BERKELEY -- A couple of hundred yards away from renovated Memorial Stadium, where the Cal football season opens Sept. 1, the Golden Bears were excited about their first day of practice Saturday on Witter Field.
"A great day," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "I loved the tempo. Guys flew around, practiced really well. A lot of the young guys studied (the playbook) hard, so we were able to incorporate them on Day 1."
Freshman punter Cole Leininger boomed soaring punts toward the fog hanging over the field, and senior quarterback Zach Maynard got his first chance to throw to the five freshman wide receivers.
"A lot of speed," Maynard said. "We have a couple guys with size and strength as well. And they know how to run routes the way they're supposed to."
Sophomore linebacker Cecil Whiteside, reinstated this past week after being dismissed from the team May 24 for an unspecified violation of team rules, also was on the field.
"If someone makes a mistake, you always want to give young people a chance to turn over a new leaf and have gratitude for where they are and what they have," Tedford said. "I believe he really wants to be here."
Tedford said linebacker Khairi Fortt, a junior transfer from Penn State, was scheduled to arrive Saturday night and practice Sunday for the first time.
Here are five key issues for the Bears as they try to improve a 7-6 record in 2011:
Develop young WRs
The Bears broke spring camp knowing they needed several of their five incoming freshman wide receivers to quickly emerge. Tedford said all might play, and it's clear one will get the chance to start with star junior wide receiver Keenan Allen.
"I'm sure they're a little anxious, a little nervous, just like any young freshman is," Tedford said. "But they were told when they first got here, 'You guys are coming in with the mindset that you're going to compete right away.' We will definitely ramp up the learning curve for them."
Cal also plans to put greater emphasis on its tight end as a receiving threat. Sophomore Richard Rodgers emerged from spring ball as the starter.
Untangle the O-line
The loss late last month of projected starting guard Dominic Galas to surgery for a torn pectoral muscle creates an offensive line with lots of moving parts. The coaching staff will tinker with a variety of combinations. Matt Summers-Gavin is set at right tackle, but almost no other spot is set.
Freshman tackle Freddie Tagaloa, listed at 6-foot-9, 340 pounds, will get a long look. "You'd like for him to come in to compete to play because his body says he can," Tedford said. "He looks like an NFL player right now, but there's still a lot to learn."
Solve LB puzzle
With Fortt and Whiteside inserted into the picture, the Bears have lots of options in the wake of departures by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks and fellow inside starter D.J. Holt.
The mix includes Chris McCain, Nick Forbes, Robert Mullins, J.P. Hurrell, Dan Camporeale and Jason Gibson.
Expect QB leadership
Maynard was up and down last season as a first-year starter. He was prone to interceptions and indecision early in the season, then became more efficient as the year unfolded.
The Bears expect Maynard to become the leader they need -- on and off the field. He must develop timing with the new receivers and a rapport with the offensive line. He must take charge in the huddle and make plays with his arm and his legs.
And as a senior, he must avoid the lapses that were costly at times last season.
The Bears were dependable in the kicking game a year ago, when Giorgio Tavecchio made 20 of 23 field goals and punter Bryan Anger's stock soared to the point that the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted him in the third round in April.
Junior Vince D'Amato won the placekicking assignment in the spring to replace Tavecchio but hasn't attempted a field goal for Cal since 2009. Leininger will be the punter, but he's never stepped on a college field.