On recent Fridays, Cal football players have been seen scurrying around campus in an attempt to win a scavenger hunt, and negotiating an obstacle course on the field at Memorial Stadium.
Such activities have taken place in an effort to increase competitiveness, something the Bears acknowledge they could have used more of during a disappointing 2009 season.
Competition will be the overriding tone during spring practice, which begins today. The Bears will hold 15 practices between today and April 22, trying to put last season's mystery in the past and forging ahead with what promises to be a new-look team in 2010.
"We're going to try to compete in everything that we do," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "Just really make it a lot of competition, where we really create a high level of competition on the field every day. We're going to be stressing it more."
Tedford said he plans on placing stakes on certain drills during practice. The loser of a one-on-one blocking drill might have to do five quick push-ups, for instance.
The focus on competitiveness came out of postseason evaluations. Tedford vowed at the end of the 2009 season to evaluate everything that goes on within the program. He also has made offseason conditioning workouts more demanding and more team-oriented, with players splitting into groups to push each other.
"You kind of push each other in groups," said quarterback Kevin Riley, who will compete with Beau Sweeney and Brock Mansion this spring to retain his starting role. "It's not that it's a super-hard workout, but you have to work as a team to win. This spring, there definitely will be more at stake. Competing is when people show who they are. I think this will push people to not have physical lapses or mental lapses and just continue to execute every play."
Cal went 8-5 last season but fell substantially short of expectations. The Bears were ranked No. 12 in the preseason and many believed were serious contenders for the Pac-10 championship. Instead, Cal finished in sixth place in the conference and was routed in all five of its losses.
"People weren't satisfied with the season," Riley said. "It's a terrible feeling. It's something you don't want to happen again. It wasn't what we wanted to do at all. That pushes people to work harder."
Riley enters his third straight spring in a quarterback competition, although he is the heavy favorite because of his experience. Riley started every game last season and nine games in 2008.
Riley threw for 2,850 yards and 18 touchdowns with eight interceptions last season but finished the season poorly in losses to Washington and Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl. Tedford has gone out of his way this offseason to point out that when Riley struggled, often it was because he wasn't getting much help around him.
That being said, Tedford says all three quarterbacks will enter spring practice getting equal reps, and the competition is open.
"Kevin has a substantial leg up. He's been the starter for two years," Tedford said. "But that doesn't mean it's not competitive. It's not a lock by any means. Kevin plays really well at times, and sometimes there are things he can do better. But as you watch the tape, there are a lot of people around him that need to help him with that."
Spring practice will be especially important for Cal's defense. New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has been on the job for less than a month, and the Bears need to replace five starters on that side of the ball. The Bears finished last season ranked 72nd nationally in total defense (an average of 378.8 yards allowed per game).
"We know we have to do better," said Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed, who led the Pac-10 with 112 tackles last season. "We were really disappointed. We showed signs of great defense, but we just didn't have the consistency that we wanted. There's a sense that we know we have to get better. You can see the motivation in workouts."