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2007 California Preview - Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 12, 2007


Preview 2007 California Offense Preview

California Golden Bears

Preview 2007 - Offense

- 2007 California Preview | 2007 Cal Defense Preview
-
2007 Cal Depth Chart | 2006 CFN California Preview 

What you need to know: With Jeff Tedford at the controls, this is basically a pro-style offense that mixes the run and the pass evenly, and puts up points as quickly as any program in the country.  The head coach will be calling plays again after a one-year hiatus, meaning trick plays will be more frequent than a year ago.  The job of distributing the ball to an array of speedy skill position players belongs to quarterback Nate Longshore, a strong-armed junior that threw 24 touchdown passes in 2006 and a few too many picks.  Although he has plenty of receivers to choose from, none is more lethal than DeSean Jackson, a field-stretcher and legit Heisman candidate.  Super sub Justin Forsett takes over for Marshawn Lynch at running back, where he’ll be running behind an outstanding veteran line.  Center Alex Mack is on the All-American doorstep after earning first team All-Pac-10 honors as a sophomore.          

Returning Leaders
Passing: Nate Longshore
227-377, 3,021 yds, 24 TD, 13 INT
Rushing: Justin Forsett
119 carries, 626 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: DeSean Jackson
59 catches, 1,060 yds, 9 TD

Star of the offense: Junior WR DeSean Jackson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior RT Mike Tepper
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman C Chris Guarnero
Best pro prospect: Jackson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jackson  2) C Alex Mack  3) QB Nate Longshore
Strength of the offense: The receivers, the passing game,
Weakness of the offense: Turnovers

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Nate Longshore enters the season as one of the nation’s fast rising quarterbacks, but to get there, he’s had to overcome a season-ending ankle injury in 2005 and a rough 2006 opener against Tennessee.  Back on course, and with another year under Jeff Tedford’s watchful eye, the sky’s the limit for the junior.  After the slow start in Knoxville, Longshore went on to finish second to John David Booty in Pac-10 passing efficiency, throwing for 3,021 yards, 24 touchdowns and a troublesome 13 picks that need to be reduced this fall.  At 6-5 and 233 pounds, he has an unmistakable pocket presence and a powerful right arm, needing only to improve his decision making and trim some unnecessary weight before the start of the season.  Reminiscent of a young Trent Dilfer, he can hurl the ball a mile, has limited mobility, and is at his best when he’s not forcing the ball.  In the Bears’ three losses last year, he threw two touchdown passes and six interceptions.

Projected Top Reserves: The battle for the No. 2 job is an intriguing one between sophomore Kyle Reed and redshirt freshman Kevin Riley, the hot-shot quarterback recruits of 2005 and 2006, respectively.  At 6-3 and 220 pounds, Reed has do-it-all potential with a live arm and the quickness to break containment, and bolt for big yards.  Once the game slows down for him, he has the physical ability to be a star in this league. 

As the youngest of the trio, Riley is expectedly playing catch up, but he did make noticeable progress in the system in the spring.  Although he doesn’t have near the physical prowess of Longshore or Reed, he does have a quick release and an innate feel for the position that could wind up being his trump card.                     

Watch Out For… Longshore’s performance in the opener with the Volunteers.  He went 11-of-20 for 85 yards and an interception in last September’s 35-18 debacle, meaning this year’s game could set the tone for the rest of the season for the quarterback and his team.        
Strength: Big arms.  From Longshore to Riley, all of the Cal quarterbacks can get the ball downfield, a job requirement in an offense that sports a 4x4 relay team at wide receiver.
Weakness
: Turnovers.  Sure, Cal will air it out 30 or so times a game, but 14 interceptions are still too many for a team that has visions of dethroning USC in the Pac-10.  With Longshore’s debut as the starter behind him, the turnovers should come down in 2007.            
Outlook: Longshore + Tedford + those mercurial Cal receivers = big problems for opposing secondaries this fall.  Facing increased expectations, the quarterback will deliver a monster junior season.          
Rating: 8

Running Backs

Projected Starters: After shining as one of the nation’s most dependable backups the last two years, how will senior Justin Forsett adapt to being the leading man now that Marshawn Lynch is a Buffalo Bill?  He’s rushed for 1,625 yards and ten touchdowns since the beginning of his sophomore season, but at only 5-8 and 186 pounds, there are concerns about his ability to absorb the punishment of being the every down back.  A current day Joe Igber, he’s stronger than he appears, hits the hole quickly, and has a peerless work ethic.  Now, if he can add some girth before the opener, Forsett will be better equipped to shoulder the load in his final year in Berkeley.

