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May 17, 2011

Tedford talks QBs, running backs and playcalling

SAN FRANCISCO -- After Monday's press conference for the Sept. 3 TicketCity Battle By the Bay between California and Fresno State, Bears head football coach Jeff Tedford held court for a small contingent of local reporters.

During the informal gathering, Tedford talked about his new starting quarterback Zach Maynard, his old starter Aaron Rodgers, and gave a glimpse of what he's thinking about in terms of his tailback situation.

After telling reporters all throughout the spring that he didn't have a depth chart for the quarterbacks, wouldn't have a clear-cut starter after spring and shared uncertainty about releasing that information prior to fall camp, Cal made the announcement over the weekend that Tedford had made up his mind on who would be his starter for the 2011 season opener against the Bulldogs.

Some have questioned whether or not the job was promised to the junior transfer when he agreed to come to Berkeley after starting for Buffalo, and some wondered whether or not Tedford would make Maynard his guy in order to make up for a lackluster passing line. After naming Maynard the starter prior to fall camp, Tedford had even more people scratching their heads as to why.

"But I think he's fitting in well with everyone else on the field, and I think he has leadership qualities, but when you're a new guy like that, it's really hard to let those leadership qualities come out when you're so new," said Tedford to an unrelated question.

"Because you're always running into the fear of people, you know, 'Hey, here's a new guy. What are you doing coming in, trying to lead us,' when he's a new guy. So I thought that was really important, so the team understands that he is in that role and that he does need to assume that, and that they need to follow that."

Tedford had been asked earlier as to why he had elevated Maynard to the starter's role, but skirted the question with the usual coach-speak. It wasn't until after nearly 10 minutes of questions about Maynard that the Cal coach finally relented and gave his reasoning for announcing his starter so soon.

While Tedford is sure that Maynard will be successful next season, he admitted that nothing is set in stone. Asked if it was possible that he'd rotate signal-callers the first few games, Tedford replied, "I don't foresee that happening coming into this season."

"It could, depending on what the game looks like and it depends on what happens in fall camp," Tedford continued. "I'm not going to go out on a limb right now and say that it's absolutely going to be that way.

"You know, there's still a lot of improvement everyone needs to make, all the quarterbacks. And so, by no means does this mean that Zach's where he needs to be. He needs to have a great camp, as well as the others. And then we'll go into the game and we'll see how it's going at that time, but it's a little early to make that type of determination."

When transferring from Buffalo, Maynard came with a reputation as an athletic quarterback with questions concerning his aptitude to digest Tedford's big offensive playbook. Those weren't the only questions he had to answer in the spring.

"[Learning the playbook] was part of it, but there was a lot of physical questions that I had as well," said Tedford. "You know, how well he was able to throw the football and all the different throws. You can see certain things on tape, but you really need to see it for yourself."

Obviously, due to winning the starter's role, Maynard passed all the tests that the Cal coaching staff had for him.

"I was very impressed with his ability to throw all the balls on the field," said Tedford of Maynard's spring performance. "He can throw it deep, he has great touch underneath, he has enough zip to throw the deep-intermediate passes, and he has an escape dimension to make some things happen.

"So, [it] felt like through spring he just continued to improve and I think he's going to continue to improve with his knowledge of the offense," concluded the head coach.

While it may be Maynard's legs that have Tedford excited about his 2011 offense, don't expect the Oregon-style run-and-gun style offense next season. Tedford made it clear that while some plays will be designed in that mode, the offense is still pass-first.

Asked if the offense might emulate the style of Auburn's Cam Newton, Tedford responded, "No, no, no. Not to that extent. There will be designed runs for the quarterback, but it's not going to be -- their deals are read plays, like option plays every play where it's possible you could keep the ball every play or they call downhill power run plays with their guy."

In terms of running the ball, Tedford has some concerns.

"Our tailback position, I think is going to be one where we have to count on some of the younger guys coming in," he said.

'Younger guys' could be code for 2011 signee Brendon Bigelow. Unfortunately, Tedford still isn't certain how healthy the tailback will be when he reports in mid-June. What he is certain is that the future star is not 100 percent. What has Tedford worried even more is the possibility of Bigelow doing something to reinjure his twice-operated-on knee.

"I'm just always worried because he has so much energy and he has to be so careful because at any time he'll try to do something like jump up on that table or something," said Tedford while pointing to the table top he'd just sat behind raised to about six feet while sitting on a stage. "I tried to explain to him, 'Hey, this is your career. You've got to take this seriously. You have the capability of doing this for a living, but if you do something stupid like that.'"

If Bigelow can get healthy by the time fall camp rolls around, it's likely that he'll have an excellent shot of getting on the field his freshman season. As it stands now, junior Isi Sofele and junior transfer walk-on Mike Manuel are his one-two punch in the backfield.

The uncertainty of his tailback position isn't all that Tedford needs to figure out. The question remains on just how he'll divvy up the play-calling duties, as well, though he did say that he'll most likely be calling the majority of the plays on offense this year.

After giving up most of those duties for the last few seasons, the return of coaches Jim Michalczik and Eric Kiesau gives Tedford the belief that he'll be able to get back to doing just that.

"You know I think -- you know this may sound odd, but I still deem myself as a young head coach because I think as you go through time, things go through a progression and as you try things, you learn from them," said Tedford. "So I think I've learned how to kind of go from 100-percent calling every play to kind of backing out a little bit and try to oversee everything, back to being able to balance and manage both," Tedford continued.

"So, I don't think you learn those things until you actually do them, to try them. I have learned over the years on what I hopefully think is the right combination going into next season."


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