BERKELEY — After spending virtually the entire spring installing the 3-4 defense, it's more about football again for defensive coordinator Bob Gregory.
Gregory spent most of spring practice in teaching mode, as the Bears got acclimated to the new system. Gregory said the team is still fine-tuning some aspects of the 3-4, but most of the learning is done.
"We've kind of been able to solidify a little bit of what we really like," Gregory said. "There were some things in the spring that we thought were good and some things that we didn't think were good. We've been able to identify those aspects and kind of go from there. We just kind of know what we want to do."
Now that the new base defense is up and running, Gregory and the coaching staff can do what they usually do during fall camp — evaluate. There are some key position battles going on in camp, most notably at nose tackle and outside linebacker.
Senior Mika Kane and sophomore Derrick Hill are considered the favorites to man the middle of the defensive line, although Gregory singled out true freshman Kendrick Payne as someone who has stood out during the early stages of camp. Payne graduated early from Klein Forest High School in Houston and went through spring practice with the Bears.
"We got some good competition there," Gregory said Tuesday night. "Derrick and Kendrick are kind of showing up these past two days."
The Bears return all three starting linebackers from last season — Zack Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder. With a fourth linebacker now needed in the 3-4, junior Eddie Young has emerged as a leading candidate to start opposite Follett on the outside. Gregory said Young and junior Devin Bishop are the early leaders to man the other outside spot.
Gregory said sophomore Mike Mohamed, who excelled in part-time duty last year, will back up both the outside and inside spots.
"He's kind of our swing guy," Gregory said. "He's going to play inside as well as outside. We have to have somebody who can do that. That's not always an easy task. He's a good football player. He's smart. He'll be able to do that."
With Craig Stevens now playing for the Tennessee Titans, junior Cameron Morrah is the dean of Cal tight ends. Morrah, who has looked strong in early practices, said it's a much different feeling with Stevens gone.
"It's a lot different because there are a lot of young guys under me," Morrah said. "I have all the experience now."
While Morrah is the projected starter, he could be pushed by Tad Smith, who converted from defensive end in the spring and played very well.
When asked if Smith's performance has lifted his game, Morrah said: "Everybody motivates me to play better. Everybody pushes everybody."
Tailbacks Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen and cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson are the leading candidates to replace DeSean Jackson returning punts. ... Comcast SportsNet Bay Area will air a Cal season-preview show Monday at 8:30 p.m. The half-hour show will be replayed Aug. 17 at 8:30 p.m., Aug. 19 at 12:30 a.m. and Aug. 24 at 8:30 p.m.
— Jonathan Okanes