Cal coach Jeff Tedford got an in-person look at the future of his receiving corps for the first time Saturday and was cautiously optimistic after one day of training camp.
"It was really nice to see those guys run around a little bit," Tedford said after the first practice of the 2010 season. "For a young group, you can tell they have some ability. But it's going to be a process, of course."
There are five receivers in Cal's 2010 recruiting class and the coaches got to see them for the first time other than on film Saturday. The wideouts have been in Berkeley working out all summer, but the coaching staff isn't permitted by the NCAA to watch.
Keenan Allen from Greensboro, N.C., one of the nation's top recruits, headlines the group. Long Beach Poly product Kaelin Clay, Pierce College transfer Coleman Edmond and Tevin Carter of Los Angeles all had good first days. Terrance Montgomery, also of Los Angeles, rounds out the group.
"It was everything we saw on film," Tedford said. "There's a lot of potential there, but it's a long process. There's going to come a point where there is a little overload, mentally. That's mainly what you fight. It's the learning curve to get the new guys in the loop."
Every player expected to show up for the first practice participated except for projected starting fullback Will Kapp, who suffered a concussion during a recent summer workout. Starting tailback Shane Vereen was held out of the first practice to rest a tight hamstring.
Now, a guide to Cal's training camp:
There are two discoveries Cal must make during camp -- players to catch the ball and players to stop the other team from catching it.
The Bears don't have a playmaking wide receiver, although junior Marvin Jones is consistent and dependable. Cal must find a wideout who can stretch the field and make things happen after the catch, something that rarely happened last season.
This is senior Jeremy Ross' last chance to fulfill what appears to be vast potential. One-time promising receiver Michael Calvin has reportedly looked strong during summer workouts after being plagued by injuries over his career. All eyes will be on incoming freshman Allen, one of the top recruits in the country.
There is no position on the field more dicey than cornerback, where the Bears lost two-time All-Pac-10 first-team selection Syd'Quan Thompson, who was drafted by the Denver Broncos. Senior Darian Hagan is back after a disappointing 2009 season, and the Bears need him to return to his 2008 form. Bryant Nnabufie and Josh Hill each started at times last season and are back, but they will be pushed hard by redshirt freshman Steve Williams, whom Tedford said is as talented as any cornerback he's ever had.
Big shoes to fill
The Bears lost three players to the NFL draft. It's easy to see what Cal loses with the departure of explosive running back Jahvid Best, whom the Detroit Lions took with the 30th overall pick. Best's electrifying speed and ability to run between the tackles made him a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. Best also was an accomplished receiver.
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh called Tyson Alualu the best defensive lineman in the Pac-10 last season, and the Jacksonville Jaguars made him the surprise pick of the draft by selecting him No. 10 overall. Alualu wasn't only a disruptive force against the run and pass, he was one of the emotional and inspirational leaders on the defense.
Thompson was a model of reliability in the secondary. He started every game of his Cal career -- a school-record 52 straight. For the better part of four years, the Bears didn't have to worry about one side of the field. Thompson was an excellent cover corner who also gave Cal an element of toughness. He relished mixing it up in run defense as well.
Positions of strength
Vereen, a junior, begins a season for the first time as the featured running back. He saw extensive time as Best's backup in each of the past two seasons, and led Cal in rushing last season with 952 yards. He started Cal's final four games after Best went down with a season-ending back injury. Cal also looks strong along the defensive line, where senior Cameron Jordan is poised to finally fulfill the kind of potential that make NFL scouts salivate. Jordan's combination of strength and speed make him a possible high draft pick, but so far in his career he's only performed at a high level in spurts. Jordan is excited about new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's aggressive schemes, which could be a nice fit for Jordan.
After the Bears failed to meet expectations last season, Tedford has made some changes to the way his program does business. Practices are being moved from late afternoon to early morning with the hope that his players and coaching staff become more efficient and also have some time to unwind in the evenings. He also is planning to make practice more competitive yet more fun at the same time. Tedford acknowledged that his no-nonsense, intense style may wear on his players, who he says need a little more fun during the season.
Installing the new playbook
Two-thirds of Cal's playbook will have a new look this season, as Tedford brought in Pendergast to replace longtime defensive coordinator Bob Gregory, and former Eastern Michigan head coach Jeff Genyk to take over for fired special teams coordinator Pete Alamar.
The Bears' defense will be a departure from Gregory's more conservative approach, which focused on stopping the run and avoiding big plays. Pendergast, who fell seconds short of winning the Super Bowl as defensive coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals, prefers a more aggressive style in which players get up the field in an attempt to make big plays and force turnovers.
Genyk was brought in to fix a sketchy special teams unit that struggled with both kick and punt coverage in recent years. He also will work closely with placekickers Giorgio Tavecchio and Vince D'Amato, each of whom have been inconsistent.