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Football: Spring practice preview — quarterbacks

*NOTE: THIS IS THE FIRST OF DAILY POSTS THAT WILL PREVIEW SPRING PRACTICE ON A POSITION-BY-POSITION BASIS.

Spring practice begins a week from tomorrow. The Bears will be on a Tues-Thurs-Sat schedule, practicing in the afternoons (unlike the season, when they practice in the morning). Media guidelines will be the same as the season, meaning we will only have access to the first 20 minutes and final 10 minutes of each session. The exceptions will be three Saturday practices that will be open to the public. Coach Jeff Tedford is going to take those practices  off-site in different locations. It’s not totally finalized yet but one of them will be in Sacramento, one in San Jose and another one likely in the East Bay. As soon as that information becomes official, I will of course pass it on.

The Bears will be practicing on Witter Rugby Field, just as they will do this season while Memorial Stadium continues to undergo renovations. This spring will have several compelling storylines, but none more than the quarterback competition. This is the first time since 2005 that Tedford doesn’t have a quarterback that has extensive experience on the roster.

RETURNING STARTERS: None

WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR: Allan Bridgford

POSSIBLE SURPRISE: None

THE BREAKDOWN: First, some clarification. I don’t list Cal as having a returning starter at quarterback because Brock Mansion’s four starts last season aren’t enough. Plus, he didn’t earn the starting role. He became the starter after the season-ending injury to Kevin Riley.

I also don’t think it’s possible to have a surprise here because it is seemingly so wide open. There is no leading candidate. Yes, Mansion is the only quarterback who has taken meaningful snaps, but he didn’t do anything during his time as a starter to give him an advantage.

There have been some in recent years that have questioned Tedford’s label as a quarterback guru. Never as much as this year will he have the chance to prove it. He has five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster this spring, three of whom — Mansion, Bridgford and Austin Hinder– came to Cal as high school All-Americans. Inexperience can’t be an excuse. Whomever Tedford chooses to run the show will have to be ready to perform when the Bears open the season Sept. 3 against Fresno State.

The biggest challenge facing Tedford this spring is determining a way to get each of his quarterbacks meaningful reps so he can make accurate evaluations. Tedford has already said that Hinder, who will be a redshirt freshman, realistically won’t be in the mix. But he also impressed last year and the coaching staff would at least like to get a look at him to see where he stands.

That means Tedford, new (and former) offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik and new quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo will have to determine a way to get significant reps for Mansion, Bridgford, Zach Maynard and Beau Sweeney. That means getting each guy enough action against Cal’s first-team defense in practice. The concern there is not wearing down the starting defensive  players. Plus, defensive coordintor Clancy Pendergast will want to get a good look at some of the players not expecting to start. In a lot of ways, that’s what spring practice is for — to evaluate younger players.

The biggest question with the quarterbacks heading into spring practice is how much experience in the program will be a factor in determining a starter. As stated earlier, Mansion is the only one with any meaningful experience whatsoever, and it’s not much. Plus, he didn’t exactly take his chance and run with it at the end of last season.

Sweeney was the backup quarterback for most of 2009 and the first part of 2010 until he was passed up by Mansion. Tedford said the decision was based on the fact that Sweeney’s performance in practice had declined and Mansion’s had improved. For Sweeney, who will be entering his fourth year in the program, that’s not good. He will need to use experience to his advantage this spring and improve dramatically over last season.

Considering Mansion didn’t make the most of last year’s opportunity and Sweeney was on the decline, it seems experience may not be that important, at least not in this case. That means Bridgford and Maynard will have a golden opportunity to be in the mix for the job. Bridgford came to Cal with big press clippings, just like so many other quarterbacks that have made their way to Berkeley in recent years. That implies the talent and potential is there. And while he hasn’t been around as long as Mansion or Sweeney, this will be Bridgford’s third year in the program so he should have at least a mental grasp of the offense. But Bridgford missed all of his redshirt season and last spring because of a shoulder injury, so that may have set him back a bit.

Maynard appears to be the big wild card. He has starting experience at the FBS level when he was at Buffalo two years ago. But unlike guys like Bridgford or Mansion, he wasn’t a hot-shot prospect. Recruiting is an inexact science so that may not mean much — the bottom line will be how he performs once on the field.

What intrigues Tedford about Maynard is his ability to run, something he demonstrated at Buffalo. Tedford has talked more and more recently about the need to incorporate more spread elements into the offense with a quarterback who can run, and Maynard may be a good fit for that. Arroyo also has a spread background.

Maynard is a big uncertainty, however. When the team takes the field  for practice next Tuesday, it will be Maynard’s first organized practice at Cal. He hasn’t practiced in front of the coaches at all. The learning curve will be steep.

Tedford said he’d like to have the field narrowed to three by the end of spring and have the competition continue in training camp. Next Tuesday will mark the beginning of the process.

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.