Cal's Offensive Line Aiming For Agility Over Size

via calbearsonline.com Can Cal's offensive line move quicker to the point of attack in 2010?

Ed note: The O-line depth chart post from last week was woefully out-of-whack because the post was a week old (I thought MSG would be left tackle and Schwartz would stay on the right),  I was on break and was out of touch with the rest of the world. Deepest apologies; the rest of the posts should be as accurate as I can make them.

The first thing that struck me when I saw the Cal depth chart for this season was the offensive line. Welcome to the new-look, trimmed up Golden Bears.

Matt Summers-Gavin: 6-3, 280
Summers-Gavin in 2009: 6-4, 291

Brian Schwenke: 6-2, 285
Schwenke in 2009: 6-3, 260

Chris Guarnero: 6-2, 270
Guarnero in 2009: 6-2, 275

Justin Cheadle: 6-2, 290
Cheadle in 2009: 6-2, 299

Mitchell Schwartz: 6-5, 310
Schwartz in 2009: 6-6, 317

Donovan Edwards:6-3, 280
Edwards in 2009: 6-5, 285

Dominic Galas: 6-1, 280
Galas in 2009: 6-1, 281

Richard Fisher: 6-2, 275
Fisher in 2009: 6-4, 290


Sam DeMartinis: 6-5, 285
DeMartinis in 2009: 6-5, 293

(2009 data from CalBears.com)

Other than the non-fact that some of Cal's linemen seem to have decreased an inch or two in height (gotta love rosters, where everyone lies about how tall they are), the weight factor stands out the most. This doesn't look like a very imposing offensive line at first glance. Other than Schwenke, everyone has lost a bit of weight or stayed pat. Only Mitchell Schwartz tops out at over 300 pounds--the two other guys who tipped the scales, Mike Tepper (319 pounds) and Mark Boskovich (304 pounds) have both departed.

This could be a good thing. This could also be a bad thing.

Ponder in the comments: Do you guys want a heavier but powerful offensive line or a smaller but agile offensive line, and why?

During Coach M's reign, Cal was primarily a power run team. Secure the line of scrimmage, pull the guard and fullback and blast your way through one hole. That was a brute blocking team, filled with big blockers and hitters, physical players who sealed the defense and pushed them on their heels (Ryan O'Callaghan at 6'7, 360 lb the perennial example; Aaron Merz at 6'4 340 lb and Marvin Philip at 6'2, 305 lb were their own paragons of strength).

For the past two years the Bears have relied primarily on zone blocking, which revolves around a totally different type of offensive linemen. You want guys with active feet who can hop their way downfield, secure blocks at angles at the first level before moving to the second. It's athleticism that's needed more than bulk and girth. Guys have to block at multiple places and open the cutback lanes for running backs to exploit.

Last season Cal wasn't so good at either zone or power blocking. With two newcomers (Cheadle and Summers-Gavin) and an All-American center being replaced by an undersized guard (Guarnero), the interior consistently got overwhelmed by physical or talented front sevens. When one particular tackle or defender required constant double teams, it opened up gaps in the defense for rushing linebackers or stunting defensive ends to penetrate and get pressure on Kevin Riley to unload the ball early.

It'd be nice to have those big guys on the line who can do both (Alex Mack of course), but not many guys possess the abilities to do both things very well. This weight loss all across the board could be a sign that the Bears are committing fully to executing the zone schemes to try and open up the running game for Shane Vereen and crew.

Additionally, will it improve our short-yardage and goal-line abilities? If the smaller offensive linemen have to battle in the trenches against big defensive tackles, will they be able to hold their position with extra guys coming in and providing extra. You often need bulky guys who can push the piles, and it looks like only Schwartz fits that MO this year.

It's unclear if this'll help pass protection. The new O-line should be able to get out of their stance quicker, back up, and push their pass rushers a little bit faster than their 2009 counterparts. But they could also get pushed aside by super-active linemen, and might be overwhelmed by bigger athletes who are able to leverage that force properly. Footwork and speed will be key. Can these linemen move more capably and keep the pocket wider for Riley to step into and deliver his throws with confidence?

Still, if this weight change can signify upgrade in the athleticism of our blockers, we could see more success in the run game, and a new era of solid offensive line play leading the charge.

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