Jeff Tedford keeps checkers pieces in his office and uses them often, but California football fans need not be alarmed. The Golden Bears' new coach isn't some slacker who plots double jumps when he should be breaking down film. The checkers are part of the equipment Tedford uses to hone his quarterbacks' abilities.
In checkers, Tedford-style, the coach positions the 11 black pieces on his desk in a defensive alignment, and his quarterback must line up the red disks in the appropriate formation, show him what routes the receivers should run and what the blocking scheme should be. When the coach adjusts the defense, the quarterback has to realign the offense accordingly. "It's a great way to measure your quarterback's grasp of the system," Tedford says. "You can see how well he understands defensive fronts, coverages, route concepts. It's much better than having me stand in front of a blackboard with a piece of chalk all day."
Over the last decade some of the top passers in the nation have sat across the desk from Tedford. As quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator at Fresno State from 1992 through '97, Tedford tutored Trent Dilfer for two seasons and David Carr for one. In 1998 Tedford became the offensive coordinator at Oregon, where he helped develop Akili Smith and Joey Harrington into NFL first-rounders. All four have given Tedford, 40, much credit for their collegiate success. Says Dilfer, "Jeff taught me more about the game than any other coach I've played for."
Cal hopes Tedford can work similar wonders with senior quarterback Kyle Boller, a former highly prized recruit who bottomed out last season along with the rest of the program. He completed more than half his passes in only four games and surpassed 200 passing yards just three times as Cal finished 1-10, leading to coach Tom Holmoe's resignation. "Kyle's confidence is a little bit bruised," Tedford says, "but I don't think any quarterback I've coached can throw the ball with the kind of zip and distance he can. He has a lot of talent, and we're going to get it out of him."
To do that, Tedford, who was an honorable-mention All-America quarterback at Fresno State in 1982, is using more than his checkers technique; he's working on Boller from head to toe. Tedford used spring practice to give Boller a psychological boost, stacking the teams in intra-squad scrimmages to help ensure that his quarterback would shine. He has refined Boller's throwing motion, stressing that the nonthrowing hand be kept close to shoulder level to improve accuracy and quicken the release. To reinforce that habit, Tedford sometimes has Boller go through passing drills with his left wrist tied to his left biceps. Tedford has also worked on Boller's footwork, with an emphasis on taking more precise drops. "I'm buying into everything he's trying to teach me," Boller says. "With his track record you'd be dumb not to. I'm just trying to soak it all up."
Virginia Youth Movement
Grohing Pains In the Opener
Virginia coach Al Groh understood that his team might pay a price for playing 15 freshmen against Colorado State last Thursday night. That didn't make the Cavaliers' 35-29 loss any less painful. After overcoming a 19-7 deficit to take a 29-22 lead in the fourth quarter, Virginia couldn't close out the Rams, and a second rally ended when quarterback Marques Hagans—a redshirt freshman—lost a fumble at the Colorado State one-yard line with :10 to play.
Last winter, after the Cavaliers signed a recruiting class that made nearly every top 10 list, Groh made a commitment to play his most talented players regardless of their college experience. Three February signees—tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, defensive end Kwakou Robinson and punter Tom Hagan—started against the Rams, and two more, tailbacks Wali Lundy and Michael Johnson, came off the bench to combine for 270 all-purpose yards.
In a team meeting two days before the game, Groh had to remind himself of just how young his team is: He patiently explained how to pack an equipment bag for the game. The managers, he told players, would pack the helmets. "Any special pads that you need, you're responsible for," Groh said. "The manager is not going to carry your mouthpiece." That lesson proved easier than those the Cavaliers learned on the field.