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March 10, 2009

All eyes on QB Riley at Cal spring practice

California won nine games last season, but quarterback issues crept up throughout the season - to the point that regular starter Kevin Riley was benched for the Emerald Bowl against Miami.

Riley appears to have the quarterback job to himself this spring, but he needs to show more consistency. The highest priority for Cal is to find three new starting linebackers for its 3-4 defense.

Here's a look at the Golden Bears as they open spring practice.

CALIFORNIA AT-A-GLANCE
Cal needs Kevin Riley to hold on to the starting quarterback job.
THE BASICS
Coach: Jeff Tedford
Last season: 9-4, 6-3 Pac-10. Beat Miami in the Emerald Bowl.
Spring dates: March 10-April 18
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (6): TB Jahvid Best, G Mark Boskovich, QB Kevin Riley, T Mitchell Schwartz, T Chet Teofilo, WR Verran Tucker.
Defense (8): E Tyson Alualu, SS Marcus Ezeff, CB Darian Hagan, NT Derrick Hill, FS Brett Johnson, E Cameron Jordan, CB Syd'Quan Thompson, LB Eddie Young.
Special teams (2): P Bryan Anger, K Giorgio Tavecchio.
Positions of strength

Cal boasts the most productive duo of returning running backs in the country. Jahvid Best (1,580 yards) and Shane Vereen (715) combined for 2,295 rushing yards in '08. The Bears also are stacked in the defensive line, with all-league performer Tyson Alualu heading a list of three returning starters up front. The secondary remains intact, and Syd'Quan Thompson is among the best in the nation.

Help is needed

Three senior starting linebackers have departed from the Bears' 3-4 defense, so that's an area of concern. Mike Mohamed posted 87 tackles as a part-time starter in '08, but the rest of the crew is uncertain. There also is uncertainty in the offensive line, which loses All-America center Alex Mack and starting guard Noris Malele. But tackle Mike Tepper was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing last season with a pectoral injury. The passing attack must become more productive.

Keep an eye on

WR Mike Calvin: Freak shoulder and knee injuries prematurely ended his past two seasons. Now a sophomore, Calvin is highly regarded by the coaches and plays a position where the Bears need more productivity.

LB Mychal Kendricks: He enters the spring as the most likely candidate to replace all-league linebacker Zack Follett. Kendricks had 15 tackles and a sack last season as a true freshman.

TE Spencer Ladner: The surprising departure of Cameron Morrah, who opted for the NFL instead of his senior season, leaves an opening at tight end. Ladner, a 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman, is obviously a big target. He has the speed to get deep, too.

His time is now

Riley, a junior, entered last season as the starting quarterback, but he couldn't hold the job. He completed just more than 50 percent of his passes, and that must improve. Progress needs to be shown this spring. If Riley falters, Cal will have to turn to an inexperienced quarterback.

The buzz

Patching up the offensive line and the linebacker corps is vital, but the main focus is on Riley. Last season, he shared duties with Nate Longshore, who completed his eligibility. Now, the job is Riley's alone. The feeling in Berkeley is that this Bears' team is good enough to win the Pac-10 if quarterback play improves.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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