The California Golden Bears continued to make strides in their third spring practice of 2009, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Cal had one of the better defenses in the country last season, which, besides the outstanding play of Jahvid Best, really carried the team for most of the year.
The 23rd overall ranked defense in 2008 will be returning some big names like senior cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson. Thompson led the Bears stout defense with four interceptions and was third on the team with 70 tackles. He was also third in the conference with 18 passes defended, which gave opposing quarterbacks reason to look to the other side of the field. Even with those outstanding numbers, he looks to be back stronger and hungrier for more.
“I think I’m getting better and better every day,” Thompson said. “This year is a good opportunity for me to come back and work on things that I didn’t do well last year. I look forward to being better and stronger than I was last season.”
Many Cal fans remember Thompson by his first career start against the Tennessee Volunteers on national television. He not only had an extremely tough match-up against Robert Meachem, who was later selected by New Orleans in the first-round of the 2007 NFL draft, but Thompson also was playing with a cast on one hand.
When asked about whether or not that game still lingered in his mind, Thompson replied, “I don’t really think about that game. The past is the past. You have to have a short memory as a defensive back. In that game, I only really had one arm and I just couldn’t make a tackle. It was a good learning experience for me. I think it was the best way for me to start my career here at Cal because I can prove to people that I can grow and continue to get better.”
The Bears finished the 2008 campaign with 24 interceptions. That mark was good enough to place them third in the nation behind Florida and Boston College, who each finished the year with 26 picks. While the interceptions were a total defensive effort, Cal believes that the return of almost every defensive back will help them pick up where they left off.
“In general, I think we have a chance to be the best core of backs in the country,” Thompson said.
“I honestly believe we have one of the best player-by-player and pound-for-pound defensive back fields in the nation. We’re returning every player from last year but one and we’re all out here to compete and make each other better.”
After an outstanding all around year from Thompson in 2008, the University of California Berkeley will likely not be his last opportunity to lock down talented receivers. With another great year, he could be the center of discussion of many NFL scouts.
“Thinking about the NFL doesn’t even motivate me,” Thompson said. “Last year I wasn’t the top player coming into the season and I still performed at a high level. Thinking about the future doesn’t get me going. I just come out here every day and work hard. I can only control myself right now and that’s how I look at it.”
Kevin Riley took most of the first team snaps after a solid first practice on Sunday.
Jeremy Ross and Nyan Boateng were the top two receivers during the 11 on 11 drills.
Coach Jeff Tedford also had Brock Mansion take a few first team reps.
While Shane Vereen was in on first team reps, Covaughn Deboskie and Langston Jackson split reps at the tailback position as well.
Sophomore kicker Giorgio Tavecchio was consistently knocking down 42-yard field goals (equivalent to his career long) with plenty of room to spare.
In each successive practice, Cal has looked smoother and more in sync as they put the pieces together to try and compete for a Pac-10 title.
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