Tedford talks defense at Bay Area Media Day

SAN FRANCISCO — The Cal football team’s defense was the best in the conference last season. A few months later, it lost three starters to the NFL Draft, including first-rounder Cameron Jordan. Consider that the Pac-10 added two members, and that lofty rank will probably be … better?

“Two reasons,” coach Jeff Tedford said Monday at the Bay Area Media Day in Hotel Nikko. “One is our players are more comfortable with our system. Secondly, because Clancy is more comfortable with college football.”

So if fans are looking for positives after Tedford’s first losing season in Berkeley, they’ll have more luck when the team is trying to get stops. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast made his collegiate debut with the Bears in 2010 after an extended coaching career in the NFL. As immediate as the results were, he was still adjusting to various offenses — such as the pistol and spread — that don’t appear as often in the pros from week to week.

Armed with a new set of toys, Pendergast could again produce an elite group of defenders. Cornerback is the position most lacking in depth, and three freshmen — Joel Willis, Kameron Jackson and Stefan McClure — will “be in the mix from day one.” Along the line, recruits like the 6-foot-2, 350-pound Viliami Moala provide raw, physical talent that may still require some mental maturation.

“After recruiting season, I said this group is probably the group that has the most capability to come in and contribute at an early age,” Tedford said.

Senior linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who was second in the Pac-10 in sacks last year as a pass rusher, will move to the inside with D.J. Holt.

Where’s the rush?

Tedford readily admitted that the Bears would enter the season without a proven tailback for the first time in recent memory. Isi Sofele, Shane Vereen’s backup, is expected to start, but the depth chart behind him — and how the workload is divvied up — is still murky.

The true freshman running backs, much like their defensive counterparts, are expected to contribute immediately: C.J. Anderson, Daniel Lasco and Brendan Bigelow have been mentioned often through the offseason. Mike Manuel, a JUCO transfer, finished spring as the No. 2 behind Sofele.

Less discussed on Monday were returning tailbacks Dasarte Yarnway and Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson; the former is coming off rehab on his ACL, while the latter was overweight during spring camp.

“With Shane leaving early (for the NFL), that is really a focus on where we’re going, to find out what’s the magic number — two, three, four — how many guys are going to be in the rotation,” Tedford said.

Elsewhere in the backfield, quarterback Zach Maynard will receive the majority of first-team reps as camp opens this week. Tedford added that competition at the spot will, as usual, remain open, and that senior Brock Mansion and sophomore Allan Bridgford were “right on his heels.”

Extra Points

—Cal will debut white helmets with blue lettering at some point during the season. “If they’re good boys, they’ll get the white helmets,” Tedford joked.

Last year, running back Shane Vereen usually approached Tedford each week with the team’s uniform preference.

—True freshman Brennan Scarlett, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound defensive end from Portland, Ore., has earned himself the nickname “Blake Griffin.” The four-star recruit resembles a shorter, rounder version of the Los Angeles Clippers star.