Publisher's Note: This is the first of a two-part story dealing with Cal's depth chart as released by head coach Jeff Tedford.
Just prior to Thursday's Pac-10 Media Day at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Cal head football coach Jeff Tedford issued his first depth chart for the 2010 Bears. Admittedly, he did so with a little coaxing.
"It's just to put something on paper for you guys (the media)," Tedford chuckled. "Because Kyle (McRae, Associate Media Relations Director) makes me. That's about it."
On that depth chart, Tedford listed Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson as Cal's second tailback behind starter Shane Vereen, who will take over for the departed Jahvid Best, who just signed a five-year contract with the Detroit Lions. Tedford said that, as of now, Deboskie-Johnson's status on that depth chart is largely ceremonial, and that, after Vereen, the options at tailback are wide open.
"We do have to create some depth behind Shane Vereen," Tedford said. "We've always been fortunate enough to have two backs, whether it be Jahvid and Shane or Marshawn (Lynch) and Justin (Forsett) or J.J. Arrington and Marshawn. Whatever it's been, we've always been fortunate enough to have one-two in the backfield. This year, our goal going into camp is going to be to create that depth-whether it's a second back or a third back-that can come in and spell Shane."
One thing is for sure: the Bears will not lack for speed. With a stable of backs that includes Deboskie-Johnson, the bruising Dasarte Yarnway, the lightning-quick converted receiver Isi Sofele, true freshman Trajuan Briggs and walk-on sophomore Langston Jackson.
"Right now, Langston is a backup," Tedford said. "He plays a backup role, and going into the season, he's really improved, and I think his role would be on special teams."
While Jackson excelled during the spring when given snaps, and his performance-along with his 6-foot-1, 238-pound frame-could lend to him getting a chance at fullback, a position currently occupied by junior Will Kapp-the presumptive starter-and sophomore Eric Stevens.
"Yeah, there is a chance," Tedford said of seeing Jackson at fullback. "We may take a look at that. Our fullbacks have always been our unsung heroes. They're the guys that are doing a lot of the work in the trenches and don't get much attention. Will Kapp, Eric Stevens, John Tyndall, those guys bring a lot of the same things that Brian Holley did. All of our fullbacks, really, have been walk-ons over the years."
Jackson-a graduate of Simi Valley (Calif.) High School-hails from the same area as punter Bryan Anger, a graduate of this site's publisher's alma mater, Camarillo High. Tedford was effusive in his praise of Anger, as well as the part he plays in the improvement of special teams as a whole under the tutelage of new special teams coordinator Jeff Genyk.
"(Genyk has) worked with him and always studies his form and things like that, with his drop with his ball and stuff like that," Tedford said. "Through spring, Bryan was pretty consistent, so he continues to evaluate everything about him."
Snapping the ball to Anger will be sophomore Matt Rios, while placekicking duties will be split between junior Giorgio Tavecchio and sophomore Vince D'Amato. Not on the released depth chart is redshirt freshman Brandon Madueno, who will likely serve as the backup longsnapper.
"He's a weapon, there's no doubt about it," Tedford said of Anger. "Changing field position in the kicking game is critical to winning football games, and he's one of the best in the nation at doing that. He's got a big leg-he can kick the ball the length of the field, or he can place it down inside-he has some touch, but he does have power as well. Besides that, I think consistency is something, too. You always have to work to get better at something like that, and I think if he needed to get better at something, it'd be consistency."
Consistency is a big part of what Tedford hopes to improve about the team, and that all starts with the still-open quarterback competition. Though Tedford was typically loathe to officially name senior signal-caller Kevin Riley the starter, he did say that Riley would more than likely take the first snaps of the season, owing to his experience and grasp of second-year offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's offense.
"Offensively, we feel like we have some firepower," Tedford said. "I'm not sure-the quarterback is the question all the time, that I get on who's going to play quarterback-we're going to have great competition at quarterback."
