On Saturday, I attended Cal's final open practice at Contra Costa College. There was quite a crowd of Bear fans filling, if not quite packing, the stands for a beautiful day of simulated football and real practice. At first, it was a bit of a three-ring circus as the position coaches led their respective groups through several drills. It was better just to pick one group and watch them for a while, otherwise, it was a bit overwhelming. After a hour or so of drills, the orange over-hats came out and a scrimmage commenced.
To be honest, I'm no superhuman football expert who can see 11 match-ups all at once, and commit everything to memory. I mainly followed the ball, and my main curiosity (in common with quite a few fans) was who is going to be the starting quarterback in the fall. I assume our defense is going to be good so I didn't pay that much attention to their play.
Maynard (with the first team) took the most reps of all the QB's on the day because he kept drives going. He has really good pocket presence, and was able to scramble and gain yards on a busted play. He generally looked good, until the end of scrimmage when they were in the red zone drill and he threw 2 picks. The first one snagged by C.J. Moncrease was underthrown, allowing Moncrease to get position on the receiver. The second one was particularly horrendous, as I couldn’t figure out which receiver he trying to hit.
My thoughts on Maynard? Officially nervous, it seems like Tedford is embracing his inner riverboat gambler. I think our offense will look much different than it has in recent years. My guess is that Tedford will incorporate more option play in the playbook, and Maynard will be deadly effective with the option play. I was also impressed by his ability to scramble, and still keep his eyes downfield for an open receiver. These abilities will keep drives alive in the fall.
Mansion did not have a good day, but in fairness to him, he did have arguably the nicest throw of the scrimmage, a perfect TD pass to Micheal Calvin in the red zone drill. But he continues to miss wide open receivers, and I don't believe he can keep drives going with his inconsistent play. There was also a noticeable drop-off in athleticism as he followed Maynard.
To my eye, Bridgford looked solid, in fact, I would say he would be the safest choice for starter, and more in the mold of prior Tedford QB's. He made good decisions out there, and I couldn't detect any lingering problems from his shoulder surgery, his balls had plenty of zip. This is not really germane for the 2011 season, but during the QB drills, I thought Austin Hinder looked fantastic. Yes I know it's just a drill, no pressure of any sort, but he was throwing extremely accurate, consistent, catchable balls, with a very flat trajectory. The future at QB looks bright.
As to the running game, Sofele had a great 65 yard run straight up the middle for a TD that was quite exciting. Yay! Touchdown Bears! Oh wait, that was against our D, ah the eternal conundrum of a scrimmage. I have no doubt (unlike some) that Sofele will be just good as the offensive line allows him to be. There was no real opportunity for the other running backs to make an impression, and I'd guess it was 60% or above passing plays on the day.
The offensive line play was a bit ragged. I didn't attend the other open scrimmages so I can't comment on whether they have improved, but there were at least 1 false start and 2 illegal motion/illegal formation penalties. The O-line had difficulty in opening holes for the running game, other than the one big play by Sofele. They also allowed sacks and tackles for loss, but if I had to pick, I'd say they were marginally better in pass protection than opening holes to spring the running backs. With three starting linemen out with injuries, I'm not worried per se, but I just hope that the one month of fall camp is enough time for the O-line to gel effectively.
The one thing that really did worry me was the absolutely abysmal kickoff and punt coverage. If the way they played on Saturday continues in the fall, we are going to give up 48-60 touchdowns on special teams. Either that, or Kaelin Clay will score 24 touchdowns returning kickoffs. He really did look quite good yesterday, but some of that has to be attributed to the abysmal coverage. Somehow, someway Genyk has got to get better results out of his cover teams.
Other special team thoughts; Anger looked good as usual, and Jed Barnett looks like he will be solid next year, though he has a way to go. Based on both kickoffs and field goals, Travecchio clearly has the starter position nailed down, and looked a bit improved from last year.
My final thought after the scrimmage was just how strong the Bears are at the skill positions, particularly at receiver. The question remains whether we can consistently get the ball to them in a position to make plays, but if we can this will be a more dangerous team in 2011 than most Bear fans anticipate.