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Football: Spring practice preview — quarterbacks

By Jonathan Okanes
Monday, March 21st, 2011 at 1:56 pm in Football, off-season stuff.

*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.

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  • David

    Reading the tea leaves, I’m thinking the depth chart going into the FSU game will be:

    Bridgford
    Maynard
    Mansion

    Sweeney to transfer?

  • wehofx

    A much needed fix.

    Thanks, JO.

  • ScottyBear

    What is Bridgford’s running ability if any? He gives us three years of starting QB eligibility, with Maynard 2 and Mansion 1 left. Hmmm…

  • rookie

    I realize that no one has claimed the QB spot, but for the last few years Tedford seems to undermind the confidence of his QB by not at least naming someone in the spring. I want to know why he does this? I mean obviously if someone takes a down turn you can always change your mind and put someone new in the spot. Plus it seems that if you name someone you might give them the extra push they need.

  • Rollonubears

    The Saturday practice idea at various recruiting hotspots is a brilliant idea.

  • Bobby

    Rookie, disagree. Only two years ago (Nate v. Riley) did Tedford not name a starter early on. Three years ago the job was absolutely Nate’s, and last year Riley was named the starter right at the beginning of fall camp.

    Hopefully someone will rise to the top early, so he can get as many first-team reps as possible.

  • Kevin Thomas

    If Mansion or Sweeney top the depth chart at the end of spring practice, we will know the others are not very good at all.

    Has Tedford said why Hinder will not be in the mix? Odd, since there is no clear cut leader in this competition as yet.

    Kyle Boehm will arrive in the Fall. That makes a total of 6 QB’s on scholarship. Does he have a chance to get in the mix at that point, or will he be redshirted?

  • rotfogel

    Kyle Boehm is the talented player, but I don’t think he’ll be ready that quickly. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of any of Cal’s QBs right now. I had been a slight fan of Sweeney until Mansion surpassed him…then I saw Mansion play. Was Mansion really hyped up as an All American…AT QB?!*&! Wow, the cliche is warranted here: what’s that say about Sweeney?
    From my point of view, I’m riding the bandwagon of Maynard. He wasn’t terrible as a true freshman at Buffalo. He’s like Obi-Wan Kenobi, he’s our only hope.

  • milo

    JTed will always have the guru label since he found A-Rodg by accident and got him on his way.

    I have no idea what’s going on in Strawberry Canyon but I get the feeling those QBs are focusing too much on game management and not on gun slinging skills. In Tedford’s system, you need a gun slinger.

    For that reason I’m guessing it’ll be Bridford or Maynard…with maybe Hinder as #3. I really hope the new QB coach cuts down the playbook to fundamentals and then adds on. Anything else would be like tossing a frosh into upper division bio-chem.

  • Uh oh

    To Kevin Thomas:

    Hinder apparently needs to bulk up. At least that was the word a year ago, and so I suspect still the case.

    I ask the same question you raise about Bridgford. I completely understand him not being in the mix his first year. Freshman, plus he got injured. But not being higher in the rotation last year… after seeing how Mansion played after he beat out Sweeney for #2 QB behind Riley… if Bridgford couldn’t get in there ahead of those guys – what’s that say about anything we might be able to expect from him (Bridgford) this year.

    Sounds, indeed, like Maynard will be the Obi Wan Kenobi.

    And if neither Maynard nor Bridgford play well this year, then I’m looking for Boehm next year.

    But what do I know? I’m a hoops guy!

  • Hunter

    @ Milo

    Dude before Rodgers there was

    * Trent Dilfer
    * David Carr
    * Akili Smith
    * Joey Harrington 3rd overall 2002, Detroit Lions
    * Kyle Boller
    * AJ Feely
    * Billy Volek

    Goes way beyond “finding” ARod.

  • robert lerma

    I don’t care who it is, just beat Fresno State with extreme prejudice! Go BEARS!

  • Tyler M.

    1a. Bridgford
    1b. Maynard
    3. Mansion

    Sweeney to DB

  • Yoda

    Milo, his resume is a bit deeper than that. He made Kyle Boller into an NFL draft pick, just to mention one. Then there is his Fresneck St. experience.

    Hopefully he still has the touch.

  • Tyler M.

    Tedford’s QBs drafted: Rodgers, Boller, Harrington, Smith, Carr, Dilfer

  • ScottyBear

    Bridgford was pretty much down with his shoulder injury last spring through summer and rehabbed during the regular fall season 2010. Otherwise he would have been in the mix above Mansion and Sweeney. Go Bears!

  • RT

    I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing Starkey say “Maynard to Allen” quite a lot this coming year…..why else would Tedford say that he needs a QB that can run and spread the offense….Maynard’s that guy….rolling out and having the option to run or throw….the other reason I think Tedford wants a running QB is because the O Line can’t protect a pro style dropback QB….GO BEARS!

  • milo

    Yoda and Tyler, indeed, JTed has developed quite a few very good QBs and I don’t see that stopping especially after Aaron Rodgers won the SB. Good QBs are going to want to play for Tedford and come to Cal. It’s just a dry spell (look at Furd before Luck) and no one can tell when it will stop.

  • Calfansincebirth

    Bridgford will be the starter but Maynard should still see the field. Mansion/Hinder would be 3rd. Sweeney would transfer.

  • CALfan’79

    Go Bears!

  • Bears

    I can see Bridgford and Maynard running a tandem QB system unless one of them become the clear #1.
    Whoever and whenever someone is behind center they need to be a leader, smart and tough directing the offense with confidence and poise.
    The team, coaches and fans can feel and sense when a QB has control and confidence. Hope we have two that step forward this fall. Be bold QB’s!
    If Bridg or Zack fail or get hurt Hinder or Boehm will have to step up to be QB #1b.
    Mansion is clear #3 and only should play in emergency unless he makes dramatic improvements across the board. Sweeney same, or maybe he can move to TE, FB or Special teams. Maybe even a player coach if the team and coaches like him. They need to be a UNIT, competing every day but on gameday pulling for each other and executing their role for the win.
    This position needs to figure it out and step up!