Behind Riley will be sophomore Beau Sweeney and junior Brock Mansion. More than likely, that trio will take the majority-if not all-competitive snaps in the 2010 season. After them, the team will have redshirt freshman Allan Bridgford, sophomore Ryan Wertenberger and Elite11 true freshman Austin Hinder.
"Kevin Riley is going to be the one who takes the first snaps, and I'm not sure that a lot of people know that Kevin is the active leader in wins in the Pac-10, in touchdown passes and in starts," Tedford said. "We're really hoping and we expect that that experience is going to translate into more success on the football field."
Riley had a superior spring and has taken to putting in quite a bit of off-hours work in order to improve on his performance from last season, when he posted a QB rating of 128.7, completing 209-of-382 passes for 2,850 yards, 18 TDs and eight picks.
"I thought he had a pretty solid spring," Tedford said. "He's the active leader in starts, wins and touchdown passes in this conference. That experience level should translate into being that much better this year. He has really focused and worked hard on fundamentals. He's worked hard to be more consistent, and we can help him with that. We can help him with higher-percentage throws. We can help him by not getting down by 28 points, where we've got to throw it every down. Those types of things. It's tit-for-tat with the defense. We have to ham-and-egg it a little bit with the offense, defense and the special teams, keep the game competitive and close where we don't have to rely on chucking it every down."
Tedford said that Riley has taken a "big-time" leap in maturity level, and that part of helping him parlay that into wins will be an expanded passing game which could feature more short passes underneath, utilizing elements of Arizona's strategy of using underneath passes as a de facto running game.
"Sure, absolutely," Tedford said. "Getting the ball out of our hands quickly, it helps pass protection, helps a lot of things."
Part of that new wrinkle in the Bears' attack could very well involve the tailbacks below Vereen on the depth chart, all of whom have shown that they can be effective catching passes out of the backfield.
"They're versatile that way," Tedford said. "If you'll remember, Isi started as a receiver for us. That's going to be key, to find out if one guy, two guys, however many it is, is going to relieve Shane. That's a big question. He has to be relieved, because he's not going to take the pounding of carrying the ball 35, 40 times a game."
Completing short passes early on, Tedford said, would be "exactly" the most effective way of upping Riley's confidence level early in games so that when the time comes to throw deep, the senior signal-caller will have faith in his abilities. Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right, as the saying goes.
"Watching all the cut-ups, Kevin's done some really good things," Tedford said.
Protecting Riley on the offensive line is another area that Tedford said that needs to be improved. Currently, the starting line features 6-foot-3, 280-pound sophomore Matt Summers-Gavin at left tackle backed up by senior Donovan Edwards, 6-foot-2, 280-pound sophomore Brian Schwenke backed up by sophomore Dominic Galas at left guard, 6-foot-2, 270-pound senior Chris Guarnero at center backed by Galas, 6-foot-2, 290-pound junior Justin Cheadle at right guard backed by junior Richard Fisher and 6-foot-5, 310-pound junior Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle, backed up by junior Sam DeMartinis.
Last year, the line was tested early and often, surrendering the most sacks-31-that Tedford has seen in his tenure at Cal. The last time that the Bears surrendered anywhere near that many was in 2003, when they gave up 29.
"I think it was a combination of a lot of things, of hanging onto the football and getting in games where we had to come back from big deficits and having to rely on the pass game and down-the-field throws, those types of things," Tedford said. "This year, we definitely have to bring that (sack number) down. That's the most we've been sacked in a long, long time, so we definitely have to address that and try to do things schematically- moving the pocket, variations of protections-and so on and so forth, just getting the ball out of our hands without making poor decisions. Those negative plays can hurt you."
One of the primary weapons in that protection will be Summers-Gavin, who was injured for most of last season.
"I think he's a good player," Tedford said. "He's as good a tackle as he is a guard. He's one of our best offensive linemen, if not the best. So, any time you lose someone of his caliber, it's going to test your depth. That's really important, going into the season, is that we create some depth in fall camp, so when we get in a situation during the season, we can continue to play at a high level."
