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2018 Cal Football Preview: Offensive Line

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With every contributor returning, this group is poised for steady improvement in 2018

Steve Greatwood did an outstanding job with an inexperienced and not abundantly talented offensive line in year one on the job; having lost four starters, the group was projected to be a major weakness—but turned in serviceable results while playing its best football toward the end of the season. With every contributor returning this year, this group will undoubtedly perform better in 2018.

The Starters

LT Patrick Mekari SR 6-4 320

LG Valentino Daltoso rSO 6-4 305

C Addison Ooms rSR 6-4 295

RG Michael Saffell SO 6-2 300

RT Jake Curhan rSO 6-6 330

Rotation

G Kamryn Bennett rSR 6-3 315

G/C Ryan Gibson rJR 6-2 295

Others in Consideration

G Gentle Williams rSO 6-3 290

G/T Will Craig FR 6-5 270

G Poutasi Poutasi rFR 6-4 325

T Brandon Mello FR 6-6 285

G/T Matthew Cindric FR 6-4 270

T Henry Bazakas rJR 6-6 315

G Semisi Uluave SR 6-5 365

Tackle

The greatest upside of this group is at Tackle, with starters Patrick Mekari and Jake Curhan returning. Mekari has had a stellar Golden Bear career and has improved each season, earning All-Conference Honorable Mention in his first full season as a starter in 2017. He is a proven player as both a run blocker and pass protector and should turn in a great season at LT. Curhan was the pleasant surprise of the group last season as the bookend RT starting as a redshirt freshman. He is a big man and a forceful run blocker; Greatwood did an excellent job working with his technique to mask his still-developing foot speed. Curhan had a great spring and should improve on a solid 2017 season.

The biggest question on the Offensive Line, however, is the depth behind these guys at Tackle. If one of them go down, Valentino Daltoso would likely slide from Guard to take their place. Such was the case last year when Kamryn Bennett started the Arizona and Colorado games at LT when Mekari was injured. Greatwood always aims to cross-train his players, but an injury at Tackle is one Cal wants to avoid.

Guard

While the upside on the interior is not quite as high, there is plenty of depth and the Bears might frequently rotate players at Guard to keep them fresh. Kamryn Bennett played the most snaps last year at LG but may lose his starting spot due to improvements made by the younger guys. Valentino Daltoso and Michael Saffell appear to be the starters here but Bennett and Ryan Gibson should see plenty of time rotating in. Daltoso, Saffell, and Gibson split time at RG last season. Daltoso is the best pass-protector of the group with the ability to slide to Tackle if needed. Saffell is the best run-blocker and turned in a very encouraging season last year as a true freshman. His relentless motor and athleticism make him a future honors candidate in the years to come. Gentle Williams is another guy pushing to be part of the rotation after playing in spot duty last season. This group may not be elite but will certainly be much better than last season and injuries are not a big concern given the amount of quality depth.

Center

Cal has an experienced, mentally-sound Center returning in Addison Ooms. Ooms is a former walk-on, but has emerged to start every game at Center the last two seasons. He is not the most physical at the point of attack and often struggled against top-tier interior linemen, but he is a solid downfield blocker and an excellent communicator and leader. Another year of strength and conditioning should improve his physicality and he should be a stalwart once again for the Offensive Line. Saffell is the primary backup for Ooms and looks to take on the Center position when Ooms graduates after this season. Gibson is another player capable of playing Center if needed.

Others

Additional names here include Semisi Uluave, Poutasi Poutasi, and Henry Bazakas along with true freshmen Will Craig, Matthew Cindric, and Brandon Mello. Uluave has not become the beast Cal fans hoped he would be, but will return this season. Poutasi and the true-freshmen crop may be a year away from serious playing time, but still have an opportunity to make a push. Will Craig is the most promising of the true freshmen, but might need to add more weight to his frame before he emerges.

Conclusion

The line has been better in run blocking than pass protecting throughout camp, which is expected due to the limited depth at Tackle and the ample depth on the interior. Offensive Line play heavily involves technique, mental awareness, and toughness—and fields better results with more experienced players. Cal has plenty of experienced players and a phenomenal zone-blocking coach in Steve Greatwood. This unit will certainly be much better than last season and the coaching staff will emphasize the running game with more power sets given the key additions to the roster at TE and the return of FB Malik McMorris and RB Patrick Laird. While I do not think this unit has the talent to be an elite group, it should be a solid one and Cal’s offense will have much more control of the line of scrimmage.