BERKELEY — Cal will be breaking in a new starting tailback this season and may be doing the same at quarterback. But those unknowns don't compare to the Bears' situation at wide receiver.
Not only are Cal's group of wideouts almost totally void of experience, it's hard to get a gauge on just how good they potentially can be. The Bears feel pretty confident they will get good quarterback play whether it's Nate Longshore or Kevin Riley behind center, and the program is brimming with excitement over running back Jahvid Best's return to health.
But there are no guarantees that simply introducing a dose of experience will make Cal's receivers into the next set of stars to follow DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan. Throwing out the incoming freshmen for a moment, the Bears really only have two receivers who were considered elite prospects out of high school — Michael Calvin and Nyan Boateng. After a terrific season on the scout team, Calvin appears ready to become Cal's go-to receiver this year. Boateng may be the most talented receiver on the roster, but his past off-field troubles make him a bit of a wild card.
After that, the Bears' next tier of receivers consist of Jeremy Ross, LaReylle Cunningham and perhaps sixth-year senior Sean Young. None of them was considered a national-level recruit.
Of course, recruiting rankings and projections can be an inexact science, and everybody involved in the program seems confident Cal has enough talent at wide receiver.
"I have confidence they are going to make plays when the ball is thrown their way," wide receivers coach Kevin Daft said. "Not everyone has experience, but they have a ton of talent. I'm excited to see them play. They've paid their dues and they've worked hard."
The good news for the Bears is they addressed their needs with their 2008 recruiting class, bringing in what scout.com ranked as the seventh-best group of wide receivers in the nation. Two wideouts — Marvin Jones and Jarrett Sparks — were ranked among the top 100 prospects nationally at the position, while Charles Satchell and junior college transfer Verran Tucker each garnered scholarship offers from a handful of major programs.
Cal coach Jeff Tedford has said that as many as three of the new receivers could contribute right away.
"It's going to be a process," Tedford said. "They are going to make mistakes, and we're going to stay positive with them. They all have talent, they all have size and speed. The guys who can keep up with the learning curve are the guys who probably are going to be the contributors."
Cal's receiving corps will have a different look this season, and it's not just because it will consist of a bunch of guys who haven't played. The Bears also will be field a different brand of receiver — big and strong instead of small and shifty. That's not to say Cal's group of wideouts don't have speed, but they don't compare to the Bears' speedy trio of the past few years.
The Bears have five wide receivers who are in the mix for playing time that stand at least 6-foot-2. Jackson, Hawkins and Jordan were all under 6-feet.
"It's just kind of worked out that way in recruiting," Daft said. "We have bigger, more physical guys where before we had smaller, more shifty guys. They are young and inexperienced, but they do have a ton of talent. There are a lot of good players out there, and they are hungry to play. They haven't got a ton of playing time so they're kind of itching to get on the field. That's a good thing because they want to work and they want to get better."
Contact Jonathan Okanes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cal will have to replace its three leading wide receivers from last season. The Bears have only two receivers returning who caught passes in 2007.
Player 2007 rec.
Lavelle Hawkins 72
DeSean Jackson 65
Robert Jordan 47
Player 2007 rec.
LaReylle Cunningham 4
Sean Young 1