One reason for optimism about the Cal football team this fall: Jeff Tedford finally has a quarterback, Nate Longshore, with enough experience in his system to really grasp it.
"I think it really takes two years to totally understand it, although Aaron [Rodgers] got it after one year," Tedford said when we talked at the Bay Area college football luncheon this week. "You could see this spring that Nate really feels comfortable in the offense. He was making little changes in the plays, telling a receiver to run a slightly different pattern because he’d spotted something in the defense or making little changes in the blocking schemes."
Longshore redshirted his first year on campus, then got knocked out for the season in his first game the next season. Last year, he played a full season and completed 60.2 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and threw for 3,021 yards, the second-highest total in Cal history.
Longshore will again have a talented group of receivers. DeSean Jackson is being pushed as a Heisman Trophy candidate and Tedford is also impressed with Lavelle Hawkins, who is now a senior.
"Lavelle has really stepped up," Tedford said. "He really feels it’s time for him to be a leader for this team. I expect him to have a great year."
Behind Longshore are two young quarterbacks. Kyle Reed is a redshirt sophomore. Kevin Riley redshirted as a freshman last year, so he has four years of eligibility remaining.
"The race for No. 2 is absolutely wide open," Tedford said.
Reed is the better athlete of the two; when he was a senior at McClymonds High School in Oakland, he was rated the fifth-best two-way quarterback in the country by Rivals.com.
Riley, the son of a coach, has a better grasp of the game.
"When he does something wrong, he instantly says, ‘Oh, I should have gone over there instead,’" said Tedford, once a quarterback at Fresno State.
But neither quarterback is close to knowing the offense well enough to challenge Longshore for the starting job as Tedford noted while he was being quizzed by Troy Taylor, who played quarterback at Cal and is now working games as a broadcaster.
"People just don’t realize how much a quarterback has to know," Tedford said. Turning to Taylor, he added, "How many times did you get to the line of scrimmage and realize you’d forgotten the snap count?"
"Many times," laughed Taylor.
"Yeah," Tedford said. "You’re walking up to the line of scrimmage, thinking about the defense, thinking about where everybody on your team is supposed to be and you say to yourself, ‘Dang, I’ve forgotten the snap count.’ So, you have to ask a teammate."
Before coming to Cal, Tedford was offensive coordinator at Oregon, where he called plays from a box upstairs. He admits he misses that.
"From the box, it was like a chess game," he said. "I could call a play and when we came to the line of scrimmage, I knew it would be a touchdown."
He’s on the sideline now, calling plays again with help from Kevin Daft, another former quarterback, in the box above. He has what he calls the fastest and strongest team he’s had yet at Cal, and a quarterback who knows his system.
Let the good times roll.
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