  • Kevin Thomas

    To Hunter,

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a list with so many mediocre quarterbacks on it, as was your list of QB’s that Tedford has tutored. Milo was dead right. If Tedford hadn’t found Rodgers, he’d have very little guru reputation left.

    And just because some of your quarterbacks get drafted, doesn’t mean you are a guru. It’s also a question of what has he done for us lately? And since Rogers, we’ve had Longshore, Ayoob, Riley, and now Mansion and Sweeney.

    Tedford took Longshore, who was hobbled by injury, and tried to make him a mobile spread QB. He took Ayoob, who played only the spread at JC, and tried to make him a pocket passer. Tedford is a good coach, but I don’t see him as a guru anymore.

  • therb

    Kevin T – don’t confuse success with the pro’s with success in college. There are plenty of great college qb’s that for various reasons don’t translate well to the NFL. Arguably, the fact that Tedford could get tremendous production (and all of those listed had excellent college careers) out of people who for the most part underwhelmed in the NFL should be a boost to his reputation; not a knock.

  • Hunter

    Kevin we are judging him on his ability to make productive college quarterbacks and get them to the NFL. All of those guys had great college careers. That list surpasses most other D1 coaches, but you are right if no one on the roster pans out there should be questions as to what is going on now.

  • Bob49

    Tyler M and others,

    I think, at one time, Tedford turned many QB’s into pro’s. But for some reason, he has lost his touch in being able to do this (maybe because he could not focus on QB’s as much when he became coach at Cal. I believe I have evidence that Tedford has had many more Elite 11 QB’s enroll at at Cal since he became head coach there than at any other school, but I just need to find time to check through the data. Go to the following website for the data –
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ESPN_RISE_Elite_11

    The above link indicates that Tedford has had the following Elite 11 QB’s since he has been the head coach at Cal — Longshore, Reed, Riley, Mansion, Bridgford, Hinder. Maybe someone will have the time to check before I do what the next highest Elite 11 QB’s enrolled at another school during Tedford’s head coaching time frame.

  • milo

    Rodgers cements Tedford as a QB guy, he did find him at Butte JC. While not on the level of Bill Walsh spotting Jerry Rice on a hotel TV but seeing Rodgers and immediately offering him a scholarship and the subsequent success says enough.

    The rest of Tedford’s QBs listed, those guys were all excellent college QBs. Tedford maximized their talent and he can only really be responsible in and at his level, BCS conference D1 college. What happens in the NFL isn’t his doing. The success rate of top notch NFL QB (90+ QB rating) is long and narrow odds no matter who you are. Look at where Montana and Brady were drafted (3rd and 6th).

  • Bob49

    While not totally determinative, the fact that Tedford has received top rated talent, most likely more Elite 11 QB’s than any other school during Tedford’s tenure at Cal, and in general not developing that talent into top-notch COLLEGE QB’s, substantially detracts from Tedford’s reputation as a QB guru. Of the six Elite 11 QB’s that Tedford has had, only one, Longshore, was ever rated as one of the top QB’s in the country (though he may have continued that level of play had he not hurt his ankle and had to play on it because Tedford wouldn’t pull him). Riley could be regarded as fairly close to a top notch college QB, but his level of play is generally considered to have slid from his freshman and sophomore year until the time he graduated. Reed was a total bust, Mansion has only one year left to not be considered almost a total bust, and we haven’t seen what Bridgford and Hinder can do, but they do not seem to be coming on strong to take the starting QB job, unlike the fact that many top notch QB’s challenge for the top spot early in their college careers.

    Anyone disagree with my assessment that Tedford has had top notch QB talent at Cal but Cal/Tedford has not developed that talent commensurate with its potential?

  • milo

    Bob49, you’re right that Tedford has had Elite 11 talent but that really means little. Elite 11 means the same as 1st or 2nd round draft picks..little and no guarantees. Example: Aaron Rodgers wasn’t an Elite 11, he turned out fine. Montana and Brady were 3rd and 6th round picks. I wish it were as easy as Elite 11 status but it’s not.

  • Bob49

    Milo,

    I never said that having more Elite 11 QB’s than any other school (I haven’t had time to check the data, but I am almost sure of it) GUARANTEES anything. However, much more likely than not, it indicates that, overall, Tedford received top-quality QB talent to work with, though maybe not the absolute best in the nation, to mold into a nationally recognized top notch QB. Out of the six Elite 11 QB’s so far that went to Cal during Tedford’s tenure there, I think that only Longshore can be said to have ever achieved national top notch status. Riley finished his career being the third to fifth best QB in the Pac 10 conference, not the nation.

    Bob

  • Kent Wilson

    As we all know the ultimate success for the Cal football program lies on the shoulders of the QB…Cal will be a below average team if we get QB play as we have the past 4 seasons…and its also clear that Tedford and his coaching staff have not been successful in developing improved QB play from their so-called HS & (JC) All-American recruits. (Ayoob, Longshore, Riley, Mansion). Our only hope is that Zach Maynard is good…because I have little confidenc that Tedfords staff actually trains QB for improved performance…the players either have the ability on their own or not. None of the QBs seem to get better after experiencing coaching from Tedford. One certainly can NOT argue that Rogers got better over his tenure at Cal…he was darn good when he first got into a game. Longshore and Riley’s performances regressed throughout their career. So, either Zach Maynard or Allen Bridgeford are good from the start or we are doomed.