Forsett’s blocking back will be sophomore Will Ta’ufo’ou, an unselfish 6-0, 250-pounder that got his first career start in last December’s Holiday Bowl.  While he has good hands, a necessity for Cal fullbacks, his first and second assignment will be to put his hat on opposing linebackers.     

Projected Top Reserves: Jeff Tedford has always favored using more than one back in his offense, meaning James Montgomery and Tracy Slocum have unique opportunities for playing time as redshirt freshmen.  The favorite for the No. 2 job is Montgomery, a 5-10, 205-pound back that’s very fast and much more physical than Forsett.  Although the top of the depth chart is off limits for now, he took a big step toward solidifying the backup role with his play in the spring. 

Slocum is a north-south runner with good acceleration and a knack for shedding tacklers.  Even after Forsett graduates, these two freshmen will get the experience in 2007 needed to take over the rushing attack in 2008.      

Watch Out For… true freshman Jahvid Best.  Best is a little raw, but with some of the fastest jets in last year’s recruiting cycle, he can still have an impact on the offense by simply taking the occasional handoff and bolting for daylight. 
Strength: Forsett.  Whether or not he can be a workhorse, the fact remains that Forsett has made plays whenever he’s touched the ball the last two years.  With a career average of 6.4 yards a carry, he often has a nice gain before enduring first contact.               
Weakness: Lack of a grinder.  It’s midway through the fourth and Cal is up by ten.  Who does it ask to milk the clock? Forsett is the undisputed starter, but the staff might resist continually running its smallest back into the teeth of an opposing defense.            
Outlook: It’s been a couple of seasons since Cal had so much uncertainty at the running back position.  Forsett is a bona fide playmaker, but for the ground game to really click, the senior needs a reliable complement the way he was for Lynch in 2005 and 2006.         
Rating: 7.5

Receivers

Projected Starters: If Cal doesn’t have the best set of receivers in America, it’s certainly in the top 5.  And purely in terms of speed, the Bears have few peers.  The headliner will once again be junior DeSean Jackson, arguably the single most flammable offensive player in the country.  The definition of a long ball hitter, he parlayed 59 receptions, 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns into a spot on the All-Pac-10 first team. 

Joining Jackson in the starting lineup is another blazer, senior Robert Jordan.  While not as fast Jackson, he can still get behind a secondary and is the most fundamentally sound of the receivers.  The veteran of the unit, Jordan has been starting games since his true freshman season, and has 106 receptions, including a career-best 43 in 2006 for 511 yards and four scores.

The Bears like to get the tight end involved, and have a very good one in senior Craig Stevens.  A dominant 6-5 and 255-pound run blocker, the second team All-Pac-10 selection also pulled down 17 catches for 239 yards and a score in 2006 and ran a 4.7 in the spring.  While others post bigger numbers and get more post-season awards, Stevens remains one of the country’s most complete tight ends.     

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Lavelle Hawkins is the first man off the bench and the choice when the Bears shift to a three-wide set.  Like his peers at Berkeley, he can fly but, at 6-2, also gives the offense some much-needed size.  Hawkins emerged in 2006, his second year out of City College of San Francisco, with 46 catches for 705 yards and five touchdowns. 

Senior Sam DeSa used a solid spring to grab the No. 2 job behind Jackson for now.  More of a possession receiver, the three-time letterwinner has seven career catches, earning most of his reps on special teams. 

A pair of highly-regarded redshirt freshmen, Jeremy Ross and Daniel Lofton will be bucking for more playing time later this summer.  Last year’s Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year has been clocked at 4.39, and will be a major contributor once he digests the offensive system.  Lofton, son of former Stanford and NFL great James Lofton, is 6-3 with good speed and even better bloodlines.

Stevens’ understudy at tight end will be sophomore Cameron Moorah, a former prep All-American defensive end that’s progressing well at his new position.  While he needs help as a blocker, at 6-4 and 248 pounds, he’s an outstanding athlete with the burst to be a seam-splitter before long. 

