BERKELEY-Time to grab your pencils and your books, because today was the first day of school for the Cal football team, as well as the rest of the Berkeley student body. Today's lesson: the depth chart.
With the first day of school upon us, the weather more than obliged, signaling the end of summer by dropping from a high of 113 degrees just two days ago to a chilly 59 for the Bears' morning practice, after which head coach Jeff Tedford revealed who would be Cal's starters going into next week's game against UC Davis, for which the team began preparation with today's session.
Of course, senior quarterback Kevin Riley will be calling the shots under center, junior Bryan Anger will be booting rain-making punts and junior tailback Shane Vereen-sidelined for much of camp with a balky hamstring-will be toting the rock.
"I'm not sure today, that he is right where he should be. We hope that, by the beginning of the week next week, he will be," Tedford said of his starting tailback. "We have tomorrow and Saturday to practice. I think he is (ready), as far as ball skills and everything else. We've just got to make sure that he's in great shape, and so, a couple more days, we'll continue to work him fairly hard."
The race for the right to back up Vereen concluded with the crowning of little Isi Sofele as the backup tailback, with Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson and Dasarte Yarnway rounding out the top four backs.
"It's good to know that I'm right there, but I still have to work hard," Sofele said. "We've still got guys coming for my spot, so I've got to keep working. But, it feels good to know that I accomplished what I wanted to do."
Tedford said that Sofele is likely to see more than 10 carries a game in spelling Vereen.
"It'll be like normal, what we've done with (Jahvid) Best and Vereen, the same deal. You want to hold your starting tailback to somewhere in the 25-carry range. You hate to get up in the 30s, or the 40s," Tedford laughed, in reference to Vereen's 42 carries during the Big Game last season.
Sofele has added quite a bit of muscle during the offseason, turning the lightning-quick back into a more physical presence between the tackles.
"I think it was a big factor in this situation," Sofele said. "Just to go out there and show that I can out-physical some guys, go out there and throw my body out there and stay on my feet and run."
Tedford added that Sofele-even before he added the bulk-was a tough little runner.
"The pounding really hasn't been an issue for him. He's quick, he's under control, he can block. It's more for strength. The pounding, he's always been very tough and durable, so that's not the issue, but obviously, strength and muscle gain helps in injury-prevention, so it has to help some."
Plowing the way for the backs will be a starting offensive line of Mitchell Schwartz at left tackle, Brian Schwenke at left guard (backed up by Dominic Galas), Chris Guarnero at center, Justin Cheadle at right guard and Donovan Edwards at right tackle. Edwards' spot is secure pending the recovery of the injured Matt Summers-Gavin, who started camp working in at left guard before going down with a right bone bruise in his knee.
"He's coming along, but he hasn't practiced yet, so unless he starts practice at the beginning of the week, he won't play (on Saturday)," Tedford said. "The line, when he comes back, he'll probably move to right tackle, because we have more depth inside, (with) Schwenke or Galas at left guard, and Schwenke can play right guard as well."
Sofele for one cited the importance of having at least some semblance of consistency on the line, given that he'll be seeing more frequent action than he has to date.
"It's really important," Sofele said. "You've got to know who's who, where they're going, you've got to know what you're doing and what the read is, so you go in there and don't make any bad decisions, so you can just go in there and make things happen."
Apart from Vereen and Sofele, the offense will feature quite a large number of new playmakers, starting with the newest musical duo to sweep the nation: true freshman Keenan Allen and junior Marvin Jones, the starting pair of wide receivers. Allen had perhaps the most impressive fall camp, winning the starting gig on his first go-around, and continued his strong showing this morning, displaying smooth acceleration both in and out of his breaks, superb sideline awareness and balance, hauling in everything that came his way.
"It was evident right away. He's big, strong, fast, great hands, great body control, it took maybe three days, or something like that," Tedford chuckled, describing Allen's ascension up the depth chart.
Tedford then proceeded to name off the rest of the wide receiver rotation.
"You have Marv and Keenan, and then Jeremy Ross, Michael Calvin, (Alex) Lagemann and Coleman (Edmond)," Tedford said. "If we go three-wide, it'd be Ross, right now. Coleman will play, and we're going to keep Tevin Carter and Kaelin Clay in the mix. Then, we'll just have to see how they come along and what ends up happening."
Carter saw time on Thursday fielding kickoffs, along with Allen and Vereen. Clay-who had also seen a few return reps over the course of fall camp-has been a very pleasant surprise at his proper position of receiver, and has shown some of the softest hands outside of the top two newcomers in Allen and Edmond.
Also showing some solid pass-catching during today's one-on-one drills was tight end Jacob Wark, who Tedford named as the fourth tight end, behind Anthony Miller, Spencer Ladner and Jarrett Sparks.
"He came in physically prepared to play and block at the line of scrimmage," Tedford said of Wark. "He catches the ball well, runs well, but there's a lot to learn at that position, so that's really been his deal. When he finally gets everything down, and he can play unconscious, then he has all the tools to be a great tight end."
Other starters on offense include Eric Stevens at fullback, spelling incumbent Will Kapp by virtue of the latter having missed a significant amount of camp due to a concussion.
"Right now, the starting fullback would be Stevens," Tedford said. "Both those guys are going to play a lot, it's just that Kapp missed so much camp. It's 1 and 1A."
In what has been a fierce battle ever since the start of spring ball, the starting cornerbacks-at least for the moment-will be veteran Darian Hagan and Marc Anthony, who beat out another strong camper in Steve Williams, who, along with Bryant Nnabuife, will start the season as a backup.
