland. The sophomore averaged just 58.8 yards over his six kickoffs. His sixth was fielded by the Terrapins' returner near the 17-yard line.

"Number one is we need to help Giorgio get better," Tedford said. "We need to look at his fundamentals and his mechanics and try to improve him for games. We know he has the ability to do it because we see it in practice all the time. He's been kicking the ball off three yards deep in the end zone, then we get in the game and it goes to the 15. So there's something there that we need to help him with."

Tedford said he will reevaluate the kickoff duties this week in practice.

True freshman Vince D'Amato had a solid debut handling field goals, converting on a 31-yard attempt and making all six of his extra points.

"Vince is very solid, very poised," Tedford said. "All his kicks are very true, they're high, they're straight. I was really happy with his mindset in the game and his execution."

Quick Hits

-- Cal jumped two places to No. 10 in both the AP and USA Today polls. Virginia Tech and Oklahoma both fell out of the top 10.

-- Tight end Skylar Curran said that he was actually the third read on the play that resulted in his first career catch and touchdown, and that his muted celebration afterward drew some good-natured ribbing from the team.

"All my teammates were giving me a little bit of a hard time," he said. "I didn't really have anything planned. I just smiled."

-- Asked which of his three impressive catches against Maryland was his favorite, receiver Marvin Jones laughed and said, "I liked them all."

-- As of the press conference, Tedford had not received word about the severity of tight end Spencer Ladner's injury. Tedford did say that it appeared to be something with Ladner's patella. Safety Sean Cattouse, who suffered a concussion Saturday, should be cleared in the next day or two, Tedford said.


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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