March 21, 2006

Tedford ready to reinvent offense

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BERKELEY, Calif. - Jeff Tedford won't be afraid to break something that probably doesn't need fixing this spring.

With a deep roster of returning players headed by star tailbacks Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, the California coach simply could have added minor tweaks and twists to the Golden Bears' powerful offense during spring practice, which began Monday at Memorial Stadium.

But Tedford couldn't resist the opportunity to get better when offensive coordinator George Cortez left the program after last season. Tedford hired Northwestern assistant Mike Dunbar as Cortez's replacement, securing his extensive knowledge of the spread offense that's setting records and gaining followers throughout the game.

''I've been thinking about that for a while, about implementing certain parts of (the spread offense),'' Tedford said. ''I pursued someone with spread knowledge, and (Dunbar) is one of the leading guys in that. ... It's a work in progress right now, but we'll have it figured out by the fall.''

Although the Bears won't abandon Tedford's effective running game, they'll spend the spring installing some aspects of the spread offense in the Bears' game plan. Tedford, who played in spread offenses while he was a CFL quarterback, hopes to turn Cal into one of the nation's most versatile offensive teams, able to run a spread-out passing game and Tedford's more traditional running attack on consecutive downs.

And you thought Lynch was hard to tackle during his sophomore season. Imagine being a defense that doesn't know whether Lynch will run the ball, catch a pass or line up as a receiver.

''It can be a very entertaining system to watch, and we all know how effective it can be,'' Tedford said. ''This offseason has been very busy. It's been a challenge, but it's been exciting.''

The Bears are expected to enter the season with a top-20 ranking, thanks to 15 returning starters from last season's 8-4 team, which beat Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl. Cal's few personnel losses were all key players, but several candidates will vie for each of those spots during spring.

Tedford also must evaluate four quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Nate Longshore, who won the starting job last fall before breaking his ankle in the season opener, will start the spring atop the depth chart in front of senior Steve Levy, who led Cal past Stanford and BYU while starting last season's final two games.

Joe Ayoob, who spent most of his junior year as Cal's starter before Tedford was forced to bench him for inaccuracy and interceptions, will be back in the pack alongside redshirt freshman Kyle Reed, the heralded prep star from Oakland. But all four will get plenty of chances to impress Tedford, Dunbar and the rest of the Cal coaches.

''That's obviously a key position for us to evaluate during the spring,'' Tedford said.

Eight starters return on defense, including defensive line powerhouse Brandon Mebane and cornerbacks Daymeion Hughes and Tim Mixon. Cal must replace rover Donnie McCleskey, but coordinator Bob Gregory's squad is experienced and solid.

Though Tedford's quarterbacks will occupy much of his time until the spring game on April 22, he also will be looking for three new starting offensive linemen after the departures of NFL prospects Ryan O'Callaghan, Marvin Philip and Adam Merz.

''They can take a huge step toward playing,'' Tedford said of the players vying for the spots. ''This is the time for the new players to step up and make a huge impression on us.''

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