BERKELEY-After starting the season off having shown vast improvements in special teams play, the Cal football team has slipped a bit in the past two weeks. The Bears are ninth in the Pac-10 in kickoff returns-averaging just 19.2 yards-and are eighth in kickoff coverage, allowing 21.7 yards per return.
Special teams coordinator Jeff Genyk has been hard at work trying to correct those problems, which have overshadowed the fact that junior kickoff man Giorgio Tavecchio has averaged a career-best 65.7 yards per kick, and that junior punter Bryan Anger is averaging 45.8 yards per punt.
"We're missing tackles," Genyk said. "Against UCLA, we had a couple of our non-starters in there miss some tackles and the same thing happened against USC. We had two very good kickoff covers and the last one was against their hands team and we missed a tackle at the 26. We're still very impressed and encouraged by Giorgio putting the ball down there, inside the five-yard line, and feel that our kickoff coverage will continue to improve. We've got to tackle. We missed two tackles down there at the 22-yard line against UCLA."
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Against the first kickoff team, Genyk said, opponents start their drives at just past the 24-yard line, and, on the season, they average a starting position just past their own 27.
"That's good for about fourth in the Pac-10, so we'll continue to improve," Genyk said. "We're kicking it deep every time, so I feel good about that when we've got our starters in. From a punting standpoint, we're seventh in the country. We continue to cover well. We do have to not be so aggressive. We missed a tackle there against Ron Johnson on the first punt and that got a 15-yard return. Versus our punt team, anything over four or five yards is unacceptable."
Against the Trojans, the Bears saw the emergence of another option on their own kick return team in junior transfer Coleman Edmond, who came in during the second half to spell Isi Sofele on the return team, alongside Keenan Allen.
"It was basically that point in the game. Isi had returned a few, Keenan had returned one and it was just an opportunity to get another returner oiled up, because we still want to improve on kickoff returns," Genyk said. "We're getting better, and it was just another opportunity to get another player in there and see how he would do."
Edmond returned one kickoff for 23 yards and another for 25, but still has a bit of room to improve.
"Right now, he's definitely in the mix. He caught the ball well, he certainly ran hard, but he missed the seam a couple times," Genyk said. "Those returns were great out to the 25, but that first one probably should have been out to the 50, if he had just followed his blockers. It's all about a young player being able to calm down when he's really excited and be able to still listen and focus on a particular play-in this case, the return scheme-to be able to follow his blockers and make some stuff happen."
Head coach Jeff Tedford said that Edmond is getting closer and closer to seeing some more snaps at wide receiver.
"He's got plenty of skill," Tedford said. "On offense, we've just got to make sure that he knows what he's doing and that he can play and things like that. He's still figuring that out. First-year players, sometimes it takes a little bit longer to understand the system completely."
While there are reasons for hope on the kick return, punt returns have been a bit shaky in the past two weeks, with Jeremy Ross making some questionable decisions down inside the 10-yard line.
"Jeremy, he was very excited, very amped up for the opportunity against UCLA, and he actually had some very good returns, however, the decision-making inside the 10-yard line is something that we've worked on," Genyk said. "It has really come down to not necessarily going straight back, but it's as he's looking at the ball, he's moving laterally and loses focus of where he is on the field. What we've done is we've moved him back to the five, so now he can come up. If he moves back at all, he'll just let it go.
"We feel good about where he's at. We're ranked in the top-20 on punt returns, and we've just got to keep improving."