During one-on-ones pitting corners against receivers, Anthony-who will start at left corner-was particularly suffocating, all-but throwing a wet blanket over the pass-catching machine that is Lagemann.
"He's done a great job in all areas-in the run game, he's tackling well, great cover guy-he had a very solid camp," Tedford said of Anthony. "We always felt like he had the potential to play, but he's had a great camp."
During nickel situations, Tedford said that Nnabuife and Josh Hill could come in as an extra defensive back. Hill is also in the mix at strong safety, and will back up senior starter Chris Conte. As for the free safety position, things look a bit more open.
"Sean Cattouse, we'll see by the end of the week, that kind of goes back and forth with the safeties," Tedford said. "There's Conte, there's Hill and D.J. Campbell. They'll all rotate, really. It doesn't matter who takes the first snap. They're all going to rotate."
Having clearly defined groups of free and strong safeties is something new for the Cal defenders, who, under former defensive coordinator Bob Gregory, just had left and right safeties with largely undifferentiated roles.
Another position still up in the air is defensive end. On one side, senior Cameron Jordan and his high-top Gumby fade are a mainstay, but on the other side, Deandre Coleman and Ernest Owusu will continue to contend with one another, with Coleman currently holding a slight edge.
"D-end right now, is not really (settled)," Tedford said. " It's either going to be DeAndre or Owusu. KP (Kendrick Payne) right now is the nose tackle."
Payne has pulled ahead of veteran Derrick Hill-if only slightly-and will remain there until Hill is healthy enough to challenge for playing time.
"Oh yeah, definitely, as soon as he gets healthy, because he's really been limited because of injury," Tedford said. "Hill has a chronic knee, and then he ended up having gout in his foot or ankle."
There have been other knicks and dings over the course of fall camp, but nothing major going into Thursday's practice. Senior linebacker Mike Mohamed battled through some sore ribs and had a solid practice, as did Conte, who was sporting a light wrap on his right wrist.
Mohamed will of course start at inside linebacker, along with D.J. Holt, with Keith Browner and Mychal Kendricks holding down the outside.
During positional work, linebacker Steven Fanua stood out, showing plenty of aggression in pad-hitting drills.
One contender for playing time at outside backer-true freshman David Wilkerson-had to sit out practice, along with his recruiting classmate Gabe King, who was making quite a push himself during fall camp at defensive end.
"Gabe is waiting for the NCAA. He's got a paperwork issue that the NCAA needs to clear," Tedford said. "Wilkerson's the same as Gabe King. He's got some paperwork. The (NCAA) Clearinghouse gets so bogged down right now, they get inundated with everybody's paperwork. We're just waiting on the final clearance from the clearinghouse for our people."
Tedford was more than slightly irked at having to wait on bureaucratic red tape, especially when it concerns two of his young studs on defense.
"Anytime something like that is in somebody else's hands, you always have to be a little bit concerned about it. They have sent their things numerous times, and I don't know what's going on at the Clearinghouse as far as what their mailroom looks like, or how they're organized or whatever," Tedford said. "It's a little bit frustrating when you send things two and three and four times, and they come up with new policies when you sent the paperwork in a long time ago, at the beginning of the summer, and then they change and there's something new. Then, the people at the high school are on vacation, and you're trying to get a hold of them to get something done. We were on top of this a long time ago. The compliance office is calling three, four times a day to try and get it figured out, find out where the paperwork is. It can be a bit frustrating."
Tedford said that, with the depth that the Bears have on the defensive line, King-despite his very strong camp-will most likely not be needed immediately, and will most likely redshirt. Wilkerson, however, was expected to compete at outside linebacker, and had to miss a large chunk of the latter part of camp because of similar paperwork issues.
"King most likely will redshirt. Wilkerson will be in the mix. It's a bigger thing for Wilkerson, as far as timing is concerned," Tedford said. "They can't practice until they've been cleared. They haven't practiced for four or five days, now. (Wilkerson) missed some reps. He didn't get to play in our last 'fast practice.'"
Having fast practices is largely the impetus behind a new format for the end of the Bears' sessions, starting with Thursday. Instead of having a dedicated scout team, Tedford is altering the landscape a bit to further competition between individual players as well as units.
"We're going to service each other. We'll have two service periods and one scout period. The speed is a lot better," Tedford said. "We'll service each other, which means we'll have our No. 2 defense line up with what we want to see, in our terminology, and we'll do it with speed. Same thing with the No. 2 offense against the No. 1 defense. Whatever plays they want to see, we'll put them in our terminology and we'll run them for the speed of the game. Then we take all the young guys and they'll all run plays against each other while these guys are servicing. Then, at the end, we'll have complete scout teams, where we may have something totally specific to that other team, just to be able to get the look, like if they do something kind of odd that our defense can't simulate at all, that's when we'll plug those things in. It's to simulate game temp and game speed."
In an unsurprising turn of events, Sofele will take on the duty of many of Cal's No. 2 backs of the past, and will be the primary kickoff returner.
"Return guys, right now, for kickoff, is probably going to be Sofele and Conte," Tedford said. "The punt returner will be Jeremy Ross. Conte's the off returner (on kickoffs)."
Expect Edmond, Clay and Carter to also see some time on kick and punt return once the whistle blows.
As for placekicking, Giorgio Tavecchio will be the starter on both kickoffs and field goals, but don't sleep on walk-on freshman Jed Barnett, who started fall backing up Anger in the punting department.
"Giorgio is still doing kicking (field goals and kickoffs) as of today," Tedford said. "I think that's still up in the air, as far as, he's the field goal kicker, and kickoffs, today, we'll continue to evaluate that. In kickoffs today, I thought that Barnett did a nice job."