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University of California's quarterback, #15 Zach Maynard, throws a pass to an open receiver in the second quarter of their football game against the University of Utah held at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011. Cal went on to win the game 34-10. (Doug Duran/Staff)

Cal quarterback Zach Maynard is well ahead of where he was a year ago, Bears coach Jeff Tedford said after the team wrapped up its first spring football practice Thursday.

"You can really tell today that Zach is a veteran," Tedford said. "He ran the offense great with no hiccups. It was night and day from last spring on the first day."

Rain fell throughout most of Cal's late afternoon practice. The Bears originally were scheduled to open spring practice Tuesday, but standing water at Witter Rugby Field forced its postponement.

While the wet conditions might have caused a few extra dropped balls Thursday, Tedford was pleased with the action.

"First day is really hard to evaluate," Tedford said. "You look for the energy, you look for organization, the hustle. It was upbeat, guys flying around. It was kind of hard to throw and catch today, so you don't get overly excited about what happened with the ball so much."

Maynard's growth could be the key to improved success in the fall for the Bears after a 7-6 campaign that ended with a 21-10 loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound lefty had his moments in 2011 and Tedford praised his late-season play, but a full year under the offense has Maynard more confident.

"Going through last spring was a huge learning curve for me," said Maynard, a senior. "I played through a whole season, which is another huge learning curve getting to see live bullets. ... Today was a lot easier for me than last spring."

Maynard threw to a receiving corps that hardly resembled last year's unit. Marvin Jones and Michael Calvin graduated, and star receiver Keenan Allen will sit out the spring nursing a right ankle injury that required surgery. Tedford doesn't expect Allen's spring absence to play a major role.

"We all know what Keenan can do," Tedford said. "Even if he was out here in the spring, he wouldn't have done a lot of live drills. Keenan is such a quick study. He's so smart and has such a great feel for the game, but he can still improve. He's missing some of that, but when he gets back in the summer, he's a quick study and he'll be fine."

Running back Isi Sofele, who ran for 1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, said he's feeling pushed to have an even bigger season year.

"I have a lot of confidence coming back," Sofele said. "I have a lot of guys behind me that are pushing me to get better."

The defense is where the bigger questions marks lie. The fact that defensive back Josh Hill's 127 career tackles make him the team's active career leader showcases the inexperience in the unit that lost six starters, including Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks. Hill hopes to become the defense's new leader.

"I know the coaches want me to be that leader and be that guy to get everybody lined up and make sure everybody's doing what (the coaches) want them to do," Hill said.

  • Injured center Dominic Galas was able to snap the ball during 7-on-7 drills but will not participate in contact drills during the spring.

  • The team practiced with helmets but no pads Thursday. Tedford said the team will practice again Friday with just helmets and debut shoulder pads Saturday.