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2008 California Preview - Offense
California QB Nate Longshore
California QB Nate Longshore
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 21, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - California Golden Bear Offense

California Golden Bears

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 California Preview | 2008 Cal Offense
- 2008 Cal Defense | 2008 Cal Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN California Preview
| 2006 CFN California Preview 

What you need to know: Is Cal about to get consumed by an old-fashioned quarterback controversy? It might be unavoidable considering the inconsistent play of incumbent Nate Longshore and the head of steam being built by Armed Forces Bowl hero Kevin Riley. The job remains Longshore’s to lose, but if the more mobile Riley continues to mature, it’ll be hard for new coordinator Frank Cignetti to keep him out of the lineup. As if losing RB Justin Forsett isn’t tough enough, the Bears learned in March that his heir apparent, James Montgomery, is transferring to Washington State. Next in line is Jahvid Best, who missed spring drills recovering from a hip injury. The departures of last year’s top five pass-catchers create opportunities for Michael Calvin, Jeremy Ross, and Florida transfer Nyan Boateng, who are short on experience, but long on potential.           

Returning Leaders
Passing: Nate Longshore
230-384, 2,580 yds, 16 TD, 13 INT
Rushing: Jahvid Best
29 carries, 221 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Cameron Morah
13 catches, 155 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Senior C Alex Mack
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore RB Jahvid Best
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman WR Michael Calvin
Best pro prospect: Mack
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mack  2) Senior T Mike Tepper  3) Senior QB Nate Longshore or sophomore Kevin Riley
Strength of the offense: Quarterback depth, speed, Mack
Weakness of the offense: Unproven skill position players, turnovers

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Now that USC’s Pete Carroll has handed the reigns over to Mark Sanchez, the most heated quarterback derby west of the Mississippi pits senior Nate Longshore versus sophomore Kevin Riley. The two are neck-and-neck, and Jeff Tedford isn’t expected to name a starter until shortly before the opener with Michigan State. Longshore is the incumbent, and not an especially popular one at that. He struggled through 2007, battling a nagging ankle injury to go 230-of-384 for 2,580 yards, 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Even worse, he missed the second half of spring with a pec injury which allowed Riley to get all of the reps with the first team. At 6-5 and 233 pounds, Longshore has one of the strongest arms in the country, but lacks mobility and displays questionable decision-making.

In last year’s Armed Forces Bowl, Riley replaced Longshore and promptly led the Bears to a dramatic win. And just like that, a quarterback controversy was born. Viewed as a much-needed sparkplug for the program, Riley has never been so popular, even after his now infamous brain-cramp at the end of the Oregon State game when he tried to run, which ended up running out the clock, rather than getting rid of the ball and taking the almost certain game-tying field goal. While less experienced, the 6-2, 224-pounder is far more mobile, gets rid of the ball quickly, and looks comfortable leading the offense. He’s not Longshore, which for many Cal fans, is his best attribute. Riley expects to won this job, a show of confidence that’s resonated throughout the offense.         

Projected Top Reserves: Lost in the shadow of Longshore vs. Riley is redshirt freshman Brock Mansion, this year’s No. 3 quarterback. Built similar to Longshore at 6-5 and 229 pounds, he’s very strong, makes all the throws, and his niftier than size might indicate. An apprentice for now, he could challenge Riley for the starting job in 2009. 

Watch Out For… Riley to get the nod at the end of August. The battle in the summer is going to be fierce and tight no matter what happens, but Riley’s mobility and moxie is exactly what the program needs following last year’s collapse. Longshore won’t go away without a fight, but he has an uphill battle against a competitor who’s quickly gaining momentum.
Strength: Multiple starting quarterbacks. Of course Riley still has plenty to prove, but all indications are that’s he ready to lead an offense.  Couple him with the veteran Longshore, and the Bears boast two players good enough to start, a luxury in the event both are actually needed.
Weakness: Turnovers. Over the last two seasons, Cal has thrown 27 interceptions, all but one coming from Longshore. Whoever gets the start must do a better job of protecting the ball, or else his tenure under center will be short-lived.
Outlook: The Bears have two quality quarterbacks, but only one is needed. Tedford’s challenge will be to make a decision in August, get the buy-in of both players, and avoid a controversy that distracts the team. If Riley’s the guy, the coach could have a star player to build around for the next three seasons.
Rating: 7.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: In two years, the program has lost Marshawn Lynch to the Buffalo Bills, Justin Forsett to the Seattle Seahawks, and James Montgomery to Washington State. The heir apparent is expected to be 5-10, 193-pound sophomore Jahvid Best, who’s recovering from a hip injury that cut short his debut season in Strawberry Canyon. At the time, he’d bolted for 221 yards and two touchdowns on only 29 carries, flashing the breakaway speed, acceleration, and hands that had the likes of USC, Michigan, and Notre Dame tripping over themselves to get his signature. Although Best practiced without contact in March and April, the staff is convinced he’ll be 100% by opening day.

