It was notable last season that Cal's football team had three players make a significant impact as true freshmen. The same thing might happen again in 2008 -- and that's just at wide receiver.
Coach Jeff Tedford announced his 2008 recruiting class Wednesday and it features five wide receivers, all of whom should be in the mix to compete for the playing time left available by the departure of DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan. The Bears have only one returning receiver who has caught a pass in a game, making the competition for snaps wide open.
"Obviously, with the guys we have leaving the program this year, the receiving corps was a huge need for us," Tedford said. "I feel like we've addressed that with some guys with great size, athleticism and speed. They're going to come in and compete right away to make an impact with the team."
The Bears announced the signing of 21 players Wednesday, a class that is ranked 32nd nationally by Scout.com and 35th by Rivals.com. The group of newcomers isn't considered as strong as it's been in recent years, a sign that perhaps the team's struggles during the second half of last season turned off some prospects. But most recruiting experts believe Cal addressed most of its pressing needs by bringing in a solid group of wide receivers, defensive backs and defensive linemen.
"It doesn't help when you fade down the stretch, but recruiting classes also go in cycles," said Tom Luginbill, national recruiting director for ESPN's Scouts Inc. "I like Cal's class. I think their class is pretty sharp. They've got some good players in it." Jamie Newberg, a recruiting expert for Scout.com, also said the difference between being the 20th-ranked class and the 30th-ranked class is "not all that significant."
The wide receiver corps is led by Marvin Jones, a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder from Etiwanda. Scout.com and Rivals.com each had Jones ranked as the 23rd-best receiver in the country. Two other top-100 receivers -- Merced High School's Jarrett Sparks and Charles Satchell of Milpitas -- are part of the class.
Highly regarded junior college receiver Verran Tucker also signed his letter of intent Wednesday, as did L.J. Washington of Stockton. Tedford wouldn't say which of the incoming receivers had the best chance to play right away. "I couldn't tell you right now," he said. "They all have an equal chance. They'll all be here. They'll be able to compete and we'll see which ones end up making an impact." The situation at wide receiver will be even more competitive because Tedford said Nyan Boateng has rejoined the team and will go through spring practice. Boateng, a transfer from Florida, may be the most talented receiver in the program but was suspended after running into legal trouble last summer. Boateng would have had to sit out last season anyway because of NCAA transfer rules.
LaReylle Cunningham is the only returning receiver who has caught a pass in a game. Michael Calvin, who spent his freshman season as a redshirt, is a potential star who figures to start next season. Four of the five new wide receivers are at least 6-2, which marks a dramatic change from the Bears' small and speedy receivers over the past couple of years. None of Cal's top three receivers last year were over 6-feet tall.
"They're going to be able to block, they're going to be able to catch the ball over the middle, they're going to be able to go up and get balls over the top of people," Tedford said. "We really went for a little more height and size in the receiving corps this year."
Other headliners from the recruiting class who could see immediate playing time are cornerback Marc Anthony, defensive tackle Trevor Guyton and running back Covaughn DeBoskie.
Notes: Tedford said defensive back Brandon Jones has left the program because he "needed to make a change." Jones was one of the Bears' top special teams players last season as a redshirt freshman and was believed to be the fastest player on the team. ... Tedford also said defensive end Phillip Mbakogu, who missed the past two seasons with knee problems, has given up any thoughts of returning to the team. ... Tedford said highly regarded offensive lineman Kevin Bemoll, who was suspended for the 2007 season for violating team rules, will return for spring practice. Linebacker Robert Mullin and offensive lineman Matt Summers-Gavin, who each missed the 2007 season with injuries, are also back and will be freshmen this season.