BERKELEY — With Cal returning its entire starting defensive line and secondary this season, the only position featuring a true battle on the defense this spring is at linebacker.
Although departing linebackers Zack Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder each should be in an NFL training camp this fall, two of Cal's linebacking positions appear to be pretty solid. Mike Mohamed, who backed up all four linebacker positions last season, has found a home in the middle on the weak side. Eddie Young returns at the outside strong side position.
That leaves Devin Bishop, Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt as primary contenders for the two open positions. Each saw limited playing time last year. So far this spring, Bishop has been playing strong side middle with Kendricks on the outside weak side.
"There's no doubt three quality players that are probably going to play in the NFL have departed," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "But we have guys there right now that got some playing time last year. They're not completely new to it. Even though those three guys did leave, I feel like we have quality guys."
Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said he'd like to look at Bishop and Kendricks on both the outside and inside. Holt, who has been playing on the inside with the second team, "is having a really good spring so far," according to Gregory. Holt also has been playing through a minor shoulder injury.
"It's up to us to find those guys a home that they can best excel," Gregory said.
Gregory was encouraged by Bishop's play near the end of last season and Tedford said he came to spring practice in excellent shape. Bishop appeared in 12 games last season and made 13 tackles.
"It feels good to be a part of something more," Bishop said. "Last year, I was a big part of the defense, but I feel like I have a more crucial role now."
Not only do the Bears lose the talents of Follett, Williams and Felder, but they will miss their leadership, too. Bishop's older brother, Desmond, was a well-respected leader during his years as a linebacker at Cal, and it appears Devin already has embraced that role as well.
"Being a vocal leader is very important and something we need," Bishop said. "It's good to lead by example, but sometimes it's even better to hear a strong voice. Sometimes that's what people need. I did it a little bit last year, even though I didn't play that much. It's just my personality."
The picture at linebacker will become more complex in the fall when the Bears welcome junior college transfers Ryan Davis, Jarred Price and Jerome Meadows. Price is regarded as a top-notch rush linebacker who could compete for playing time right away.
"I think eyes are going to be mostly on us to see if we can fill the shoes of the guys who left," Bishop said. "You're supposed to be better than the guys before you."
Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio was back at practice Thursday after missing Tuesday's practice to visit family in Italy. Tavecchio arrived back in California on Wednesday night. ... The Bears will hold a closed scrimmage on Saturday.
— Jonathan Okanes