Without question, Cal’s most experienced unit coming into last season was the offensive line. With the wide receiver and quarterback positions reloading, a big question was how big of a step Brandon Jones unit could take in 2016. With the season in the books, it is fair to say his group took that step and then some.
The big uglies up front were arguably the most consistent and best performing unit for Cal this past year. The Bears allowed a minuscule 16 sacks in 621 passing attempts while facing some of the best defensive fronts in the country in Stanford and Washington. Cal’s adjusted sack rate, which takes into consideration the strength of opponents, was ranked third in the country which perfectly illustrates just how spectacular this offensive line was.
Looking forward to next year, the Bears will return a majority of the playmakers on the line and unlike some defensive positions, Cal has the depth with younger players like Addison Ooms and Semisi Uluave ready to step up. That isn’t to diminish the impact that Chris Borrayo and Steven Moore had this past season. Each Borrayo and Moore will graduate and head towards the NFL, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see each of them play at the next level. Let’s take a look at few of the standout performances this year for the 2016 offensive line.
Borrayo started this season on the Outland watch list and ended up having a great year. The definition of a good offensive lineman is generally one who you hear referenced very little, particularly by the #pac12refs. He was critical in both pass and run protection and his career arch at Cal is particularly interesting. Borrayo was forced into action early in his career due to injuries to the starters in front of him and ended his tenure at Cal as the designated state of California flag carrier. He also earned a reputation as a leader for the team on as well as off the field.
In the early 2017 NFL draft rankings, Steven Moore is slightly ahead of Borrayo and looks primed to take his skills to the next level. Moore plays a coveted position at right tackle and is comfortable on either side of the line. An early season profile by the San Francisco chronicle detailed just how much attention Moore places on nailing the details and accomplishing perfection as a lineman. Moore was an all Pac-12 honorable mention after starting in every game outside of the finale against UCLA.
Arguably Moore’s best game came against Utah, pitted against the extremely talented Hunter Dimick. Dimick did not record a single tackle for loss or a sack against the Bears when they met in Berkeley. To highlight just how impressive that is, Dimick holds the career record for sacks at Utah with 29 and is third on the career tackles for loss list.
REPORT: Cal LT Aaron Cochran returning for senior season https://t.co/RHdFb7zzaF— GoldenBlogs (@GoldenBlogs) December 22, 2016
There is your good news going into next year, the Bears return one of their standout performers and someone who has a wealth of experience. Aaron Cochran, who has a monster frame and a world of potential, was not a lock to return to school but it appears as though he will indeed be back. Cochran played left tackle for the Bears in 2016 yet has bounced around a bit on the line thus far in his career. He measures out to 6’8, 350 which is a nightmare matchup for any defensive lineman and this year we started to see some of his potential.
There are a few issues that continued to pop up last season with Cochran, specifically ill-timed penalties seemed to plague him. He also suffered a variety of injuries throughout the year, leaving the USC game early while also missing some of camp with a knee injury. With a full year of health and another year of experience, Cochran is the best bet to make the biggest leap from 2016 to 2017 for Brandon Jones.
There have long been rumors about the talent that is waiting in the wings in the form of Addison Ooms. This year we finally got to see that talent in action. Ooms represents the future and we have heard rumblings since the days of Zach Yenser regarding just how good he can be.
If there was one play this season to sum up Ooms talent it was a broken play in the Big Game that sprung Khalfani Muhammad downfield. Ooms easily could have given up on the play but ended up rolling outside to seal a critical block that sent Muhammad barreling into Cardinal territory. While we can’t speak too much to the conclusion of that game, it was great to see Ooms start to mature on the field and come into his own. He is arguably the most exciting player to watch on the offensive line coming into next season.
Mekari quickly earned a reputation as someone who can play any position across the line. He was listed as a potential starter at center to start the year and filled in for Cochran when he went out at left tackle. Mekari is young and has shown the ability to improve drastically year over year. He might continue to wear many hats next year as he competes for a starting spot with the previously mentioned Addison Ooms and several others waiting in the wings. The offensive line for Cal should continue to be a strength for the Bears as they start to prepare for spring practice.