BERKELEY - In his second official practice as the Cal football team's starting quarterback, junior Brock Mansion looked every bit the part, confidently and crisply guiding the offense and firing rifle shots into the hands of his wide receivers.
If it's possible, he looked even better than he did during his final drive Saturday in Corvallis, Ore., a drive in which he completed all six of his passes for 93 yards and a 45-yard scoring strike.
"That's what practice is for, to make sure he's comfortable with it," said coach Jeff Tedford. "I thought he had a great practice today. He really let it rip and he was very sharp."
Starting tailback Shane Vereen noticed it, too.
"He'd better be comfortable," Vereen laughed. "He'd better be ready to go, and I know he will be. I've got full and complete confidence, and, today at practice, he looked very comfortable. He was throwing the ball, throwing it well and completing passes. As long as he keeps it simple for himself, just relaxes and plays his game, there's no reason why he can't be a great quarterback."
Following the announcement that fifth-year senior Kevin Riley would miss the remainder of his final season, Mansion took stock of what his role on the team will be for the four remaining games, starting with this Saturday's road contest against Washington State.
"I want to cut it loose and play football, put some points on the board," the Dallas native said. "I want to be consistent, throughout every single series and not have any three-and-outs. I want to move the ball down the field. I want a lot of first downs."
Well, he's got the attitude down. Now he just has to get a handle on some of the more intricate, meteorological details of being the starting signal-caller.
"Last time we were there, it was earlier in the year, but it was sunny and beautiful," Mansion said with a smile when asked about this weekend's weather forecast, which, as of now, calls for a 50 percent chance of showers and a high of 51 degrees. That's not much different from his first significant game experience last week in Corvallis.
One thing that has change substantially is the amount of reps that Mansion gets during practice.
"I got a lot more reps, lot more throws, practice goes by so much faster, it's ridiculous," Mansion said. "I was in practice previously, and now it's just like, bam, bam, bam, and before you know it, practice is over."
As practice progresses throughout the week, Mansion will hone his already substantial understanding of the entire playbook, which had to be shrunken down a bit when he was called on to replace Riley seven minutes into the first quarter.
"It's tough to say, because Kev's not in there, but I feel like we've done a bunch of the stuff we normally do. It's hard to tell what they want to do with the game plan," said Mansion. "I know that we've done this in previous years with the looks that we get like this, and there's a lot of carry-over from last week, and with most of the things we've seen this year, over the previous games. We have a lot of carry-over."
During practice, Mansion looked more than comfortable, zipping low, line-drive passes into the waiting hands of his receivers. He's also shown the ability to improvise well and to get the ball out quickly should the need arise.
"You want to do things that Brock does well, but each game plan, going in, you have whatever game plan that has been in there for Kevin," Tedford said. "Brock has been expected to comprehend those as well. He's used to doing that. He's used to game planning. It's not like we pulled him off the scout team or anything and all of the sudden it's something new. He's used to the game planning, he's used to the preparation, he's used to the calls, he's signaled all of the plays, so every single play this year, he's had all the plays going through his head and the procedures of them and so-on and so-forth. I don't know that that's the same as actually calling them in the huddle, but he's had a lot of turns at that through the season."
One of those things that Mansion does well is run. The tall, athletic quarterback has an extra dimension that the Bears are likely to utilize in one way or another on Saturday: his ability to run.
"I think Brock's size gives him an advantage, just in his vision," Tedford said. "He stands pretty tall in the pocket. He's 6-foot-5 [sic], and he stands pretty tall in the pocket, has a nice delivery over the top, so I think his vision is good. He's an adequate runner; I wouldn't say he's great, but he can run with the football, and he's big, he's strong, so those are things that, if you look for a difference physically-between him and Kevin-those would be the differences."
Asked whether he's looking forward to having a 6-foot-6, 237-pound battering ram blocking for him on wildcat plays, Vereen let loose a hearty laugh.
"Yeah, I mean, as long as he's willing to stick his nose in there a little bit, then I'll feel comfortable," Vereen crowed. "I know he'll do a great job."
With the absence of Riley's considerable experience, the team is nonetheless placing its full confidence in Mansion as he goes into his first career start.
"Me, personally, I feel very confident," said Vereen, one of the team's emotional and on-field leaders. "Me and Brock came in here together along with a lot of other guys on the team. We've known Brock for a while, and we know his capabilities. We know the quarterback he can be, and I think he's going to step up to the plate and deliver for us."
It's been a long road that Mansion has traveled to get to this point. Coming in as a highly-touted recruit, only to slip to third on the depth chart just last year, only to be elevated to the No. 2 spot just over two weeks ago and now, thrust into the starting lineup.
"I committed here very early, and I was very loyal to this school," Mansion said. "I went on my visits, but Texas was my No. 2 choice, and I went there and told them, 'Hey, I'm committed to Coach Tedford and the University of California.'"
Mansion has been dreaming of this moment from the very moment he stepped onto campus, but he said that he's going to do everything he can to maintain his calm, even down to a rigorous sleep schedule that he won't change even on the eve of his first start.
"I've been fantasizing about this since my redshirt year," Mansion said. "I was thinking about it when I first dressed, my first game at Colorado State, it was just to get the experience. I was like, man, what happens if three guys go down? I'm up."
And indeed, now, he is up. His timing with his wide receivers has improved greatly over the past several weeks.
"It's a little different getting as many throws, but I feel like the timing is getting better," Mansion said. "I feel like I'm completing more balls with those guys, because I was completing balls previously, but they weren't to the same group of guys.
"I feel really comfortable. We have a bunch of new dressings for the same plays, and I feel like it's our normal game plan for the offense."
And he'll have a veteran tailback who more than has his back.
"He'll be fine. He's my boy, we'll be fine and he'll be good," Vereen said. "I think he will be able to cut it loose. We kind of did have to shrink the offense down a little bit last game, but we're opening it right back up again this week, not making changes. Brock's coming in as a very able quarterback. He can use his feet, as well, just like Kevin could. He's a smart player."