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May 12, 2011Taking full advantage of sophomore Keenan Allen's skills and versatility, the California football roster lists him as a receiver, return man and defensive back.
Allen, who is 6 feet 3 and 202 pounds, has the talent to handle all three positions. As a true freshman last season, he had 46 catches and five touchdowns, averaged 22.6 yards on kickoff returns and made a few appearances on defense.
But he's also in another position that's rather uncomfortable. He's the younger brother of Zach Maynard, a junior transfer from Buffalo, who is vying with senior Brock Mansion and sophomore Allan Bridgford to be the Golden Bears' starting quarterback. Do you root for one teammate over another, even if said teammate is kin? Could a perfect route or a great catch evoke whispers of favoritism?
That wasn't an issue during Cal's just-completed spring drills, but Allen still was in kind of a tough spot.
"It's kind of a weird position to be in," Allen said. "But I want to help [Maynard] out.
"Hopefully, if he gets the spot, he won't embarrass me."
Quarterback play has been a source of embarrassment - or at least frustration - in Berkeley of late. Inconsistency from the quarterback over the past six seasons has prevented the Bears from taking full advantage of electrifying big-play threats at other positions, left Cal with so-so on-field results and compromised coach Jeff Tedford's once-glowing reputation for developing quarterbacks.
Maybe Maynard, who wouldn't even be in Berkeley if not for his brother's skill and Turner Gill's coaching success, can restore Cal's quarterback play to the high standards of the past. Better quarterback play also would mean a better chance of contending in the Pac-12 North Division, where Cal will be battling the likes of Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington to finish in the top half of the division.
Tedford did not name a starter after spring practice, but all indications are that Maynard is leading the competition. He drew praise from Tedford throughout the spring and took all the snaps with the first-team offense in the Bears' final spring scrimmage.
"They all need to improve in a lot of ways, but Zach Maynard has really caught on quickly," Tedford said during spring drills. "His athleticism, his mobility, his accuracy, his arm strength - he can throw all the balls on the field. He's really done a nice job."
Maynard wouldn't acknowledge having an edge, though.
"I don't necessarily have an upper hand," he said. "Everybody played at a high level."
Maynard does have an edge that he cannot deny. Getting in sync with receivers - knowing what to expect and anticipating their moves - is a major factor in a quarterback's success, and he's been developing a rapport with Allen since they were children in Greensboro, N.C.
"You've got to form a connection and know their personality, speed, matchup size and how they come out of their breaks," said Maynard, who also says he's developing a rapport with senior wide receiver Marvin Jones. "We played a lot growing up. We'd play football every day in high school and in the backyard. I know exactly what he's going to do."
That helps, but Maynard has more to offer than familiarity with Allen.
"He brings a lot to the table," Allen said. "If the pass is not open, he can run. But if we need to pass, he can get it in there. He's a dual threat."
Maynard's mobility definitely is a plus. It has been years since a Cal quarterback was a threat to leave the pocket. Maynard's running ability would ease some of the burden on an offensive line that has allowed 79 sacks in the past three seasons.
Any reason for optimism would be embraced by Cal followers who have grown increasingly frustrated with the Bears' quarterback play since Aaron Rodgers after the 2004 season.
Cal has a good quarterback tradition. In February, Rodgers joined Joe Kapp and Craig Morton as former Bears to start in the Super Bowl. And Morton and Rodgers are among five Bears quarterbacks to have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft, along with Steve Bartkowski, Rich Campbell and Kyle Boller.
In addition, Cal alum Gale Gilbert has the distinction of being a backup quarterback on five consecutive Super Bowl teams. Some overly enthusiastic Cal fans even claim Vince Ferragamo, who once led the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl, though Ferragamo transferred and finished his college career at Nebraska.
Yet in the past six seasons, Cal's quarterback play has ranged from inconsistent to mediocre to just plain bad. Cal's record in that span is 47-29 despite producing NFL players such as running backs Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen, receiver DeSean Jackson and center Alex Mack - each selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL draft.
"Over the last five years, Cal was looking strong," Maynard said. "They've had great running backs and great receivers, like Marshawn, Shane Vereen and Keenan. We've been looking for that fifth element to break out.
"There is an opportunity at Cal. But it could be more pressure knowing everybody is looking for the next quarterback to be great."
Although Maynard isn't great, he could be good enough to spark a lackluster Cal offense that in 2010 was held to 20 or fewer points in seven games, including each of the last five.
"I think we need to get better at all positions, but we do need to get a guy who can make reads and make plays," Allen said. "We've got to come together as a team. We've got to find a way to put up more points than we did last year."
As a first-year starting quarterback at Buffalo in 2009, Maynard passed for 2,994 yards and 18 touchdowns but also 15 interceptions. He rushed for 300 yards. He said he'd still be at Buffalo if Kansas had not hired Gill away following the '09 season.
"I decided that since [Gill] was leaving and we'd get a new head coach [Jeff Quinn] that I wasn't familiar with, I would transfer," Maynard said. "Buffalo is a nice place, but I had the opportunity to transfer. I got a lot of offers from different schools. It's crazy how everything turned out."
His decision didn't seem to sit well with the new Buffalo regime.
"I'm very disappointed in Zach's decision to leave our program prior to getting to know our coaching staff," Quinn said in a statement released by the university at the time. "That being said, we are only interested in guys that are passionate about being a Buffalo Bull in our football family."
As Maynard was deciding to leave Buffalo, Allen - then at Northern Guilford High in Greensboro - was the subject of a national recruiting tug-of-war. Allen was a five-star recruit, the top-rated safety and the fifth-ranked prospect in the nation.
"It was a huge package deal," Maynard said. "We can make a big impact on the team if it all works out. We could make the coaching staff look real smart.
"Keenan and I are real close. We argued a couple of times, but we never fought when we were young. I guess we're all we had. Our mom raised us to be tough, but I was always looking over him as his big brother."
No doubt, he'll frequently be looking for him as a Cal quarterback. Getting the ball to his sibling is one sure way to avoid embarrassment.
Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.