- Ted Miller, College Football
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Shortly after California's final spring practice ended, the Bears erupted in cheers in the locker room. But it wasn't for themselves. Or even about an ending. It was about a surprising beginning.
Their former teammate, defensive end Tyson Alualu, was picked 10th overall in the NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Boom! He was a millionaire.
Cameron Jordan was among those cheering. He said he wasn't surprised the player who manned the opposite end of the line from him over the past two seasons was selected 10th overall. Nor, he said, did he consider that he was only a year away from finding where he might fall on draft day.
"I didn't even think about that part," the 6-foot-4, 282-pound senior defensive end said. "I was just happy and excited for him."
Jordan has the talent to become a first-round pick. Presently, he likely will be projected, much like Alualu was last May, as a second- or third-round selection.
He's flashed plenty of tantalizing ability, earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors the past two seasons. He had 48 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks last fall. He also had five quarterback hurries, which suggests a lot of "what might have been." Not unlike Cal's 2009 season.
Last fall, Jordan looked like a potential All-Pac-10 selection, just as the Bears looked like a top-10 team and a threat to unseat USC atop the conference. More than a few Cal fans reacted angrily when Jordan was left off the Pac-10 blog's ranking of the conference's top 30 players.
Why did the Bears -- and Jordan -- fall short?
"There were multitude of reasons," Jordan said. "It seemed like after that first loss some guys were rattled and didn't really come back."
That would be the visit to Oregon, where the Bears swaggered into Autzen Stadium ranked sixth in the nation and staggered out 42-3 losers.
As for the mediocre defense in 2009 -- which was mostly mediocre in 2009, despite eight returning starters from a unit that ranked among the nation's top-30 teams in nearly every statistical category -- Jordan said "some of it had to do with a lack of adjustments."
That's fairly general, but there was unhappiness with Cal's scheme last year. This led coach Jeff Tedford to say repeatedly during the offseason that the Bears would be more aggressive when attacking the quarterback.
New coordinator Clancy Pendergast will run more stunts and blitzes out of the Bears 3-4 front, which could benefit Jordan, who faced a lot of double teams last fall.
"Hopefully, it will free me up to get in the backfield more often," Jordan said. "I got a lot more one-on-ones this spring, and that only makes my day."
Jordan reportedly had a good spring. Here's what Pendergast said about him in a Q&A with the Pac-10 blog: "He's been very receptive. He pays attention to detail. He's very interested. When you have a guy like that, with his potential skill set, he can have an opportunity to make plays. So he's bought into the system and he's doing the different things that we are asking him to do within the scheme. So far so good."
Jordan has good bloodlines. His father, Steve, played at Brown and then 13 years in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, earning six invitations to the Pro Bowl. A gifted athlete, the young Jordan has always been a strong pass rusher, with good speed for his size. He's fallen short a bit with his strength in run support.
That might be changing. Jordan said he focused on that area.
"I'm more confident in my run game," he said. "It's been getting better every year. My freshman and sophomore year, I knew I wasn't a great run stopper. Pass rush yes. My junior year, I was a little bit more confident. Now, I'd like to say I'm one of the better guys on the unit against the run. I'm already confident in my pass rush abilities."
The next step, he said, is being so confident in his ability to defeat blocks that he focuses his attention on reading the action in the backfield: "Sometimes I get too focused on the man in front of me instead of what play can actually happen in the backfield."
Cal doesn't figure to get much preseason attention. Most projections will dump the Bears into the conference's muddled middle. That probably means Jordan, too, won't get too much preseason hype.
He seems fine with that.
"Coming in under the radar, there's no pressure on us. No one is looking at us," he said. "If we are under the radar, all we have to worry about is what we can do as a team, not what everybody else thinks we can do."
It's possible that by doing just that, the Bears might end up cheering in December -- and again in the spring when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calls Jordan's name.
Shortly after California's final spring practice ended, the Bears erupted in cheers in the locker room. But it wasn't for themselves. Or even about an ending.