It was a perfect day for football or any other sport, mid-60s, partly cloudy when the practice started at 1:00, with a high, thin layer of clouds that moved in as the practice went along. Valley Christian is on a hill, and the field is on the north edge. It runs NW to SE, with the permanent stands on the SW side. There was a slight wind out of the NW, about 15 mph, blowing left to right across the field. The skyline of downtown San Jose is off to the north, and Mt. Hamilton is almost directly west.
Unlike the scrimmage at Grant, which reportedly ran somewhat overtime, this one went like clockwork, beginning at 1:00 p.m. with 40 minutes of squad exercises and drills and wrapping at 3:30 up with stretching. The controlled scrimmages began about 1:40 and ended abut 3:15.
Other articles and posts will surely describe in detail the play-by-play events of the scrimmages. My primary intent in this article is to offer impressions of the individual player performances. For that reason, much of this article is written in the first person. The observations are mine, right or wrong, and they are primarily based on this practice unless otherwise noted.
I watched from the 50-yard line, about 20 rows up. During the squad drills, the running backs were right in front of me. Their drills have them running under a bar, high stepping over a series of triangle shaped foam pads about a foot high, and then running under another bar. I am always amused by the "boxing glove on a stick" which RB Coach Ron Gould uses to try to poke the ball out as the running backs run by.
Toward the end of the squad drills complete offenses practiced plays on one end of the field, with head coach Jeff Tedford positioned as a lone linebacker, about 10 yards off the line, watching each play intently. Later during the scrimmage, Coach Tedford was behind the offense. He occasionally stopped play and got the offense back into a huddle to provide instructions. On one occasion, Tedford pulled Allan Bridgford aside spoke rather sternly with him at some length. So, the answer to the question whether Coach Tedford is taking a more hands-on approach to the offense this season is a definite "yes.” He is very much involved.
The scrimmages were conducted under game-type conditions, with the ball starting at various positions on the field and with two black & white striped game officials present to call penalties. The whistles blew immediately any time a defender made contact with a quarterback. Otherwise, normal game conditions and normal contact were the order of the day. The defense wore dark blue jerseys, and the offense wore white.
The defensive line is clearly superior to the offensive line, and this clearly affects the performance of the offense. That disparity is due in large part to the fact that Mitchell Schwartz, Justin Cheadle, and Dominic Galas are rehabbing and not participating in spring practice. The offense as a whole, along with individual offensive players, should have a better chance to shine when those two key players return for summer and fall practices.
I will refrain from describing plays in details because I want to remain on speaking terms with Coach Tedford. Let's just say that Tedford still has a bag of tricks, and he will make use of Zach Maynard's mobility when Zach is running the offense.
Most snap, I would guess more than half, were taken by Maynard. Part of this situation derives from the fact that on this day Maynard made more first downs and kept the ball moving better than Mansion or Bridgford. It could also be that Tedford wants to get Maynard up to speed with the playbook.
Maynard started out a little shaky, did well throughout the middle of the scrimmage, but then tailed off a little toward the end. He did an amusing Ziv Gottlieb impersonation on a field goal attempt and scored a touchdown. He is a lefty and throws very well on the run when running to his left. He is on-again, off-again when dropping back. He does not throw well across his body when running to his right; but in fairness, neither Mansion nor Bridgford throw very well when running to their left. Where is Aaron Rodgers when we need him? Oh, that's right; Aaron just won a Super Bowl.
I would estimate that Bridgford got a few more snaps than Mansion did. Bridgford is an accurate drop back passer and throws a very catchable ball, but he is probably the least mobile of the three contenders for the starting job. He had a couple of nice deep passes, including one against the wind that should have been caught by Kaelin Clay.
One of my pre-game notes was to look for a "hitch" in Bridgford's throwing motion. After watching Bridgford in the Valley Christian practice, I went back to some of his old high school film clips from the Scout library and looked at his throwing motion from his high school days. The clips were grainy, but his throwing motion from those days appeared to be more over the top and with a quicker release than his throwing motion at Saturday's practice. I did not notice any sort of "hitch" or "hiccup" in his delivery, but his throwing motion is noticeably more sidearm and not quite as snappy as that of the old film clips. Therefore, while I cannot say for certain that his rotator cuff injury is still bothering him, I would have to conclude that to some extent, it is.
Mansion didn't get much appearance time. Accuracy wise, he is still inconsistent, with a tendency to throw high. He is by far the best ball handler of the three contenders. Bridgford and Maynard would do well to work on their ball concealment skills.
Based on only this practice, it appears that Maynard is a favorite for the starting job this fall. I wish we had a quarterback with his mobility, Mansion's ball handling skills, and Bridgford's accuracy.
Isi Sofele is clearly the starter. One of my pre-game notes was to see if he breaks tackles. He did not have much success breaking tackles when running inside, possibly in part a spin-off of the OL-DL mismatch, but I don't think he is as shifty or slippery as predecessors Justin Forsett and Shane Vereen. On a positive note, he seems to be pretty durable.
