Cal wrapped up spring practice Saturday, and coach Jeff Tedford didn't hesitate when asked afterward what he has learned over the past four weeks.
"I'm really happy with the team chemistry," he said. "The way we're working together, the attitude of the team, the focus, the camaraderie -- it's all very positive."
It's a component that Tedford and the players have been raving about all spring, and it's especially important considering a lack of intangibles may have been a major reason for the Bears' disappointing 2007 season.
Tedford has placed an emphasis on improving the overall culture of the program, and spring practices were substantially more lively and enthusiastic than last season. The Bears also seem to have found some on-field leaders, something that was sorely lacking last year.
Leaders have emerged especially on the defensive side, where Cal has much more experience than the offense. Defensive end Rulon Davis and linebackers Zack Follett and Worrell Williams have especially stood out.
Davis wrapped up an exceptional spring by making a handful of plays during the situational scrimmage portion of Saturday's practice. He tackled running back Tracy Slocum in the backfield twice and forced quarterback Kevin Riley to throw a pass away with pressure.
"I think Rulon stuck out," Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. "He's really taking charge and starting to get the guys going. He plays with a lot of energy."
Gregory all but confirmed the Bears will be switching to a 3-4 base defense this season. Cal didn't run a single rep of 4-3 during the spring, and with the Bears' deep nucleus of linebackers, the 3-4 seems to suit their personnel well.
"What did you guys see this spring?" Gregory asked reporters with a smile when asked about the switch.
It was a more laborious spring than usual for Cal's defense, as much of practice entailed walking through different looks of the 3-4. The Bears seemed to take to it well, and the defense had a good day against the offense Saturday.
"We probably got to a point mid-spring where we probably had too much (teaching)," Gregory said. "You want to try to get as much as you can in, but we kind of had to scale it back this past week. You have to be careful having too much in. I think it gives us much more flexibility as to what we can do."
The quarterback competition between Riley and Nate Longshore was supposed to be the prevailing storyline this spring, but it fizzled when Longshore suffered a pulled pectoral muscle during the second day of practice and missed the final three weeks. Tedford said Longshore's absence had no effect on the race for the starting job because it will be decided in the fall.
"Nate was doing a great job the first week," Tedford said. "He really showed well. Kevin did a nice job through spring. We're in a good position. We have two very good quarterbacks and a young guy (Brock Mansion) who has a lot of ability as well. We feel like we're in good hands at quarterback. We're going to go through summer and we're going to go through fall camp, and then see how it shakes down."
After being inconsistent through much of the spring, Riley came on during the final week and played well Saturday. Not coincidentally, the same thing happened with the Bears' inexperienced corps of receivers. Michael Calvin and Nyan Boateng both looked good Saturday.
"I got more comfortable with the receivers," Riley said. "That was pretty much the main thing. I thought I did my job. I know the offense improved every day, which was our goal."
The receiving corps is perhaps the Bears' biggest uncertainty heading into fall camp. Gone are the explosive trio of DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan. Cal's current group of receivers has just 12 career catches combined.
"As you install plays all through the spring, there's a lot on their mind," Tedford said. "When things started slowing down, they were just able to play. When they can just cut it loose and are sure about what they are doing, they can play unconscious, and that's the key."
Contact Jonathan Okanes at firstname.lastname@example.org.