After finishing over .500 in each of his first eight seasons at Cal, football coach Jeff Tedford enters spring practice coming off a losing season (5-7). Not surprisingly, there are issues.
Tedford started the process of repairing the program during the offseason by replacing five of his assistant coaches and bringing in his second consecutive top-15 recruiting class. But now is when the real improvement needs to begin.
There are several areas in which the Bears need to improve, starting with finding an effective quarterback. Cal also has no experienced tailbacks, a dearth of proven wide receivers and three key defensive players who will be drafted into the NFL next month.
Tedford also has to keep the team focused on the task at hand while it buses to different locations for spring practice sessions.
The following are the top five story lines to watch during Cal's spring practice, which begins Tuesday:
1. Find the front-runners at quarterback: Tedford has said he likely won't have a starter in place by the end of spring, but he'd like to narrow it down to a top three. There are five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, although redshirt freshman Austin Hinder likely isn't in the mix because of his lack of seniority.
That leaves senior Brock Mansion, juniors Beau Sweeney and Zach Maynard and sophomore Allan Bridgford to compete for the position vacated by three-year starter Kevin Riley. This marks the first time since the 2005 season that Tedford doesn't have a returning starter at quarterback.
Mansion started the final four games of 2010 after a season-ending injury to Riley, but those are the only meaningful snaps he's taken in games. The Bears were 1-3 in Mansion's starts, beating only Washington State. They averaged 15 points per game.
2. Evaluate the tailbacks: Each of the Bears' past four starting tailbacks have become NFL draft picks, and Shane Vereen is expected to make it five. Is there another pro in the returning mix?
All of the Bears' returning tailbacks came to Cal with big expectations, but none have much experience. That will change this season. Tedford already has said last year's backup, junior Isi Sofele, will enter spring as the No. 1 tailback. But he could be pushed by junior Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson and redshirt freshman Trajuan Briggs, although both are coming off injuries. Sophomore Dasarte Yarnway still is recovering from knee surgery and will miss the spring.
3. Establish depth at wide receiver: Cal returns starters Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, but nobody else has emerged. When Cal's offense has been at its best in the Tedford years, there has been more depth at wide receiver. The spring will be the last chance for senior Michael Calvin, a disappointment since he arrived in 2007, to establish himself.
Two players sure to receive a lot of attention this spring are Tevin Carter and Kaelin Clay. They redshirted last season and are expected to compete for playing time in 2011. Clay is the fastest player on the team, and Carter came to Cal as a big-time recruit. They both need to make substantial strides this spring.
4. Replace key defensive players: The Bears led the Pac-10 in total defense last season (319.1 yards allowed per game) but lost arguably their three best players from the unit -- defensive end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Mike Mohamed and safety Chris Conte. But there are several intriguing young players in camp, especially at linebacker.
Redshirt freshmen Nick Forbes and Dave Wilkerson could be in position to make a substantial push for playing time, and freshman Cecil Whiteside could be a potentially explosive player at outside linebacker. Cal is deep and experienced along the defensive line, but redshirt freshman Gabe King still could make some noise there.
5. Stay on point: Spring practice is turning into a logistical nightmare. First, the Bears were displaced from Memorial Stadium because of renovations. Now the new turf at Witter Rugby Field, where Cal was going to practice, has to be replaced.
As a result, the Bears will be holding most of their practices at Golden Bear Field on Cal's Clark Kerr campus, as well as at Laney College. That means the team has to bus to practice every day. Spring practice isn't supposed to have such inconvenience, but it's the job of Tedford and the coaching staff to make sure it doesn't take away from the work the Bears need to get done.