Watch Out For… plenty of short drives.  With the quick-strike weapons Cal has at receiver, the two-minute offense will be in vogue, even when the Bears aren’t playing catch up in the second half of games.
Strength: Speed.  Jackson, Jordan and Hawkins all have the wheels to alter defensive gameplans and soften defenses, so that Stevens and the Bear backs can pick up east first downs in underneath routes.                              
Weakness: Absence of physical receivers.  When the Bears face big, in-your-grill defensive backs, such as the ones at USC, they’ll get jammed constantly and struggle to get separation off the line of scrimmage.  Cal’s top four wideouts average just 5-11 and little more than 175 pounds.                               
Outlook: Pick your poison, defensive coordinators.  If Jackson gets too much attention, Jordan and Hawkins will feast on single coverage.   If the secondary plays too far back, Stevens will nickel-and-dime it to death.  Other than trying to physically manhandle them, there’ll be no easy way to contain the Cal receivers in 2007.                                        
Rating: 9

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The line must replace Andrew Cameron and Erik Robertson, but does return three starters from one of 2006’s top units in the country.  Leading the way is junior Alex Mack, a first team All-Pac-10 selection and one of the premier centers in the country.  At 6-5 and 300 pounds, he’s a whistle-to-whistle mauler that’s skilled in all phases of the position and getting better.  Mack’s versatility and the development of the backup centers have the staff toying with the idea of moving him to tackle in order to get the five best linemen on the field. 

If Mack stays put, the tackles will be senior Mike Gibson and junior Mike Tepper on the left and right side, respectively.  Gibson debuted swimmingly in his first season out of Solano (Calif.) Community College, moving into the lineup in game four before having an All-Pac-10 season.  He’s got great feet for a 6-5, 290-pounder, and will benefit from off-season shoulder surgery that addressed a lingering problem. 

The coaches are cautiously optimistic that Tepper is ready to his 6-7, 336-pound frame and raw physical attributes into results in 2007.  He recovered from a broken leg to start two games and play in 13 last season, but is still in the work-in-progress stage of his career.

The guards will be junior Noris Malele on the right side and senior Brian De La Puente on the left.  Malele’s a returning starter that played well in 2006, but was somewhat limited by an ankle injury that was repaired in the off-season.  He has untapped potential that’ll reach the surface once he learns to get more aggressive at the point of attack. 

De La Puente has had a terrific off-season, catapulting himself to the top of the depth chart.  A three-game starter in 2006, he’s as healthy as he’s been in some time, and poised to use his power and strength to open holes in the running game.    

Projected Top Reserves: The rapid development of redshirt freshman center Chris Guarnero has allowed the Bears to consider moving Mack outside to tackle.  The co-Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year is tough, intelligent and fundamentally sound.  Once Guarnero adds some heft to his 6-3 frame, he’ll be on his way to becoming the next really good Cal center. 

So far, so good on the relocation of junior Chet Teofilo from defensive line to left tackle.  Very long and athletic at 6-4 and 305 pounds, he needs to evolve quickly in order to bolster a need area on the second team. 

Sophomore Mark Boskovich has gone from former walk-on to an integral part of the depth chart at guard.  At 6-4 and 286 pounds, he’s an overachiever with a shot at his first letter this fall.    

Watch Out For… sophomore guard Kevin Bemoll.  Although Bemoll hasn’t quite cracked the two-deep,  that should be just a matter of time.  One of the nation’s premier offensive line recruits in 2005, he has natural power and good feet, but needs to do the little things better in order to earn the staff’s confidence.
Strength: Pass blocking.  They still need to get Tepper and De La Puente up to speed with the three holdovers, but the Bears perennially do a great job in pass protection, allowing a mere 13 sacks of lumbering Nate Longshore in 2006.               
Weakness: The second and third unit.  Beyond the starters, there isn’t much experience, and counting too much on untested linemen, such as Teofilo and Boskovich, could catch up with Cal if injuries begin to mount.
Outlook: Cal does about as good a job as anyone coaching up its offensive linemen.  With Mack and Gibson again playing like all-leaguers, the retooled line will mesh quickly, giving Longshore and the backs the time and holes needed to make plays.
Rating: 8.5

 

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2007 California Preview
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