When Marvin Jones and Alex Lagemann emerged during spring practice, it was easy to forget about Verran Tucker. Now, Tucker has made his spring a distant memory.
Cal released its updated depth chart for the start of the season next Saturday, and Tucker is listed as a starter at wide receiver. Coach Jeff Tedford confirmed after practice that Tucker will start alongside Jones in the season opener against Maryland.
Tucker started the final seven games last season and finished fifth on the Bears with 21 catches. He averaged a team-best 17.2 yards per catch and hauled in three touchdown passes.
But concerns about his academic eligibility forced him to miss almost all of spring practice. While the rest of his teammates were on the field, he was in the coaches' office along with an academic adviser working on two social welfare classes. He would join the team only at the end of practice for conditioning drills, and many times stay afterward to do more running with Tedford or wide receivers coach Kevin Daft.
The missed time forced Tucker to start fall camp at the bottom of the depth chart. But armed with good academic standing and renewed confidence, Tucker slowly worked his way back to the top, especially coming on during the final stages of training camp.
"I felt like I was kind of forgotten about," Tucker said. "Not that I necessarily was, but not being able to work out with the guys and go through what they were going through on the field — the pain, the sweat and all that. I kind of felt a little separated from the guys. When I came back, it felt good to be back on the field with all the guys."
Tucker demonstrated flashes of his potential last season — his four-catch, 68-yard performance against Arizona and brilliant one-handed catch against USC are examples. One of many receivers playing their first full year of college football last year, Tucker was expected to get even better with experience.
But his absence from spring ball set him back. Tedford acknowledged that it hindered Tucker's development and that he had fallen behind several other receivers when training camp began.
"He's worked hard through the summer," Tedford said. "We took him off the field in the spring for academic reasons, to make sure he got his stuff done. He worked hard in that way, too. He got that done. In the last two weeks, he's really made a strong move and done a nice job."
Tucker, a transfer from El Camino College, didn't join the team until just before training camp last season, meaning he missed summer workouts. Tedford said that put Tucker a bit behind, and that he's much more confident and comfortable with the offense this fall.
"It was a lot to deal with," Tucker said, adding "it was a fight" to stay eligible. "It was hard. But once I got my grades, I felt like I was just able to play football and not worry about the classroom so much. I was able to get comfortable and focus more on the playbook without having to worry about a midterm next week or something like that."
While Tucker and Jones are listed as starters, the Bears frequently use three-receiver sets. Tedford said the third receiver could be a number of guys — Lagemann, Nyan Boateng or Jeremy Ross, among others.
Wide receiver was one of the few positions not set before Saturday. The last appears to be kicker. Giorgio Tavecchio is listed as the starter on the depth chart, but Tedford said the position is still being evaluated.
"As of right now, Tavecchio would be the guy," Tedford said. "We could change the kicker on Wednesday. That hasn't been decided yet."
NOTES: Wide receiver Michael Calvin (knee) has returned to practice and should be available for the opener, Tedford said. ... Running back Jahvid Best practiced again at full capacity after missing Thursday because of an appointment.