Cal's football team wrapped up spring practice Thursday afternoon, eager to return to the field in the fall and begin the unfamiliar process of silencing its critics.
For the first time in several years, not much will be expected of the Bears when the 2010 season begins. They have not lived up to immense expectations in two of the past three seasons, and prognosticators likely are leery of thinking much of the Bears again.
"Every year my class has been here we've usually been ranked pretty high," fifth-year quarterback Kevin Riley said. "This is the first time it won't be like that. We need to do something to do better. The team has taken it upon themselves to work harder and get better."
In a very competitive spring in which almost no positions were settled, Riley said Cal players worked harder than in any spring since he's been in Berkeley. That includes Riley himself. He put in extra work after almost every practice.
Even though Riley has been the Bears' primary starting quarterback in each of the past two seasons, coach Jeff Tedford says Riley's spot is not a sure thing and that he will continue to compete with Beau Sweeney and Brock Mansion in the fall.
"It's different than it has been in the past with people working and willing to get better," Riley said. "In spring football, I've never seen this many people come in after practice and watch film. People have a chip on their shoulder. When people talk, they're not
The question will be whether the Bears have the personnel to make that hard work pay off. Cal's biggest holes are at wide receiver and linebacker, and nobody in the spring really stood out enough to nail down a spot except for returning All-Pac-10 inside linebacker Mike Mohamed.
Tedford said leading returning receiver Marvin Jones "separated himself" but that otherwise the team is expecting the five receivers who arrive in the fall to compete immediately. Same goes for a group of four highly regarded incoming linebackers.
The Bears also have questions in the secondary, where the top returnee, safety Sean Cattouse, missed most of spring with a broken thumb. After the departure of four-year starter Syd'Quan Thompson, both cornerback positions are open, as well as the safety spot vacated by Brett Johnson.
Tedford was pleased with the development of several of his young defensive backs in the spring, most notably cornerback Steve Williams and safeties D.J. Campbell, Alex Logan and C.J. Moncrease.
"We improved through the spring," Tedford said. "We're nowhere near where we need to be, but I thought a lot of guys got better each day. ... As long as we improve, that's what it's about."