SAN PABLO, Calif. -- The hot weather and longer days are not the only evidence that spring is turning into summer, for Saturday's scrimmage also marked the end of Spring Ball for the 2011 California football team.
And while the late days of April are reserved for students to reflect on their studies as finals approach, so too can the Bears head coach Jeff Tedford reflect on his own team's progressions. Cal started the spring with many questions and few certainties, but the progress and developments of his team might have provided some much-needed answers.
The biggest question mark for the Bears entering spring remained at quarterback, where Tedford vowed to put in the personal time and coaching to get the play of his signal callers back up to an elite level. Cal started with five quarterbacks, and ended the spring with a clear top three: senior Brock Mansion, junior transfer Zach Maynard and redshirt sophomore Allan Bridgford. But, while Tedford would only say that the competition will continue into the fall, the general feeling is that there is one guy who is clearly in the lead: Maynard
The Buffalo transfer and the half-brother of sophomore wide receiver Keenan Allen took all the first-team reps at quarterback on Saturday, going 7-of-12 for 133 yards and two late picks, while Bridgford and Mansion split the reps with the second team.
Maynard has made steady progress over the spring, developing a better grip of the offense while adding a few wrinkles of his own to keep the defense on its toes.
On Saturday, Maynard had his good moments, tossing a 65-yard touchdown on a post route to senior tight end Anthony Miller while also effectively running for sizeable gains whether they be designed or improvised.
Tedford only had praise for the young man who has to be the favorite to take the bulk of snaps heading into fall camp.
"[Maynard] has made a ton of progress," said Tedford. "He has a good understanding of what is going on, he's got a good feel, he's running the huddle well, communicating well. It's those types of things. We've increased his reps over spring so that he could get a feel for that, and I think that paid off."
Still, Tedford would not fully commit to Maynard heading in. Part of that would be the improved play of Mansion -- who threw a nice 25-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Michael Calvin on a wheel route -- and Bridgford, who went 5-of-8 for 33 yards.
Mansion went 2-of-6 for 35 yards and a TD
Overall, Tedford was more than pleased with the progress of his quarterbacks.
10 different receivers caught passes on Saturday with Miller's two catches for 70 yards pacing the bunch.
Senior Marvin Jones (2-24), redshirt freshman Kaelin Clay (2-13) and Allen (2-12) also had a pair of grabs each, while Michael Calvin's only grab was a 25-yard hookup with Mansion for a touchdown late in the workout.
Spencer Hagan caught one ball for 15 yards, while fullback Eric Stevens (1-14), wide receiver Terrance Montgomery (1-12), wide receiver Jackson Bouza (1-10) and running back Trajuan Briggs (1-6) had one catch grab.
While quarterback was the big issue, running back was not exactly a sure thing either. The announcement of former Cal running back Shane Vereen being drafted into the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft continued the steady supply of great tailbacks out of Tedford's system, but also provided the need for another player to step up.
The projected winner was junior Isi Sofele, who almost won the competition by default, whether it be by injury or a lack of production behind him.
Sofele is not a world-beater yet by any means, but his toughness and shiftiness certainly was on display Saturday, highlighted by a 65-yard touchdown scamper up the heart of the Bears vaunted defense. Junior JuCo walk-on Mike Manuel and junior Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson also got reps, but found little room to make yards.
"Isi kind of turned it on down the stretch," said Tedford. "And Manuel was kind of banged up, but was hurt today a little bit. But besides that, that is still a wide open race, and we are still going to depend on some of the young guys coming in."
In other words, look for incoming freshmen Daniel Lasco and Brendon Bigelow, along with junior JuCo transfer C.J. Anderson to get plenty of opportunities come August.
Sofele led all rushers with 77 yards on three carries, including a 65-yard TD run where he dove into the end zone just beating Vachel Samuels in a footrace. Manuel (3-9), DeBoskie-Johnson (4-6), Stevens (1-5) and Mitch Bartolo (1-1) also tallied carries.
The defense also had their shining moments, despite being rather derailed by a series of key injuries. Junior Kendrick Payne and sophomore Aaron Tipoti -- Cal's top two nose tackles on the depth chart -- missed a good chunk of the spring due to injuries, ending the spring wearing the minimal-contact highlighted gold jerseys on Saturday.
Senior linebackers Mychal Kendricks (concussion) and D.J. Holt (broken wrist) missed Saturday's scrimmage due to injuries. However, while the spring provides an opportunity for the defense to gel and hit, the injuries also provide the team with opportunities for the younger, less-experienced players.
When asked about the surprises of the spring, Tedford essentially stuck to the defensive side of the ball.
"There's quite a few young defensive guys that did a nice job," said Tedford. "[Freshman linebacker] Chris McCain flashed well, [freshman linebacker] David Wilkerson did a nice job, [sophomore linebacker] Nick Forbes came on strong down the stretch, [freshman safety] Avery Walls played well, [sophomore] Austin Clark at nose played really well -- he had an excellent spring."
Those players mentioned also performed well on Saturday. McCain had a few tackles, Walls and Forbes picked off Maynard in the end zone with great coverage, and Clark had a sack. The general opinion is that the defense improved with its depth in the spring, and should be ready to fire on all cylinders under its second year with defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
Safety C.J. Moncrease and Forbes each intercepted Maynard near the defense's goal line, with Forbes returning pick for 38 yards. The two sacks were recorded by Cecil Whiteside (-9 yards) and Clark (-3 yards). Clark also tallied a forced fumble.
Defensive lineman Ernest Owusu (-10 yards) and McCain (-5 yards) contributed tackles for loss.
Punters Bryan Anger and Jed Barnett each had a punt of at least 55 yards, with Anger's drive going 56 and Barnett hammering one for 55. Place kicker Giorgio Tavecchio made all four of his field goal attempts (27, 27, 42, 37), while Vince D'Amato made two of the three he attempted -- each from 27 yards -- and also booted an extra point. D'Amato did miss a 42-yarder.
Clay had two kick returns for 137 yards, including one for a 97-yard touchdown. Other notable kick returns came from senior Coleman Edmond (53 yards), Manuel (42 yards) and Walls (35 yards).
-- Ellison had the hit of the day on Manuel, drawing a big reaction from the crowd.
-- Touted prospects Ellis McCarthy and Freddie Tagaloa -- among others-- were in attendance for Saturday's scrimmage at Contra Costa College.
-- Freshman tight end Jacob Wark sprained his ankle early on in the scrimmage, and did not return despite constant attempts to run it off.
-- Tedford heard about former linebacker Mike Mohamed being drafted in the sixth round by the Denver Broncos at the end of practice.
"I'm happy for all those guys," said Tedford.