So, I was originally going to write a CGB preview magazine for the season. Unfortunately I came to this decision in May, and didn't get writing on anything until two months before the season. As expected, time ran out. Still, I did manage to pump a few things out.
The thing I'm most proud about was the feature I wrote on Kevin Riley's evolution as a Cal quarterback. I wrote about an 8 page feature breaking down his critical moments, the factors that have shaped his development, his psychological profile, and a little Xs and Os breakdown. It should be enough for casual readers to enjoy without getting too confused. I think it'll be good.
You can buy it here via PayPal and download the PDF for 99 cents. If anyone has any problems, email me at bearsnecessities at gmail and I'll try and fix it up for you.
Depending on how well these sell, I might be able to pump out a few more magazine-style articles that go more indepth. This would include articles on Shane Vereen and Pendergast's NFL defenses that are currently in the works, as well as indepth pieces on other teams. For those who do buy it, let me know what you guys think in the comments (whether you enjoyed it, what can be improved, whether I should ever write again).
If you don't want to buy this but want to help me follow my dream of being an independent sports writer (which would by proxy help me keep CGB running at optimal awesomeness), you can also help out by donating to my box in People's Park by clicking here.
Thanks again. This site would be nothing without you guys, and we wouldn't be able to be doing the things we've done without your support and readership. Here's to a great 2010.
After the jump, some thoughts on the opening game.
In reality, this is as close to a preseason game that the Bears will get. There is of course the remote chance the Bears could lose (because the better team loses in preseason games all the time), but that would require a combination of turnovers, penalties, and a total clusterf**k that isn't worth analyzing or dissecting.
In terms of playcalling, I expect a pretty boring gameplan that involves run, stop the run, play deep coverage, etc. Oh, I'm sure Andy Ludwig and Clancy Pendergast will show some things they'll be doing all year, but the heavy artillery won't be coming out for at least another week. No need to reveal the best of the gameplans until conference play.
If you really want to get a feel for what this team is capable of this season, here are the things I'd be focusing on for the season opener.
Offensive line play. How well people are getting off their blocks. How quickly is Brian Schwenke getting out of his assignment and pulling to lead block for Shane Vereen? When guys are running inside zone, are they moving swiftly to the second level? Can Donovan Edwards handle his right side with ease? Will Mitchell Schwartz be able to control his edge as well as he managed the right side? Many questions remain unanswered, and will probably continue to be unanswered well into September.
Fullbacks. We've been wondering a lot about whether Eric Stevens and Will Kapp can rise to the challenge and become the next Chris Manderino or Will Ta'ufo'ou--a versatile, hard-hitting blocker who will also come out of the backfield and be another option for the quarterback. Or will they just be hardworkers who occasionally miss crucial blocks? Could their inexperience be the weak link that sinks the Cal offense? Or will they be blasting the linebackers off their angles?
Tight end sets. Considering how fond Ludwig was of that formation, I expect to see a lot of two tight end sets on first down, especially now that Ludwig has a capable platoon of Anthony Miller, Spencer Ladner, Jarrett Sparks, and Jacob Wark to rely on. Expect to see the tight ends block a lot early to try and force defenses to key in on the run, opening up single coverage opportunities for Riley to exploit with his receivers. Watch particularly how well the tight ends are running their routes. Ladner is definitely the more imposing figure and has the age advantage, but Wark could surprise a lot of people with his athleticism and soft hands.
Pre-snap defensive movement. While this has always been an offensive staple, Berkelium reminded me the first year Bob Gregory installed the 3-4, there was a lot of motion occurring on the defensive side on the ball. Guys were adjusting their techniques on the line or their gap assignments, linebackers creeped in or showed a blitz look, etc. This didn't happen as much in 2009 because of the dropoff in skill and experience of the linebackers, and we adopted more conventional looks with less pre-snap motion.
Pendergast loved shifting guys around in the NFL regardless of talent. Whether it was bringing in a safety close to the line of scrimmage, or stacking six to seven guys close to the offensive line to gain numerical superiority, or just letting guys roam in Brownian motion. All of this occurred while the quarterback went under center. I expect we'll see a little bit more of that, and people will enjoy the 'aggression'.
Pressure looks. Pendergast is fond of sending pressure. We'll see whether he brings up a safety like Chris Conte to come off the edge untouched, or drops Mike Mohamed back to handle deep pass coverage responsibilities (as he's shown himself to do in the past) while others blitz, or just goes with conventional zone blitzes from his main rush linebackers, Keith Browner and Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks looked real good rushing guys late last season. Can he carry that success and emerge as a true pass-rushing threat?
Again, don't expect too many fancy blitzes in a game that doesn't need many. But keep on seeing whether the pre-snap movement gives the quarterback the illusion that he needs to release the ball earlier to evade a possible pass rush.
Cameron Jordan demanding double teams. I mean, he'd better be demanding a double team in this one. Unless he's matched up with a future FCS All-American, he should be getting out of his stance and finding his way into the backfield early and often.
The Kendrick Payne-Derrick Hill duo at nose tackle. Hill was an absolute monster to deal with up the middle last season--Oregon decided they couldn't block him, so they read him and double teamed Tyson Alualu, and USC's center got manhandled. Unfortunately he was never fully healthy for much of the season, and he never really exhibited that ability throughout the season. Payne will get his chance, and will try to be a more athletic version of Hill that can shoot the gap and get to the running back before he can hit the hole. See how much success they have.
The youngsters. This is their moment to shine. Keenan Allen, Dasarte Yarnway, Marc Anthony, Deandre Coleman, Coleman Edmond, Tevin Carter, Nick Forbes, David Wilkerson, Wark, etc. These guys will be happy to be out there, enjoying their first true career games as Golden Bears. They'll be active, they'll be aggressive, they might get a little carried away, but if you're looking for excitement, take a look at the players who you're seeing for the first time. This is probably the best they'll look before the real tests come their way.
The second units. How will the second unit perform after spending the entire week as the scout team running UC Davis's offense? I doubt they'll be demoralized, but they won't have as much experience running their own sets and handling their own business. This could make the first unit look very good, but it could also hinder the second unit's development. Something to watch out for as the season wears on and the ability of their opponents improves.
Kevin Riley's footwork and release. It's supposedly much much better--Jeff Tedford has admitted as much. So watch if he's got his steps down, if he's throwing quickly and making good decisions with the ball, if he's aiming his front foot at the receiver, and if he's maintaining good timing with Marvin Jones, Miller, Allen, and all the other receivers who could see the field. The more precise his movements and snap are, the better his spiral will look, the better his throws will look, and the better Cal's offense will look.
That's all I got. The previews are done. Now it's gametime.