Davis and Alualu win starting jobs alongside returner Malele, but several others are in the rotation
BERKELEY -- Cal begins preparing for its Sept. 1 season opener against Tennessee today, just in time for its defensive line to come into focus. The Bears held their second and final scrimmage of fall camp Tuesday, and coach Jeff Tedford said they now will start looking ahead toward its rematch with the Volunteers. Cal will do so with some answers to one of the most pressing questions it faced when camp began -- who will play on the defensive line? The Bears need to replace three of their four starters from last year's defensive front, and they've found a rotation of players to fill the holes. Returning starter Matt Malele is back at defensive tackle, and defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said Tuesday that junior Rulon Davis has earned a starting spot on the end. Sophomore Tyson Alualu will start either inside or outside, with junior Mika Kane, sophomores Tad Smith and Cody Jones and true freshman Cameron Jordan also in the mix to play.
Malele sat out the scrimmage with recurring knee soreness, and Jones missed some time over the weekend with a stinger. "It's going to be a rotation," Tedford said. "A lot of these guys are banged up right now, so to get those guys fresh is going to be really important. I think it's going to be a situation where all those guys rotate and keep each other fresh." Jordan has played his way into the rotation by dazzling the coaching staff with his athletic ability. One of the highlights Tuesday came when Jordan picked up explosive freshman running back Jahvid Best in pass coverage and blanketed him, preventing quarterback Kevin Riley from throwing a pass in the flat.
"When you see that, you think this guy has a chance to do something," Gregory said. "He's going to be a pretty good player. We knew he would be a good player. You don't quite know until the guys are here and see how they are going to adjust. He's adjusted great. He's a gifted athlete."
The linebackers are the strength of Cal's defense, but strong side linebacker Zack Follett said he's confident the defensive line can be productive. "Right now, they're all banged up," he said. "But once Sept. 1 gets here, they'll be rested and able to do the job. They're young, but each day they're learning and getting stronger at their position."
While Tuesday's practice was listed as a scrimmage, it was more a series of game-like situations. Unlike Thursday's scrimmage in which there were actual drives, the Bears simply ran different plays from the same line of scrimmage. Cal tried to simulate as many game conditions as possible. The Bears began practice by taking the field through the tunnel, just as they would for a home game. They piped in crowd noise for work during the two-minute drill. They worked on substitution patterns for changing packages on the field. "We still got a practice in so we still got some fundamental and execution things done," Tedford said. "But when you put the kids on the field by themselves, they have to communicate and have to get things done. That's what it was mainly about today -- handling those game situations." Since the Bears will start planning for Tennessee today, the scrimmage served somewhat as an unofficial finish to camp. Cal was beaten badly by the Volunteers to open last season, 35-18. "Now that we feel pretty good about who we are, we can start moving toward what (the Volunteers) are all about," Tedford said.
Tedford said he still hasn't decided on a backup quarterback. He said Tuesday that junior Bryan Van Meter is under consideration along with Kyle Reed and Kevin Riley. ... Tedford said redshirt freshman Derrick Hill is improving from a back injury, but "he's in no way in any shape to play big-time football." Hill has yet to practice in camp. ... Along with Malele, linebacker Justin Moye (stinger) and wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins (bruised knee) sat out the scrimmage.