I was unexpectedly impressed by the performance of Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson. He seems to be losing the rust from his long rehab from injury. He might still need to shed 5 or 10 pounds, but his speed looked good. He had a couple of nice runs, including one in which he had to recognize the opening and change direction. I thought in this practice, Deboskie-Johnson made a good case for the No. 2 running back.
Mike Manuel had a nice run but also had a fumble. I was reminded of how 100 "attaboys" can be neutralized by a single "aww, dadgummit."
At the moment, fullback Eric Stevens is a lock to start. We will see if that changes when Will Kapp returns to action in the fall, but Stevens has the "look" of a good fullback. He will be hard to beat out for the job. John Tyndall had a nice catch on a swing pass (I think they're called wheel routes these days).
Keenan Allen is smooth as silk, and Marvin Jones is tough as nails. Both will start. No further statement of the obvious is necessary.
Mike Calvin seems to be all the way back from the injuries that have stalled his career. Calvin made a nice catch in traffic over the middle and went up high for another one in traffic on the sidelines.
Kaelin Clay had a couple of drops, one a tough one not his fault, but another deep one (against the wind) that should have been caught for a touchdown. He had a few other nice catches, including a long, wind-aided one from Bridgford. Clay definitely has some scrambling ability. There's something intangible I like about him.
Jackson Bouza had a couple of nice catches, including one that most receivers would have dropped. Tedford may rightly be concerned about Jackson's quickness; his hands are not an issue.
Tight end Anthony Miller just keeps getting better and better. He appears to be a lock to start and is a load when he catches passes downfield.
Suffice to say this group is a work in progress. I have to give Sam DeMartinis a shout out. My pre-game notes said to watch him for jumping the snap, but I did not see he commit a false start penalty all day. That's okay, though, because several of his teammates on o-line made up for it. I believe the entire complexion of the offense will change for the better in the summer and fall when all the offensive linemen are back in pads and practicing.
Defensive Line and Linebackers
I hearken back to one of Tedford's early teams, when Cal still played a 4-3 defensive front, and the Bears had two entire squads of defensive linemen who substituted frequently and simply wore down the offensive linemen of the opponents by the end of games. This current group of defensive linemen and linebackers remind me of that one, deep, skilled, and several guys with the talent to play the hybrid position. I can't really pick out anyone who stood out, because they all played well. Example: On one play a defensive lineman (didn't get his number) batted a Maynard pass that was picked off by LB Dan Camporeale.
There were not many long passes or runs getting past the linebackers, so the defensive backs didn't have much of a chance to strut their stuff. A few highlights:
Marc Anthony stood out, as might be expected. The guy hits hard!
Tyre Ellison picked up a fumble picked up a fumble and took it to the house.
Adrian Lee made a very good play on a buttonhook, getting a hand in to knock the ball away without committing interference. (Do they still call it a buttonhook?)
Unless I missed something during a brief trip to powder my nose there were only two kickoffs in the entire scrimmage, both wind-aided. Giorgio Tavecchio booted one just out of the end zone, and Vince D'Amato kicked one to the goal line.
Tavecchio made all five of his field goal attempts. D'Amato made two of three. The field goal kicking was also wind-aided, but Tavecchio's kicks were noticeably higher and longer than last season.
I don't know if we'll be good at kickoffs and field goals in the coming season, but I think we'll be better.
Jed Barnett, who will be a redshirt freshman this coming year, took over the sole punting duties, and he has a terrific leg. He is a big guy, and he simply booms his punts. He needs to work on getting his punts off a bit more quickly, and he bobbled one snap that led to a blocked punt, but he shows tremendous promise. I spoke with his father after the practice, and I learned that he holds a punting record at the Ray Guy kicking camp. I also learned that Bryan Anger was excused from practice because he was on a field trip for a biology class.
Long Snapper Cary Kreigsman needs more zip on his punt snaps. They tend to hang in the air too long.
During punts and kickoffs there were guys back to field the ball, but I did not see any return attempts. Consequently, there was no practice on kickoff return formations and no practice on kickoff coverage. There were no punt return attempts, therefore little more than the punt team running down the field and watching the punt returner fair catch the ball. Eventually, we will have to identify kickoff and punt return specialists and a gunner.
I continue to be concerned that Tedford needs to give more time and attention and to special teams, but at least it would appear the punting will be good and the kicking game portions of special teams will be better than last season.
Maynard may have taken a step forward in Saturday's quarterback competition. However, I don't think it will be possible to judge our offense as a whole until the offensive line is whole.
The defense looks good.
Finally, a note of thanks to my wife, who served as a spotter and helped me identify who did what. I had almost forgotten how hard it is to try to watch everything that goes on in any given play.
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