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September 1, 2011

Field position to play a big role



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BERKELEY -- With city mayors of both Berkeley and Fresno having already made a bet customarily reserved for bowl season, California head football coach Jeff Tedford is not so wrapped up in such frivolities.

"I don't give a [damn] about that," Tedford said when asked what he would bet. "We'd be 1-0, that's what this is about. This isn't about who's wearing what shirt or hat or anything like that."

No, Saturday will be about finally hitting someone in another color for the first time.

"I have a sense that the kids are ready to play," Tedford said. "I have a sense that our kids are ready to play and they're anxious to play. Obviously, you try to simulate game as much as possible, but games are just games, so there's going to be some new guys playing. In the beginning, I know it's going to be a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of excitement, then we're going to settle into the game I'm sure."

While Tedford has not coached against his alma mater, he does have a intimate understanding of coach Pat Hill's personal style.

"Because I have some history with what their identity is, and what they try to be, that's a physical football team and they're very athletic and they have a lot of team speed," Tedford said. "That's something we know is always going to be there. That's what you expect to play against. Schematically, you never know. The first game could be different things. You just have to be sound with what you're doing and adjust."

With two new quarterbacks -- the Bears' Zach Maynard and Fresno State's Derek Carr -- on either side of the match-up, a relatively inexperienced offensive line for the Bulldogs and thin depth on the offensive front for Cal, the game is shaping up to be a battle of field position.

The Bears' starting placekicker Giorgio Tavecchio has continued his trend of improvement this fall, one which stretches back three seasons.

In 2008, Tavecchio averaged 56.6 yards per kickoff, with one touchback and four kicks out of bounds. In 2009, Tavecchio upped that to 58.1 yards, two touchback and one kick out of bounds. Last season, the Campolindo grad booted kickoffs an average of 64.8 yards, with four touchbacks and no kicks out of bounds.

In the punting game, Cal has the ever-dependable leg of preseason All-American Bryan Anger, one of five players named to the preseason watch list for the Ray Guy Award, given to the top collegiate punter. Anger has been named first-team all-conference for the past two seasons, and if he continues his high level of play, would be the first Bears punter to earn the honor three years in a row. Anger is also on the watch list for the CFPA Punter Trophy and is a candidate for the Campbell Trophy - the so-called Academic Heisman.

"Special teams are always important, whether you're breaking a new quarterback in or not," Tedford said. "That's where the biggest field position exchange is made, in special teams. I know Fresno has very good people on their special teams, and the can make big plays, so it's going to be really important that we win the special team battle."

Returner Jalen Saunders averaged 23.2 yards per return on kickoffs as a true freshman, and fellow kick returner Isaiah Burse averaged 26.3 yards per take back, while adding a blocked punt.

While he likely won't make an impact in the return game -- at least during the opener -- Cal's speedy redshirt freshman wide receiver Kaelin Clay will not only be available to play after fully recovering from a meniscus injury suffered during the first week of camp, but likely will see some significant snaps on offense.

The top rotation of wide receivers for Saturday will be Marvin Jones, Keenan Allen, Michael Calvin, Coleman Edmond and true freshman walk-on Bryce McGovern.

"He has excellent hands. Excellent hands, very good route runner, very dependable guy. He's tough in the run game, the block," said Tedford, who brought in the plucky pass catcher as a recruited three-star walk-on out of Danville (Calif.) Monte Vista. "I didn't know what to expect, to tell you the truth. He was brand new, so we don't know what to expect until they get out here."

Another new face who figures to be a valuable possession receiver is true freshman Maurice Harris, who is recovered enough from his own knee injury to be available on Saturday.

"Kaelin will play, Maurice will play. They'll be dressed and ready to go, whether they play, I don't know how much," Tedford said. "[The rotation] depends on X or Z or R or wherever they're playing."

One player who will not be available for at least three more weeks is tight end Spencer Ladner. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound junior had a second knee surgery on Tuesday.

"He had another surgery to clean up his knee. It's going to be at least another three weeks," Tedford said. "For whatever reason, something didn't take, the surgery didn't take, he came back too fast or for whatever reason, it just wasn't where it needed to be, so they had to go back in and do it over."

Ladner's absence will open up playing time for the next three young men on the depth chart behind starter Anthony Miller, particularly H-back Spencer Hagan, redshirt freshman Jacob Wark and true freshman Richard Rodgers.

"Those guys were going to play anyway," Tedford said. "Spencer [Ladner] wouldn't have played this game, anyhow, as far as he's missed all camp."

Tedford said that Hagan -- a 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore out of Sacramento -- is an excellent receiver, saying that his hands are "very good to great."

"He's done a good job. He's 225 pounds, he's very smart, understands detail," Tedford said. "Sometimes if your fundamentals and techniques are really sound and they are what they need to be, then you can get away with being a little light. He is very sound fundamentally."

The Bears will hold a final walk-through on Friday, which will be closed to the media, before taking on Fresno State on Saturday at 4 PM at Candlestick Park.



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