With the specter of injury on the line always looming, Tedford is focused on creating a line with able backups and flexibility.
"Our challenge is trying to find the top eight or top nine, that can interchange between guard and tackle, tackle and center, guard and center, whatever it may be," Tedford said. "Donovan Edwards has actually really created some flexibility for us. He played center in the spring, he played tackle. We can move other people around."
Some of that moving may involve Schwartz, who's position at right tackle is "still being evaluated," though he will start fall camp as the No. 1 option at the position.
Another offensive lineman, 6-foot-4, 290-pound redshirt freshman Charles Siddoway has taken time away from the team during summer workouts in order to straighten up some academic issues.
"Siddoway is doing fine, working hard on academics, but he's doing fine," Tedford said. "He's spending a lot of time focusing on academics and summer school."
Also unavailable due to academics will be tackle Charles Ragland, who has transferred to San Mateo Community College for the fall semester in order to get his academics in order, with his return to the team still unsure.
"That's still up in the air," Tedford said. "We don't know."
One lineman that could be returning at some point soon is Tyler Rigsbee, who's little brother Jordan recently committed to the Bears.
"Rigsbee is still coming along," Tedford said. "He missed a lot of time."
This year will be a critical one for the Bears offense, as it will be the second go-around for the two men Tedford calls the "foundation" of that unit: Ludwig and offensive line coach Steve Marshall.
"Ludwig and Marshall, last year was their first year. Now, they've had another year to work together, and so I think, that continuity always pays dividends," Tedford said. "Especially, since we've lost coaches before, I mean, your offensive line coach and your coordinator? That's kind of hard to do sometimes. That's the foundation of the offense."
Should the line play its role in giving Riley time to pass, Tedford foresees a situation where the senior could have a breakout season at the helm.
"I absolutely could, absolutely could, yeah," Tedford said. "With his experience level, I think he's worked really, really hard on his fundamentals, and I think, working with another year under Coach Ludwig, the continuity there, I think his mindset-if he ends up winning the job-I think he'll have the feel like this is his team. He's been through a lot, and so I see some stability in his mindset and his approach to the game. He's worked very, very hard. I think he believes it's his team. I think the team has a lot of confidence in him. I'm very excited about that."
Another source of excitement is the bevy of speedsters that the Bears have at the receiver position. While no true freshman cracked the first two-deep, the receivers who did-junior Marvin Jones, junior Michael Calvin, junior Alex Lagemann and senior Jeremy Ross-accounted played in 76 games, hauled in 104 catches for 1,475 yards and nine TDs.
"I think that Jeremy Ross has enough experience and enough ability to make a strong move," Tedford said. "Michael Calvin is finally healthy, with a lot of potential. (He's) a big, physical, fast receiver. I think he can make a strong contribution. Lagemann plays a role somewhere in there, and then, Coleman Edmond, I think he's got to be a guy that does some stuff for us. Keenan Allen, he's going to do something for us, and then Tevin Carter and Kaelin Clay and Terrance Montgomery are all guys that we have to see what happens in camp. That's a lot of speed, right there. There's a lot of receivers, a lot of guys who can run, for sure. And, that's a start, because you can't coach that."
With the stable of speedsters at wide receiver in this year's recruiting class, Tedford expects to see some surprises come the opening of fall camp next week, and a shot in the arm for the offense as a whole.
"Some of our young receivers are going to have to step up," Tedford said. "I feel good that our offensive line has enough experience that they're going to be able to create some holes and some running lanes for our backs, and I think they're going to be able to pass protect. We need to put Kevin in a better situation with some of the play-calling as far as getting the ball out of his hands and not holding the ball for so long. But, some of our young receivers are going to have to step up, as well. That's going to be the key to it, but I don't think we can ever go into it and be successful if we're one-dimensional."
Check back later for the second half of the story, when Tedford and linebacker Mike Mohamed speak about the defense, summer workouts, team bonding and impact youngsters.