We’ll be posting daily online updates from fall camp starting Saturday. In-depth position previews for Cal can be found on our Football Blog.
1. Zach Maynard under center — and in the spotlight
With the departure of Kevin Riley, Cal’s quarterback competition figured to be the team’s most wide-open in years. And it sure will be during fall camp … for the role of back-up, anyway.
Jeff Tedford ended all the starting quarterback drama in May, choosing Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard over Allan Bridgford and Brock Mansion.
Still, that does not mean the pressure — or attention — from that position has disappeared. Not by a long shot.
Maynard does bring significant upside — most notably his running ability, which could enable Jeff Tedford to add extra wrinkles to the offense.
And given the Bears’ major question marks at running back right now, having an extra playmaker under center certainly couldn’t hurt.
However, the Greensboro, N.C. native remains an unknown commodity as a passer. His 2009 stats at Buffalo (18 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions) are not exactly dazzling and it remains to be seen how Maynard’s accuracy and poise hold up against the top-tier Pac-12 defenses.
We’ll learn much more once official games start. Nevertheless, fall camp can at least provide a glimpse of his chemistry with Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, how well he can pick up Tedford’s offense and if there are indeed any changes in place to utilize Maynard’s mobility.
— Ed Yevelev
2. Cal’s running back rotation post-Vereen
Arrington. Lynch. Forsett. Best. Vereen. … Sofele?
After years of star running back replacing star running back, moderately-used junior Isi Sofele is Jeff Tedford’s clear No. 1. Sofele may be just 5-foot-7 and 188 pounds and he may have rushed for only 420 yards in his Cal career, but he is the most experienced tailback. Dasarte Yarnway had just eight carries in 2010. Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson has had 52 in two years combined. The Bears have a long list of other running backs, but the rest are first-years.
Sofele was the primary back-up last season to the departed Shane Vereen. The speedster rushed for 338 yards on 69 attempts in 2010, averaging almost five yards a carry. With his small frame, Sofele probably won’t break many tackles, but he can beat defenders to the outside.
His back-up? That’s for camp to answer. Yarnway and DeBoskie-Johnson may be logical choices, but their history of injuries and lack of production might point Tedford to the first-years — especially freshman Brendon Bigelow. The four-star recruit underwent two knee surgeries in high school, but was deemed ready for fall camp.
Two junior college transfers are in the running, as well: C.J. Anderson out of nearby Laney College and walk-on Mike Manuel, who attended Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif. Tedford praised Manuel after a strong spring practice in early April.
— Jonathan Kuperberg
3. The Bears’ wideout depth after Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen
Sophomore Keenan Allen and senior Marvin Jones are about the best pair of targets new quarterback Zach Maynard could hope for. What’s less clear is who will be on the field in three-receiver sets, or when either of the regular two starters need a breather.
Michael Calvin, who at 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds has the look of a top-flight wideout, but has battled injuries throughout his career. In 2010, the San Lorenzo, Calif., native set numerous career highs — which sounds impressive until you see that those numbers last fall amounted to three starts, 13 receptions and 147 receiving yards. There’s a chance Calvin could have a breakout season, but for now, that chance appears to be slim.
Freshman Kaelin Clay should have a brighter future. Clay, who redshirted last season, has been reputed as the fastest player on the team since he arrived on campus. He also hails from Long Beach Poly, the same high school that produced DeSean Jackson and numerous other NFL players. Listed at a diminutive 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Clay could serve as an ideal slot receiver.
Others who could be in the mix for playing time include senior Coleman Edmond, a former junior college transfer who saw more time as a kick returner last year, and Allen’s cousin Maurice Harris, a big-bodied freshman from North Carolina.
— Jack Wang
4. Michalczik’s offensive line
It’s no secret: when the Bears have lost big, they’ve lost games in the trenches. USC last fall comes to mind, as does Oregon State. In both contests, Cal was annihilated up front — leaving little time for Kevin Riley and few creases for Shane Vereen.
So to fix the offensive line, which has been a liability for the past couple of years, Jeff Tedford has called in the help of an old friend. Jim Michalczik is back in Berkeley as the Bears’ offensive line coach after a brief stint with the Oakland Raiders.
He brings a proven track record of churning out All-Pac-10 linemen — most recently, current Cleveland Browns All-Pro center Alex Mack. With Michalczik’s arrival, Cal’s line has the chance to make significant strides in 2011. The group he inherits is experienced at the top, as both projected starting tackles (Mitchell Schwartz and Matt Summers-Gavin) are proven players. Guards Brian Schwenke and Justin Cheadle have seen their share of snaps, as has center Dominic Galas.
However, there’s much less certainty with just about everyone else; developing some decent depth along the rotation will be Michalczik’s primary task this fall. Young players like Tyler Rigsbee and Bill Tyndall will get their chances to compete for back-up roles during camp. Keeping everyone healthy will be another key for Michalczik — both Galas and Schwartz sat out during spring practice and Summers-Gavin has battled injuries throughout his career.
— Ed Yevelev
5. Which defensive recruits will make an immediate impact?
Incoming freshman Viliami Moala set the Cal bench-press record even before enrolling in school. The 6-foot-2, 350-pound defensive tackle benched 495 pounds in high school and was ESPN’s No. 7-ranked defensive lineman for the class of 2011. The Bears’ 2011 recruiting haul, ranked No. 15 by ESPN, is stock-piled with defenders ready to contribute right away.
It won’t be easy to replicate Cal’s 2010 defense, which gave up the fewest yards in the conference, but Moala and company will have an opportunity to produce immediately on a unit that lost six starters, including stars Cameron Jordan, Mike Mohamed and Chris Conte.
“These guys are young right now but I still think that they’re going to be able to contribute in some way,” head coach Jeff Tedford said. “There’s a lot to work with on defense as far as talent level is concerned.”
Moala should fit seamlessly as the gap-clogging nose tackle in defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s 3-4 scheme, replacing Derrick Hill. And Moala isn’t even the Bears’ top defensive recruit. The most exciting player might be Avery Walls, who enrolled at Cal early and could potentially start from day one. The Georgia native turned down the likes of Oregon and Michigan to roam the Bears’ secondary. Walls, along with three-star cornerbacks Stefan McClure, Kameron Jackson and Joel Willis, should flourish under the leadership of the squad’s new defensive backs coach, former Pro-Bowler Ashley Ambrose.
— Jonathan Kuperberg
6. Jeff Tedford and his new staff get to work
Over his career, Jeff Tedford has fashioned himself the reputation of a quarterback guru. But since Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2005, no Cal signal-caller has made it to the NFL.
In 2006, Nate Longshore had the second-best quarterback rating in the Pac-10. Longshore injured his ankle the following season and struggled for the rest of his career; the Bears haven’t had a player rank in the top five since. The recent trend of positional mediocrity in Strawberry Canyon has slowly led some to question Tedford’s coaching acumen.
This season could a crucial one in the scope of Tedford’s legacy. After ostensibly taking a step back in recent years to focus on the program as a whole, he has said that he will be taking a larger role in playcalling in 2011.
The change follows the departure of former offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. The now-San Diego State OC was replaced by Jim Michalczik, who also returns the offensive line coach role he served from 2002-08. Wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau also makes a homecoming, and now carries the added title of passing game coordinator.
It’ll be tremendous for Tedford’s resume if the new hires are successful. In Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard, they’ll be working with a starting quarterback that hasn’t played competitive football in over a year.
— Jack Wang