Monday marks the beginning of Fall Training Camp for the 2006 Cal Bears.
The team will report for duty today, then strap on the helmets for the first session on Tuesday.
Cal has 23 practices to solidify its quarterback position, find chemistry along its offensive line, install a couple new safeties and break in a 21-member recruiting class before beginning game week preparations for the season opener at Tennessee.
A look at the key areas of developement:
There's no doubt that Nate Longshore is the front runner to reclaim his starting job that he lost after breaking his ankle in last year's season opener. Now 100 per cent, he has drawn raves from coaches and teammates for his arm strength and accuracy.
The Bears are in the enviable position of having two other quarterbacks with significant playing experience. Joe Ayoob took the majority of snaps for Cal in 2005 and is coming off a good spring, while Steve Levy--the hero of the Big Game--has been reinstated following an off-the-field altercation over the summer.
Redshirt freshman Kyle Reed has a bright future and will get a good look in the fall, as will incoming Elite 11 quarterback Kevin Riley.
Jeff Tedford has a brilliant track record with quarterbacks and the bet here is that he will find a way to get maximum production out of this spot in 2006.
The Offensive Line
Minutes in the line is the key to success up front and Cal lost a lot of experience with the departure of center Marvin Phillip, tackle Ryan O'Callaghan, guard Aaron Merz and super sub Jonathan Murphy.
The good news is that six players return who have started at least one game at the Division I level. The rock of the line figures to be senior left guard Erik Robertson, but the rest of the spots have some question marks
Sophomore Alex Mack is the front runner at center, but the development of JUCO transfer Mark Gray as his backup will be vital to the line's overall depth.
Sophomore Noris Malele had one start at left guard last season and should settle into the right guard spot. He'll be pushed by senior Bryan Deemer, who started two games at right guard for Merz in 2005. Talented redshirt freshman Kevin Bemoll, junior Brian De La Puente, JC transfer Mike Gibson and Duke transfer Tyler Krieg--a senior--will be key reserves on the inside.
The tackle spots looked iffy heading into spring, but the Bears caught a break with the return of Andrew Cameron and the recovery of Mike Tepper. Senior Scott Smith is the early leader at the left tackle position, but Cameron will challenge him. Tepper is the early leader to take over for O'Callaghan at right tackle.
Tedford noted that while this year's line is not as big as recent ones at Cal, it is more athletic. He feels that Mike Dunbar's blocking schemes suit this line well. Whatever the case, the Bears can ill afford an injury bug up front like it had last year.
The Bears are set at corner with Tim Mixon and Daymeion Hughes, but Harrison Smith and Donnie McCleskey must be replaced at the safety positions.
Junior Brandon Hampton is the frontrunner at rover. He has some experience, as he had 12 tackles and a pick last season. This could be an area where one of the freshmen like Darian Hagan challenges for playing time.
Junior Thomas DeCoud takes over at safety and has the potential to be a star performer. He had 28 tackles last season. Sophomore Bernard Hicks will provide depth at both safety spots.
With continued development, the interior secondary could be even stronger than it was in 2005.
Fall camp is always a tough time for newcomers. Young players eventually hit a 'wall' physically and mentally. How they recover from that wall usually determines whether they will redshirt or not.
Several new Bears are slated to be contributors in 2006. Besides the aforementioned Gibson and Krieg along the offensive line, look for JC transfer Rulon Davis to fight for playing time at defensive end.
Among the freshmen, tackle Derrick Hill is the most decorated and should one day pick up where previous elite tackles Lorenzo Alexander and Brandon Mebane left off. Safety Darian Hagan and running backs Tracy Slocum and James Montgomery have also been impressive in summer workouts.
The main question mark for the 2006 Bears involves how they will line up at some key positions down the middle of the field. Cal is experienced and talented on the edges, with high-level players at corner, receiver and defensive end.
But the continued development of the quarterback, center, guards and safeties will make a great season more likely.
This camp should help solve most of these issues.
The Bears hit the practice field on Tuesday at 3:45 p.m., then follow up with 4 p.m. practices on Wednesday and Thursday. BearTerritory.net will be there to give a first hand account.