Cal will have more true freshman playing significant roles this season than ever before under Jeff Tedford.
“No doubt,” said Tedford without a moment’s hesitation. “Typically, there’s maybe two or three guys like that.”
This week, Tedford reeled off the names of seven freshmen and one junior-college transfer that he fully expects to get significant playing time on offense or defense. There could be several more.
“And some will start,” he said.
Not a single current Cal player started the season opener in his first year at Cal, and only two (Chris Conete and Isi Sofele) started any games as a true freshman.
And this group of eight newcomers expected to play does not include redshirt freshmen, such as Steve Williams, who is expected to start at cornerback, or Dasarte Yarnway, who may see playing time at running back. Nor does it include linebacker Chris Martin, rated the top high school outside linebacker in the country last year who transferred to Florida last month, or Cecil Whiteside, another highly rated linebacker who will grayshirt the season and enroll at Cal in December because of academic issue.
Instead, Tedford is talking about seven players who were preparing for their senior season of high school ball at this time a year ago. Tedford has never had nearly this many true freshmen expected to play signficant roles. Whether that’s a good thing will be determined as the season goes on.
Part of the reason so many freshmen will play is the immediate need, and it’s no coincidence that four of the newcomers Tedford mentioned are wide receiver and two others are linebackers. Those are the two positions where Cal has the most holes to fill. Freshmen could become starters at either position, and the fact the new wide receivers are loaded with speed is part of the reason.
The most ballyhooed of the freshman is Keenan Allen, who continues to impress Tedford in preseason camp. It is a foregone conclusion that Allen will be in the starting lineup when the Bears open against UC Davis on Sept. 4, although Tedford has not made that official yet.
(Tedford has not made it official that Kevin Riley will be the starting quarterback, either, but there is no doubt about that.)
Four of the eight newcomers who could make an immediate impact are from the East Coast, which says something about Cal’s recruiting strategy.
So let’s take a brief look at the seven true freshmen and one JC transfer who are expected to get significant playing time, some of whom probably will become starters this year:
Wide Receiver Kaelin Clay, 5-9, 175, Long Beach, Calif. – Ranked the nation’s No. 53 wide receiver by rivals.com – Clay finished third in the state 100 meters in a time of 10.44 and fourth in the 200 at 21.07. Clay was a running back for the final four games of his senior season. He played at Long Beach Poly, which produces a lot of Division I players. He’s a little like DeSean Jackson, though not that advanced. See Clay video here.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen, 6-3, 195, Greensboro, N.C. – Ranked No. 5 overall by scout.com and rivals.com. Ranked No. 1 safety by scout.com and rivals.com – Tedford says he is more ready to play than any freshman he’s had. He makes the game look easy. He can do anything a wide receiver needs to do. And he may play some defense later in the season.
Wide receiver Tevin Carter, 6-3, 190, Los Angeles – Ranked the nation’s No. 17 wide receiver by rivals.com. — Another speedster. He finished fourth in the state in the 100 meters as a junior and had a personal best of 10.61. Carter did not compete in track as a senior. See a mediocre video of Carter here.
Wide receiver Coleman Edmond, 6-1, 208, Kingston, N.Y., Pierce CC – The only junior college transfer among the newcomers, Edmond has taken a circuitous route. He started his college career at Division I-AA Wagner, left to enroll at UCLA and ran track there as a sprinter in the spring of 2009. He was not offered a football scholarship at UCLA, however, so he enrolled at Pierce College a week before the 2009 season started, and became a standout. See video below.
Linebacker Dave Wilkerson, 6-3, 235, Danville – Rated the nation’s No. 6 inside linebacker by rivals.com.– The lone Bay Area product of the bunch, Wilkerson attended Monte Vista High School., where he had 145 tackles and forced seven fumbles as a senior. He could be a starter this year. See Wilkerson video. See Wilkerson story here.
Linebacker Nick Forbes, 6-1, 225, Frederick, Md. – Ranked nation’s No. 2 inside linebacker by rivals.com. — Forbes is a powerfully built player who packs a wallop with his tackles. He rushed for over 1,500 yards as a senior, but Cal needs him as a defensive intimidator. Forbes is battling for a starting spot too. See Forbes video here.
Safety Michael Coley, 6-2, 207, Hyattsville, Md. – Ranked the nation’s No. 69 safety by rivals — Coley is a versatile player who could play several position, but is at safety for the Bears. He plays the ball well in the air, which was a shortcoming of Cal’s defensive backs last season. Brief, brief Coley video.
Tight end Jacob Wark, 6-5, 240, Portland, Ore. – Ranked the nation’s No. 38 tight end by scout.com — Wark played defense primarily in high school, and was really a better defensive end than tight end. He is still learning the tight end position, but that’s where his future lies. Wark won’t be a starter this season unless Cal standout Anthony Miller gets hurt, but he’s expected to play. See Wark video here.
Gabe King is an eighth freshman who has a chance to get playing time this season.
Tedford says every one of the seven freshmen he mentioned is physically ready to play. It’s just a matter of them learning the college game. It may mean the Bears will be better at the end of the season than at the beginning. That would be a welcomed changed for the Bears, who have had some late-season slides in recent years.
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