Best’s mate in the backfield will be hulking senior FB Will Ta’ufo’ou, a rugged 5-11, 253-pounder who’s a terrific and unselfish lead blocker. While his role in the offense is limited, he did carry nine times for 52 yards a year ago, adding four receptions for 48 yards. 

Projected Top Reserves: Montgomery’s departure opens the door for sophomore Tracy Slocum to rise up to No. 2 on the depth chart. A powerful north-south runner at 5-10 and 198 pounds, he’ll do the dirty work between the tackles that Best might not be able to perform. A year after getting lost in the shuffle, he had the type of spring that’ll command a more prominent role in the fall.

Redshirt freshman Shane Vereen is a carbon copy of Best, a 5-10, 192-pounder blur with the vision to slip through a hole and go the distance. While he’s behind Slocum, he’ll instantly become the gamebreaker out of the backfield if Best has any physical setbacks from his injury.   

Watch Out For… true freshman Covaughn DeBoskie. Under normal circumstances, DeBoskie would be a cinch to redshirt, but there’s an opportunity to get touches as a rookie.  Another top-flight recruit who can get through a secondary in a flash, he has an edge over the other freshmen who didn’t take part in spring practice.
Strength: Speed. Best, Vereen, and DeBoskie have that extra gear needed to electrify a crowd and deflate opposing defenses. All three have the 4.3 or 4.4 jets that can change the tenor of a game when they get into the open field.
Weakness: Lack of a true grinder. It’s midway through the last quarter and Cal is up by eight.  Which back get the ball to burn some clock? Slocum is the likely choice, but even he’s under 200 pounds and has yet to carry the ball in college.
Outlook: In an ideal situation, Slocum and a healthy Best form an inside-outside tandem that can help replace most of Forsett’s massive production. Best has the potential to eventually be better than last year’s workhorse, making his health one of the top storylines of August’s preseason camp.
Rating: 7

Receivers

Projected Starters: The exodus of last year’s top five pass-catchers has created an opportunity for a new wave of young receivers to shine in the Cal offense. Coming out of spring, the front-runners to start were sophomore Jeremy Ross and redshirt freshman Michael Calvin, but neither is set in stone and the rotation will rely on far more than just two players. At 5-11 and 208 pounds, Ross has 4.4 speed and the upper body strength to break tackles and turn a 10-yard reception into a 20-yard gain. He was enjoying an outstanding spring before spraining his ankle, an injury that’ll be healed before summer workouts begin.

Like Ross, Calvin used an impressive spring to solidify his spot on the Bear two-deep. Not the blazer that Ross is, he has good speed and uses his 6-2, 202-pound frame to gain position on smaller defenders. Still somewhat raw, Calvin is a physical receiver who shows early signs of being the next coming of Sean Dawkins, one of the best wideouts to ever play for Cal.

Now that Craig Stevens has graduated, junior Cameron Morrah is in a position to blossom into a star at tight end. The former high school All-American defensive end debuted at his new position by catching 13 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown. A sleek athlete at 6-4 and 245 pounds, he has the quickness to be a downfield threat and a load for linebackers to cover.

Projected Top Reserves: If he’s dedicated and focused on the little details, the sky is the limit for junior Nyan Boateng, a transfer from Florida and one of the top-rated wide receiver recruits of 2005. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he’s the most explosive and dynamic of the Bear receivers, but he still needs to iron out some of the wrinkles in his game and reduce the number of dropped passes. 

The veteran of this rebuilt corps is 6-1, 205-pound senior LaReylle Cunningham, a three-time letterwinner with only 10 career receptions for 155 yards and a touchdown. While not special in any one area, he’s a steady, Robert Jordan-like leader who will play an integral role on the second unit.

So far, so good on the relocation of junior Tad Smith from defensive end to tight end.  A far more physical option at the position than Morrah, the 6-5, 265-pounder has proven to be a bull as a run blocker and surprisingly reliable as a receiver. In a short period of time, Smith is pushing Morrah harder than anyone could have expected.       

