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Cal Football Spring Position Battles: The Offensive Line

Spring is in the air at Strawberry Canyon and with it comes the sweet, sweet smell of hope. The sounds of bull-dozers are strangely appropriate as there is some serious construction work scheduled to take place both within the team and without. Hoping to sweep away the inconsistencies and occasional offensive ineptitude of the past few seasons, Coach Tedford has reunited much of his old gang. For a review of the off-season, Hydrotech sums things up very nicely here.

The biggest question mark heading into spring camp is which young signal-caller will be anointed as Tedford's star pupil and emerge as the front-runner for fall camp. As a close #2, we'll all be keeping a close eye on the offensive line with particular attention to the vacated center and right tackle positions. On defense, we have big shoes to fill at safety, linebacker, and defensive end as Chris Conte, Mike Mohammed, and Cameron Jordan take their talents to the NFL. You could make the argument that even with a coaching change, special teams have remained...special. Will Genyk part deux make a difference, or was this move more of a lateral shuffle rather than an upgrade?

Let's kick things off with a look at the Oline:

Offensive Line:

Mitchell Schwartz(Sr, Tackle)
- Our best and most consistent lineman last year. Did a nice job in the run game. Had some trouble with speed rushers off the edge, but some of these struggles might have been due to confusion with assignments and scheme. Right Tackle is supposedly his more natural position, but we might need to keep him at Left Tackle because he's the best we've got. (Caveat - perhaps he goes to RT if Maynard wins the starting position?)

Sam DeMartinis(Sr, Tackle) - Got limited time last year in a backup role. He was Scout Team player of the year as a frosh before being slowed by injuries. 4* recruit and rated as high as the 7th Tackle prospect in the country.

Justin Cheadle(Sr, Guard) - Had an up and down year last year, but did show improvement in his second year as a starter. At his best when using his agility and speed to get out on sweeps or when pulling. Had trouble with holding his ground against bull-rushes.

Dominic Galas(Jr) - Center/Guard - Arguably our nastiest and most physical lineman last year. His pancake on Burfict was one of the few brights spots for the line play. Supposedly didn't get as much time because of raw technique (wrestling/grabbing guys) and because he'd get overly amped. I'm willing to live with a penalty now and then in exchange for the tone that he sets. Needs to be on the field.

Tyler Rigsbee(Jr, Tackle) - Also got limited time last year backing up. Had to recover from a complete acl reconstruction. Nice story on BI about him and his brother here.

Brian Schwenke(Jr, Guard) - Started last year before giving way to MSG. Still got plenty of snaps platooning at guard. After showing a lot of promise as a younger player (earned playing time as a true frosh), he hasn't yet consistently delivered on his potential. Also does a nice job getting out on sweeps and when pulling.

Matt Summers-Gavin(Jr, Guard/Tackle)
- Everyone remembers how the line struggled in '09 when he down with concussion issues. He was supposed to start the 2010 fall camp at LT before suffering a bone bruise and ankle injury. Although he eventually worked his way back into the lineup, it never seemed like he was the same dominating player. It's uncertain whether he'll play at tackle or guard. He really had trouble with speed rushers while playing tackle, perhaps due to playing a new position or because of his injury.

Matt Williams(Jr, Tackle) - JC transfer who has 3 to play 2. Would probably benefit from a RS year to get stronger and work on technique. Not to mention it would be better for class balance with the departures of both Ragland and Siddoway. However, we might need him right away. Early reports are encouraging with regards to his rapid improvement. Very agile with quick feet for a big guy.

Mark Brazinski(So, Center)
- Was rated the #2 center prospect in the country coming in and earned Lifter of the Year as a frosh. Could push for time this year.

Bill Tyndall(So, Guard/Tackle)
- Played tackle in HS, guard at community college. Provides depth.

Chris Adcock(Fr*, Guard) - Rated four stars by Scouts Inc. 9th-best guard prospect.

Alex Crosthwaite(Fr*, Guard) - Rated four stars by Scouts, Inc. 11th-best guard prospect. Big enough for tackle.

Geoffrey Gibson(Fr*, Guard) - Has the size of a tackle, will probably develop as a guard. 36th-best guard prospect.

Jordan Rigsbee(Fr, Guard) - Will redshirt to gain strength and experience. Very talented. Reports in the fall.

Projected Two-Deep:
(best-guess based on last year's depth chart)
Schwartz/Rigsbee - LT
MSG/Schwenke - LG
Galas/Brazinski - C
Schwenke/Cheadle - RG
DeMartinis/Williams - RT

Or: (completely wild guess #2)
Schwenke - LG
Brazinski - C
Galas - RG
Schwartz - RT

Arguably the most significant factor in improving the Cal offense next year will be the play of the offensive line. I think we've all beaten the horse straight to the glue factory about last year's struggles and our dissatisfaction with the former position coach. Fortunately, we have a proven winner riding back from the sunset to save the day. Coach Michalczik spun straw into gold and turned unheralded recruits into NFL prospects during his previous stint with the Golden Bears. All told, he had twenty-one All-Pac-10 players. Know how many we've had since he left? (crickets) (Tepper '09, Schwartz '10)

The glass half-empty bemoans that the cupboard is bare. The glass half-full is bullish that we're loaded with Bears. Almost all of the players on roster were previously touted 3 and 4 star recruits by multiple recruiting services. Linemen are notoriously hard to project, but it's hard to believe that we whiffed on all of them.

Coach M is known for being a stickler for details, fundamentals, and technique - exactly what the doctor ordered. Barring injury, I actually think that this group could be surprisingly good. We have a nice mix of upperclassmen with starting experience and youngsters vying for playing time. In particular, there are reports that the coaching staff is very high on several of the younger linemen who have the size, athleticism, and nasty streaks that we've been missing. The projected starters and two-deeps are a complete free for all. Although we have plenty of upper classmen with starting experience, I don't think anyone's spot can be considered safe with the exception of Schwartz penciled in for one of the tackles slots.

Another of Coach M's strengths is in figuring out where guys fit best, so I wouldn't be surprised to see some position changes come out of spring ball. Besides improved technique and teamwork, the biggest change that I'm hoping to see is an infusion of attitude. I'm tired of seeing our guys get pushed around. Just as important as establishing the two-deep will be developing young players for the future. In the back of my worry closet, I'm concerned that we're going to be really thin at tackle in 2012 and even more so in 2013. CGB Roundtable is here.

Biggest Question: Who plays tackle opposite Mitchell Schwartz?

Next up: The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends