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Cal Football: Injuries, No Bye Week, Inexperience The Biggest Concerns?-

via <a href="">Cal Bears Online</a>. Check out <a href="" target="new">his photos</a>.
via Cal Bears Online. Check out his photos.

What are your biggest concerns going into 2012?

1) Injuries. One remarkable thing considering all the turmoil last year; this team was one of the healthiest in the country. With maybe one or two exceptions, most of the starters played almost every game last year. Cal had only three starts missed due to injury last year. This isn't counting Eric Stevens since he went down before the season, but that's a pretty remarkable bill of health.

I'd imagine we won't be so fortunate this season. This camp has seen a lot of guys get banged up and seen two likely contributors in Gibson and Galas go down for most of the season. Austin Clark, Mustafa Jalil and Dave Wilkerson are all still healing up. It's a concern.

2) Bye week. Or the lack thereof. The recalcitrance by about everyone not to have a Thanksgiving Big Game is going to mean we play twelve up, twelve down, and an October Big Game. That will be fun for just about no one. Washington might have their brutal schedule, but at least they get a week off in between their bashing at LSU and subsequent bashing by Furd.

Cal gets Ohio State and USC, then has to turn right around and dig right into the heart of their conference schedule. The Big Game is sandwiched in between road trips to Salt Lake and the Palouse, and right after we play Utah we get five days to rest up and prep for Washington. Seven home games generally sounds nice, but this is as tough a slog as I've seen from an even-year schedule.

This could cause a lot of strain on our team unless we win a majority of our games by a lot. Otherwise there's a good chance we're going to be broken vessels by November.

What are your biggest concerns this season? Are we due for a rash of injuries? Is the lack of a bye week a big deal?

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unclesam22: You totally nailed it. Injuries and the schedule are by far the biggest concerns for me as well, for all the reasons you outlined. It just seems like a setup for a swoon.

The other thing the concerns me is our secondary. They were good but not great last year, but with McClure getting hurt and some inexperience back there I fear we might be a little vulnerable, which is a really scary thought going up against USC and their ridiculous passing game and then the rest of the pass happy Pac-12 teams. I think that the D-line and Linebackers could help make up for this somewhat by generating a strong pass rush that hurries throws, but I still think we might give up some big plays over the top and down the sideline.

Also, the kicking game worries me a bit. PAT's notwithstanding, Giorgio and Anger were outstanding and replacing both of those guys almost guarantees a drop-off.

Berkelium97: I am concerned about our unusual knack for shooting ourselves in the foot. Two of the team's biggest problems last season were penalties and turnovers, which have never been a characteristic of Tedford's teams.

We were 119th in the nation in penalty yards per game last season (72.4). Only ASU was worse than us. While some of this has to do with the way Pac-12 refs call games (seriously, compare our penalty rates to other conferences--it's ridiculous), we were still 11th in the conference. Tedford's teams had never penalty issues this bad. We had a propensity to shoot ourselves in the foot at the most inopportune times. There is never any good reason for a team to get backed up to 1st and 30 in overtime. Ever. How many of C.J. Anderson's TDs were called back in the Oregon State game? 2? 3? Many of these penalties were due to the O-line and we had a bad habit of racking up consecutive penalties. If we want to have some success against the stronger defenses we'll face this season, we cannot hand them 5, 10, and 15 yards at a time. I hope another year under Michalczik will further undo some of the bad habits picked up during the Marshall era.

Another issue I am concerned about is turnovers. Again, we had a knack for shooting ourselves in the foot, often repeatedly. How many times in the Tedford era had we had a 5-turnover game? I would not be surprised if it was never. How many did we have last season? Three! Maynard's interceptions played a large role, but Maynard and several receivers had fumbling issues throughout the year. We turned three very winnable games (USC, UCLA, Texas) into embarrassing losses with these turnovers.

With as much as Tedford focuses on attention to detail and the little things, he must have been furious with the turnovers and penalties last year. I hope he sorted these issues out during the offseason. The schedule says we're an 8-win team. Taking care of the little things will make the difference between a 9-win season and a 6 or 7-win season.


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HydroTech: My biggest concern is our ability to just win games. It seems like for the past three years we've dropped games that we should be winning, or we've been shooting ourselves in the foot left and right.

"Duh" statement of the day: If Cal wants to get out of the middle of the Pac-12 and back towards the top, we have to win the games we're supposed to win, and it all starts with limiting your own unforced errors. Execution is key.

unclesam22: I guess I'd blocked the turnover thing out of my mind since it was so traumatic last year, but you are absolutely right about how they killed us. I can think of at least 3 games we lost, most notably USC, where we would have had a great chance to win the game going into the 4th quarter had we just held on to the ball. That has GOT to change for this team to win 8/9 games.

norcalnick: I suppose I'm concerned about injuries and turnovers, but I tend to chalk those two things into the random chance file while crossing my fingers and hoping for good luck. I think Maynard will improve enough that interceptions won't be a huge problem, and fumbles and injuries? Just luck of the draw.

My major concerns? Replacing our draft picks. Marvin Jones, Mitchell Schwartz, Bryan Anger, Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt were all very productive players, and there aren't necessarily obvious players ready to replace that production. I think there's reason to be optimistic in each case - Coach M. will shore up the offensive line, there's talent ready to step up at linebacker & wide receiver, etc. But those are all major uncertainties in my mind.

And he wasn't a draft pick, but I'm not expecting anybody to approach the year Giorgio had as a field goal kick last year. Special teams were generally solid to above-average last year, and I'm worried about a regression.

TwistNHook: Dude, I'm concerned about our kicking game. Losing Anger and Italian Stallion. Crying now.


(via Cal Bears Online)

Avinash: Another issue that people seem to be forgetting is the lack of returning starters. Two of our three wideouts. Starting tight end. Pac-12 defensive player of the year and his partner in crime. Two starting DEs, two starting safeties, two starting OLmen (not to mention Galas). Punter (who was really good) and kicker (who had a solid senior year). That's a lot of moving parts to replace.

There's definite depth to shore up some of these losses, but is there enough experience? A pro style offense demands a lot of experience and adjustment. Will a younger unit be able to adjust to the speed of the game?

Vincent S: I'm most concerned about the ILB position. We play a variant of the 3-4, meaning the linebackers form the core of our defense. Generally, as our linebackers go, our defense goes. The replacement of two senior linebackers will be tough. Will Hurrell and Mullins have the speed to cover sideline to sideline like Kendricks did? Will both of them have the ability to call out assignments and lead the defense? Will any of the freshman step up and start by midseason?

If the answer to all of these questions is not a resounding "Yes", I have a hard time seeing us go better than .500.

atomsareenough: I think Berkelium and HydroTech nailed it. The first few years of Tedford's tenure we were an overachieving team because we did the little things and didn't hurt our own cause. We haven't been that kind of team the past few years. I hope we can get back to that. I think it really does start with the O-line. The last game at Reser (with the famous Tedford glare/Coach Marshall shrug) really epitomized what's been wrong.

I'm less concerned about the new players with the talent we have on the roster. We'll have a bit of a learning curve at some positions, but even at inside linebacker, we are starting the year with experienced system guys (Mullins, Hurrell) taking the bulk of the snaps, and as the younger guys get a little less green, I expect their talent will earn them more snaps. I expect Forbes and Wilkerson to be major contributors by the end of the year, if they are healthy.

I'm sure the kicking game won't be quite as good as it was last year, but I'm not expecting a steep dropoff. D'Amato's been around and is an experienced guy with a good leg. I've heard nothing but good things about Leininger so far. We'll be fine.

Kodiak: I think B97 and Hydro nailed it. But not atoms.

Injuries to O-line or CB would seriously screw us.

Until proven otherwise, the O-line is the biggest question mark, followed by ILB, followed by safety. I'd be a lot more worried about the O-line if not for Coach M's track record of rehabilitating lines with less talent.

I honestly think we're a year away on D from having solid play at ILB and S. Damage control this year is the name of the game. Which means we'll need to score some points. Which means we'll need not-inconsistent Maynard. Which means we'll need solid O-line play.

I should probably say that special teams with two new starters at kicker/punter is a concern. But for some morbid reason, it isn't. Because I've already accepted that our special teams play will be ridiculously incompetent. I'm prepared. It's like a meditative trance for the perfect death. I have no confidence in the position coach. Or the lack of attention this phase of the game gets from the staff in general. So, I already know that there will be catastrophic errors at the most inopportune times. Anything mildly resembling competent play is gravy. And who doesn't like gravy?

atomsareenough: Thank goodness! When Kodiak starts to agree with me, it means we've gone through the looking glass.

unclesam22: I like gravy. And while I think everyone has valid concerns with different areas of the team, my biggest concern is their focus. This season is setting up to be a really tough one with no bye week to reset mindsets midstream. If we lose badly to tOSU and USC there is a chance that this team could go into a tailspin that they won't come out of. This is obviously worse case scenario but we all lived the 2007 debacle and we've watched a team that has been inconsistent and unfocused at some really bad times in the past couple of seasons. Some of, if not a lot of, that falls on Tedford but who else steps up as a vocal leader that rallies and focuses everyone back to the task at hand.

So yes, injuries to the O-line or CB corps would be really bad, and our ILB position is a little untested and ST are an unknown. But I think we'll muddle through in those areas. I just worry about the team as a whole falling apart early in the schedule and then not being able to bring it back in time to salvage the season.