Watch Out For… Boateng. No, the mistakes he makes can’t be overlooked, but he has a special blend of size, speed, and explosiveness.  If the Bears can somehow harness all of his physical gifts, Boateng has the ingredients to become a dangerous All-Pac-10 receiver.
Strength: Size. After being an undersized, finesse unit for years, the Bears are set to unveil a much bigger crew that can get separation at the line and win plenty of battles for balls in the air.  Oh, and guys on the two-deep can also motor.
Weakness: Experience. This year’s top four wide receivers collectively caught four passes a year ago, spending much of the season watching from the sidelines. Out of Calvin, Boateng, and Ross, it’s going to take time before one of them emerges as the go-to receiver.
Outlook: Obviously, you don’t get better by losing DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins, and Robert Jordan, the most productive trio in school history. However, the next group of Bear receivers has an exciting upside, and Ross, Calvin, and Boateng all have the physical ability to eventually develop into big-time producers and borderline stars.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: When Alex Mack opted to return for his senior season, Cal instantly had the anchor for its offensive line and one of nation’s premier centers. Targeting a third consecutive First Team All-Pac-10 selection, he’s widely considered the league’s top blocker and a favorite to win the Rimington Trophy. At 6-5 and 316 pounds, Mack is a rarity at the pivot, a relentless mauler on running plays and a near-flawless pass protector

Senior T Mike Tepper is making the shift from the right side of the line to the left, where he’ll be in charge of the quarterback’s backside.  A second-year starter, he does a nice job of pass blocking and is surprisingly athletic for a 6-7, 321-pounder. In danger of never walking again after having his leg run over twice in 2005, Tepper is now on the brink of an NFL career. 

Taking over at Tepper’s old right tackle spot will be senior Chet Teofilo, a former defensive tackle getting his first opportunity to turn heads in the starting lineup. Mobile and light on his feet at 6-3 and 316 pounds, he played well in place of Mike Gibson late last season. Now he has to go out and prove ha can do it for 13 games.

The guards are lining up as senior Noris Malele and sophomore Mark Boskovich on the right and left side, respectively. Malele has started 22 games over the last two seasons, fending off a push from Boskovich toward the end of 2007. A squat 6-2, 303-pounder, he’s loaded with experience, but can also get stood up at the point of attack.  

While the 6-4, 301-pound Boskovich is facing a challenge of his own from sophomore Richard Fisher, he remains the leader to be the starting left guard in the opener. A former walk-on and quick learner, he continues to get bigger and more fundamentally sound, earning some playing time and valuable experience as a redshirt freshman.    

Projected Top Reserves: Fisher was one of the pleasant surprises of the spring, getting reps with the first team and ensuring no worse than an integral role as one of the top backups in the guard rotation.  The rare vegetarian offensive lineman, he’s 6-4 and 276 pounds, needing to add weight in order to mount a more serious challenge.

Behind Malele is redshirt freshman Justin Cheadle, a 6-2, 303-pounder who’s widely considered the best athlete among the interior linemen. One of Cal’s top recruits from 2007, he’ll soak up as much experience this fall before taking over a starting job in 2009.

Junior center Chris Guarnero isn’t Mack, but he’s a nice insurance policy for the Bear offensive line. Tough, quick, and technically crisp at 6-2 and 275 pounds, he’s not going to hurt the offense if he gets pressed into action.

A couple of sophomore tackles, Matt Laird and Justin Pruiett, are in the driver’s seat to land spots on the second team. With a shoulder problem now behind him, the 6-7, 305-pound Laird has the long arms to develop into an effective pass blocker.

Pruiett is an intriguing player, who hasn’t been playing the sport very long, yet shows the potential to grow into a starter. At 6-4 and 287 pounds, he’ll continue to fill out and learn the nuances of the position as Teofilo’s backup.    

Watch Out For… the development of the underclassmen. While the starting five is mostly a veteran group, when players like Mack and Tepper run out of eligibility, Cal will begin to lean heavily on some of its top recruits from the past few seasons. Linemen, such as Laird, Cheadle, Fisher, Sam DeMartinis, and Mitchell Schwartz are going to use 2008 as a springboard for the next phase of their Bear careers.
Strength: Pass blocking. Over the last two seasons, the Bears have allowed just 24 sacks, despite protecting the lumbering Longshore. With three-fifths of last year’s starting unit back, including Mack, it’ll once again be difficult for opposing defenses to perforate the Cal front wall.
Weakness: Experienced backups. Yeah, the future is very bright at the position, but in the short term, the Bears lack a veteran presence on the second and third units. In fact, Guarnero is the only player on the three-deep who’s earned a letter with the program.
Outlook: Cal and line coach Jim Michalczik continue to do a fantastic job of coaching up this group of linemen. Mack is so special, he absorbs multiple defenders and makes everyone around him better at their own jobs. Ideally, the Bears can get reps for the next generation of players without being forced to give any one of them a crash course during the Pac-10 season.
Rating: 8.5