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March 16, 2008
California has some soul-searching to do during spring practice. The Bears were ranked as high as No. 2 before going into a 1-6 tailspin to end the regular season. Cal recovered to beat Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl and discovered it will have a quarterback competition in the spring. Nate Longshore struggled during Cal's slump while Kevin Riley led the comeback against Air Force with 269 passing yards and three touchdowns. Once assumed to be the biggest threat to USC in the Pac-10, Cal has some work to do to reclaim that title, especially on offense without DeSean Jackson and Justin Forsett. Here's a look at the Golden Bears going into spring drills.
Nate Longshore will have to fight for the quarterback job this spring.
Defense—8: E Tyson Alualu, LB Anthony Felder, LB Zack Follett, SS Bernard Hicks, T Cody Jones, T Mika Kane, CB Syd'Quan Thompson, LB Worrell Williams.
Offense—4: QB Nate Longshore, C Alex Mack, G Noris Malele, T Mike Tepper.
Special teams—1: K Jordan Kay.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Cal's biggest strength is at linebacker, where the Bears return three players who started at least seven games. The unit is led by Follett, a second-team All-Pac-10 performer who led the Bears in sacks and tackles for a loss. Williams and Felder combined for 206 tackles. Mike Mohamed provides depth after recording 46 tackles as a freshman. Mack opted to return to Cal rather than go to the NFL draft and should be a Rimington Trophy candidate; two other starters on the offensive line return, as well.
HELP IS NEEDED
DeSean Jackson's early departure was no surprise, but the Bears also lose seniors Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan at wide receiver. The Bears will turn to a crew of newcomers to help revive the passing game. Florida transfer Nyan Boateng has loads of potential but hasn't played a full season since his junior year of high school. The Bears will also look to sophomore Jeremy Ross to contribute, but this position group likely won't take shape until the fall when five freshman receivers, including two four-star recruits, land on campus.
KEEP AN EYE ON
CB Chris Conte: Conte likely moves into a starting role after serving as an oft-used backup to the since-departed Brandon Hampton.
QB Kevin Riley: Riley's Armed Forces Bowl performance helped fans forget his season-turning mistake at the end of the Oregon State loss. Riley, a sophomore, will have a shot at the starting job during the spring when he competes with Longshore.
RB Shane Vereen: From J.J. Arrington to Marshawn Lynch to Justin Forsett, Cal has had little trouble churning out productive tailbacks. Vereen will have an open shot at the job with Jahvid Best and James Montgomery out for the spring.
HIS TIME IS NOW
TE Cameron Morrah has all the physical tools to be one of the league's top pass-catching tight ends, but he's been buried on the depth chart. With Craig Stevens gone and instability at wide receiver, this could be Morrah's breakout year.
The coaching staff went through some changes during the offseason, but the biggest move was the hiring of Frank Cignetti. With Cignetti on board as offensive coordinator, Tedford ceded play-calling duties. After the way last season ended, it won't be the first or last part of Cal's team that is re-evaluated before fall practice.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.