After years of politics and protests, the remodeled Memorial Stadium will finally open Saturday when Cal kicks off the 2012 season against Nevada. But do the Bears have the pieces to make it a special season on the field, too?
If quarterback Zach Maynard progresses the way Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith and Kyle Boller did under coach Jeff Tedford more than a decade ago, the Bears could make some noise in the Pac-12 Conference this season. But if he’s inconsistent again, it will expose some holes in Cal’s game
“It’s all going to come down to game time,” said Tedford, whose club finished 7-6 last season after a loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl. “But everything I’ve seen in practice would lend you to think that [Maynard] will manage the game better than he did early last year.”
Last season, the Bears’ offense was explosive when Maynard was on. Wide receiver Keenan Allen caught 98 balls for 1,343 yards and running back Isi Sofele picked up another 1,322 yards on the ground.
But if you take Allen off the roster, the Bears don’t have a wide receiver with a reception on their résumé now that Marvin Jones has graduated. The team is also replacing three pieces on its offensive line, which could impact the holes Sofele sees this year.
A major change to the offense this season will be the integration of double-tight end sets. Tedford traveled to New England during the offseason to get pointers from their architect, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and the new formations might discourage defenses from cheating on Allen.
Sophomore tight end Richard Rodgers will be key to making this strategy work. He’s 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, but he’s quick and agile, having played wide receiver in high school.
“He’s huge, he can run and he probably has the best hands on the team,” Allen said.
Junior Spencer Hagan and sophomore Jacob Wark will join Rodgers at tight end.
Freshmen Bryce Treggs, Darius Powe and Chris Harper will all see time at receiver, but Treggs landed the starting job by playing above his age in camp.
“I don’t think it’s been a big speed adjustment for him going from high school to college,” Allen said. “He came in ready to play.”
While the offense has been inconsistent the past two seasons, the defense has allowed the fewest yards from scrimmage in the conference since Clancy Pendergast took over as coordinator in 2010.
The Bears graduated last year’s Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Mychal Kendricks, but Pendergast has a pair of preseason first team All-Pac-12 selections up front in Deandre Coleman (6-5, 309 pounds) and Aaron Tipoti (6-2, 280 pounds). Seniors J.P. Hurrell and Robert Mullins will both start at inside linebacker after three full seasons as backups.
The front seven will be buttressed by a veteran secondary that includes seniors Josh Hill and Marc Anthony and juniors Alex Logan and Steve Williams.
But everything hinges on Maynard. He has the speed and athleticism to negate Cal’s line problems and if he and Allen are clicking like it’s the schoolyard, the Bears can win without having the Pac-12’s No. 1 defense again. It’s just a matter of limiting the mistakes.
“It’s night and day from where he was last year,” Tedford said. “I think he’s improved so much with the management of the game.”
The junior wide receiver is one of the top playmakers in the country. As a sophomore, he racked up 1,343 receiving yard, despite an inconsistent season from quarterback Zach Maynard. What will his numbers look like if Maynard does turn the page?
Coach Jeff Tedford has already called Rodgers the top tight end in the country and Keenan Allen said he has the best hands on the team. If he lives up to the billing, it will open things up for another dynamic receiving option for the Golden Bears.
The 6-foot-5, 309-pound defensive lineman is poised for a breakout season. Coleman's only started three games at Cal, but he's a USA Today preseason All-Pac-12 Conference selection. His size and speed will be a handful for most offensive lines.
Cal's 2012 Schedule
|Sept. 8||vs. Nevada||Noon|
|Sept. 15||vs. Southern Utah||9 a.m.|
|Sept. 22||at. Southern Cal||TBA|
|Sept. 29||vs. Arizona State||TBA|
|Oct. 6||vs. UCLA||TBA|
|Oct. 13||at Washington State||TBA|
|Oct. 20||vs. Stanford||TBA|
|Oct. 27||at Utah||TBA|
|Nov. 2||vs. Washington||6 p.m.|
|Nov. 10||vs. Oregon||TBA|
|Nov. 17||at Oregon State||TBA|