Pac-10 spring practice preview: California

California Golden Bears
2009: 8-5 (5-4)

It wouldn’t be a California spring practice without a quarterback competition. And once again, Kevin Riley is involved. The senior has 22 career starts under his belt and has shown flashes of being a high-quality Pac-10 signal caller, but too many times his disastrous outings have killed the Golden Bears. So for the third consecutive offseason, one that began on Saturday with the start of spring drills, Riley will have to fend off competition for the starting nod.

Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney are the rivals this spring, yet while head coach Jeff Tedford acknowledged that Riley was inconsistent last season, he also believed that the surrounding cast didn’t make enough plays for his quarterback, either.

“[Riley] plays really well at times and sometimes there are things he can do better,” Tedford told The Oakland Tribune. “As you watch the tape, there are a lot of people around him that need to help him with that. I feel like Kevin has made strides and he’s going to continue to make strides with his experience.”

The 23-year-old Riley’s career has been littered with poor showings against the league’s best teams. If the Bears have any aspirations of a Pac-10 title, an improved Riley — or someone else — will have to lead the way.

One area of little concern is the backfield, where Shane Vereen should seamlessly transition to the top back following the departure of Jahvid Best to the draft. Tedford historically has employed dual backs, so there is competition for the backup gig. Tedford recently disclosed that Vereen played the last couple of games of 2009 with a torn meniscus and a shoulder injury before hurting his ribs in the Poinsettia Bowl, so look for Vereen to have a lighter workload this spring.

Backup running back candidates include sophomore Covaughn DeBoskie, who finished with 211 rushing yards last year, and redshirt freshman Dasarte Yarnway, who was highly recruited. Also keep an eye on Isi Sofele, who is moving to running back from wide receiver. Although he is just 5-7 and 170 pounds, he possesses very good speed and big-play ability. Expect the rushing attack of the Bears to give all the support necessary to whoever is under center. Of course, the offensive line has never had a problem run-blocking. Pass-protection, on the other hand, has been an issue.

So exactly who is Cal’s defensive coordinator these days? Bob Gregory left for Boise State, so Tedford brought aboard former Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who was hired by the Oakland Raiders just in February. Even before the departure of Gregory, Tedford had issues on his defensive unit — particularly in the secondary, as the Bears' pass defense ranked 111th in the nation and gave up 20 touchdowns. First-team All-Pac-10 performers Tyson Alualu and Syd'Quan Thompson are two of five starters who must be replaced, which could be offset by a more aggressive approach under Pendergast.

Every year, Tedford fields a Golden Bears squad talented enough to win big games in the Pac-10. For one reason or another, Cal stumbles and never lives up to its expectations. Will that change in 2010? Can Cal earn a berth to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1958, or will it have to settle once again for spending the holidays with Poinsettias, Emeralds and Armed Forces?

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