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August 6, 2009

Fall Camp preview: The WRs and TEs

Even with the recent news that junior college transfer Markish Jones will not be a part of the program due to academic reasons, the scene surrounding the wide receiving corps is still quite murky. Three of the top four receivers return with an extra year of experience and what seems to be extra motivation to prove doubters wrong.

But, it appears that as much as seven receivers can earn a top-3 rotation spot with a strong Fall Camp performance.

Nyan Boateng is the head of the pack and probably has the best shot right now to retain his starting role if the season started tomorrow. Outside of the Brooklyn native though - who caught a modest and team receiver-high 29 passes for 439 yards and 5 touchdowns last season - playing time is very much in the air for anyone who wants it.

When we caught up with some of the receivers earlier this summer during a players-only voluntary workout, they admitted that their play last season was not up to snuff. They also admitted that they are on a mission to show people things are different thing season.

"It's understandable," said junior Jeremy Ross. "We are young and we didn't really shine too much last year. It was everybody's first year fully playing. I think this year is going to be a lot better. We have a full year under our belts. We were inexperienced but I think we've grown so much."

Ross, along with senior Verran Tucker and sophomore Marvin Jones make up the most likely quartet of players to hit the field as camp begins. Ross is a versatile athlete who was used in many different ways last season while Tucker became a more consistent producer as the season rolled along. Jones was hurt for most of the season with a knee injury but had the best Spring Ball of any receiver on the roster.

Then there is redshirt sophomore Mike Calvin who has all the talent needed to succeed, redshirt freshman Charles Satchell and redshirt sophomore Alex Lagemann, who both could find themselves in the mix as well. And all that without mentioning Shane Vereen and Isi Sofele, who both could be used as receivers this season in special situations as well.

In other words, there is a lot to still be decided once Fall Camp begins..

Projected WR starter: Nyan Boateng

The best down field blocker of all the receivers on the roster, it would be a mild surprise if the senior doesn't retain a starting role come September 5 against Maryland. Although he still needs to figure out the case of the dropsies from time-to-time, Boateng is still the most consistent receiver that the Bears have right now.

Boateng entered the Florida program as a freshman with a tremendous reputation and pedigree as a future playmaker. Since arriving at Cal, Boateng has shown flashes of some of those highly touted skills, as highlighted in this wonderfully put together video package.

At some point in time this upcoming season, Cal is going to need a receiver to step up in the fourth quarter and make "the play" to move the chains. For now, Boateng is Cal's best bet.

Projected WR starter: Verran Tucker

By the Emerald Bowl last season, very few people would argue against the fact that Tucker was Cal's best overall receiving threat. The junior college transfer isn't nearly as physical of a receiver as Boateng or Ross, but he showed an outstanding propensity to break coverage at the line and smoothly get down the field.

In Cal's last six games, Tucker became the team's leading receiver, as he hauled in 15 catches and one touchdown.

Tucker definitely showed he could make the tough catch as well, which was highlighted by this catch of the year against USC down in Los Angeles.

The one concern surrounding Tucker however are his academics. Tucker sat out all of Spring Ball to get his grades together and from all accounts should be good to go once Fall Camp breaks. Still though, you hope Tucker can continue to take care of business in the classroom.

Projected WR starter: Marvin Jones

This one is a little bit of a hunch because Ross will be battling hard for this slot, but after watching Jones go toe-to-toe with Syd'Quan Thompson and Darian Hagan in Spring Ball and succeeding, it was hard not to be super impressed with his ability.

The sophomore is a former Rivals.com 4-star standout and showed off all those talents in the spring. Jones is arguably the smoothest and best route runner on the roster and possesses the most consistent hands as well. Jones also distinguishes himself from his teammates due to his extraordinary body control, especially on balls thrown against the sideline.

In the end, the battle for all three starting positions will be fierce during Fall Camp. Honestly, a strong camp by Boateng, Tucker, Ross, Jones, Calvin, Lagemann and Satchell could propel any one of those athletes into a big-time position.

Projected TE starter: Tad Smith

This race appears to be a two-player battle right now.

Smith is the veteran who is very familiar with the trenches while sophomore Anthony Miller is the young up-and-comer who caught the winning touchdown in the Emerald Bowl. Both players will see plenty of time this season no matter who starts though as both bring to the table strong blocking skills.

With the senior Smith, the question is whether he's fully recovered from his collar bone injury suffered last season which prematurely ended his campaign. If he is healthy, he'll likely get the nod initially. The fact that Miller didn't redshirt last season are clear signs that he's the tight end of the future.

If one of those guys does down to injury or doesn't perform however, veterans Garry Graffort, Savai'i Eselu and Skylar Curran are good enough to be rotation players. The two young guys to watch are Spencer Ladner and Jarrett Sparks, who both possess eye-popping potential at this position. Both players might be a couple years away though.

** Note: This is a BearTerritory.net feature and is not necessarily reflective of Cal coaching staff opinion.

6-2, 211 pounds, R-Sr.
Last year's leading receiver says he's taken on more of a leadership role this season in hopes of improving team production on the field. Personally, a big year could leapfrog Boateng into a late round selection.
5-11, 216 pounds, R-Jr.
Ross really found his niche in the Cal offense last season, becoming the player who was asked to do a little bit of everything, which included passing and running the ball. Expect him to have that same role again.
6-1, 204 pounds, Sr.
The junior college transfer got better and better as each game went on just as Tedford predicted last season. As long as he takes care of business in the classroom, Tucker will be right in the thick of the action.
6-2, 205 pounds, R-Soph.
Calvin admitted earlier this summer he's still trying to fully recover from the season-ending knee surgery last season. If healthy, he's one of the best Cal has on the roster. That's the key word though. "If."
6-2, 190 pounds, Soph.
It is hard to see how Jones can be kept off the field this season. The young man just has too much talent and determination to sit on the bench for another year.
6-1, 205 pounds, R-Soph.
Same deal as Calvin. If healthy, Lagemann brings a lot to the table. Hopefully for the Saratoga (Calif.) native though, the injury bug decides to go somewhere else for the near future.
6-5, 254 pounds, R-Sr.
Smith is mostly a blocking tight end but showed some decent hands catching the ball when he was able to get down the field last season.
6-3, 258 pounds, Soph.
Miller quickly impressed the coaching staff early in Fall Camp last season and there's no reason to believe his development as a player won't continue. Miller is already a great blocker, now it's about the pass catching.

6-2, 208 pounds, R-Fr.
If Satchell ever becomes more consistent catching the ball, the former Milpitas High standout has the potential to be a monster on this level. Satchell is a tremendous athlete.

6-4, 256 pounds, Sr.
The junior college transfer who heads into his final season hails from the same school as past greats Aaron Rodgers and Garrett Cross.

6-7, 253 pounds, R-Jr.
A sleeper pick to earn some major playing time this season, you have to love the measureables that Ladner brings to the table.

6-3, 242 pounds, R-Jr.
Concord native saw some action in the Colorado State game last season.

5-11, 219 pounds, Soph.
Eselu has struggled mightily with injuries since he's been at Cal. Lets hope he has a healthy Fall Camp.

6-1, 229 pounds, R-Fr.
Would love to see where Sparks is two seasons from now. The former Merced High star possesses great hands and his potential at the position is very intriguing.

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