QB play will be key for Cal, Stanford this year

As soon as Cal football coach Jeff Tedford heard about swimmer Dana Vollmer’s record-breaking win in the Olympics 100-meter butterfly, he tweeted his congratulations. “Then, I put it up on the [Cal] website,” Tedford said at Monday’s Bay Area college football media day at the Nikko Hotel in San Francisco.

Tedford has said the rise of social media has been the biggest change since he started coaching at Cal in 2002, and he’s right in the middle of it. “Texting was easy because it was natural to me,” he said.

Tweeting, with its abbreviations, was more difficult at first. “But now, it’s the best way to communicate with the players,” he said.

He does have to caution his players. “You’re dealing with 17-, 18-, 19-year-old players,” he said, “and they’ve very enthusiastic. I have to tell them to be careful with what they say, because it can go public in a nanosecond and then it’s really out there.”

Tedford will be using a much more direct form of communication as the Bears begin their summer training camp, first at the Witter soccer field and then in the stadium itself, starting Aug. 15, on the new artificial turf surface.

The Bears’ biggest reason for optimism is their quarterback, Zach Maynard, who seemed close to being replaced early last season but then suddenly got it in midseason.

“He was taking too many chances early,” Tedford said, “but we all know you can’t turn the ball over a lot and win. He started to make much better choices. We won three of the last four and in the one we lost, to Stanford, he played as well as Andrew Luck.”

This year, Stanford will not have Luck, and that’s the biggest question mark for coach David Shaw.

The Cardinal have considerable talent returning, including seven starters from the defensive unit who ranked in the top two in six different categories in the Pac-12 Conference last year. Returning linebacker Chase Thomas was a Sporting News All-American after recording 52 tackles, including 8½ sacks.

But Luck was a very special talent, not only physically but mentally, as he virtually called his own plays. “We [coaches] would give him three to four plays to use in a specific situation and he would make the choice on the field,” Shaw said. “I’d say 90 percent of the time, it was the right choice.”

Shaw isn’t close to making a decision on the starting quarterback. He has three on the roster with experience: Sophomore Brett Nottingham saw action in six games last season as Luck’s understudy, completing 5-of-8 passes for 78 yards. Junior Robbie Picazo played in one game, against San Jose State. Josh Nunes, also a junior, did not play last year, but did play in four games as a redshirt freshman in 2010.

Stanford also has a couple of redshirt freshmen, Evan Crowder and Kevin Hogan, who are also intriguing to Shaw.

“They both have strong arms, so I’m interested in seeing how they develop,” he said.

Will Stanford change its offense, relying more on the running game? Shaw isn’t ready to predict that. “We’ll just have to see how it plays out,” he said.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at glenndickey36@gmail.com.

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