Saturday, April 22, 2006

SF Chronicle: Cal's offensive line is a row of question marks

Bruce Adams, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, April 21, 2006

Cal offensive line coach Jim Michalczik says one of the big questions heading into spring football practice will remain, for the time being, a mystery.  That would be the Bears' offensive line, a unit that loses its mainstays to graduation.  "I think there's still a lot of uncertainty, to be honest, as to who the starters are going to be, and who the guys are who'll be the key backups," Michalczik said.  Gone are center Marvin Philip and tackle Ryan O'Callaghan, both first-team All-Pac-10 and both with All-American honors, and guard Aaron Merz, also with all-conference honors.  Tackle Andrew Cameron, who would be a fifth-year senior next year, will graduate and is probably also gone.  The only returning starter is guard Erik Robertson.  "It's a pretty young group," Michalczik said of next season's unit. "Every day, we're getting better. We're waiting to see who steps up."  Even with the collective youth on the line, the Bears have solid experience, due to a rash of injuries to the regulars last year.  Returning players with solid game experience include center Alex Mack, tackle Scott Smith and guard Noris Malele.

Tackle Mike Tepper, who missed last season with a severe leg injury incurred in an off-field criminal assault, should be in the mix. His spring, however, has been cut short by a concussion.  Michalczik said tackle Chet Teofilo, a recently converted defensive lineman, has been a "pleasant surprise" in spring drills.  "We figure he's a good defensive lineman with the potential to be a great offensive lineman," Michalczik said. "He's lost half the time. Everything is new to him."  In fact, all the linemen are on new ground as head coach Jeff Tedford incorporates elements of the spread-option into his more conventional offense.  Michalczik said the new offense -- with receivers spread across the field -- could make the line's job a little easier in the running game because opponents won't be able to crowd defenders near the line of scrimmage.

He said it also could make the running game a bit less predictable.  "We were probably too much tight end oriented in the past, always running to the tight end's side," he said. The spread adds another wrinkle, he added, with the quarterback able to be utilized more as another runner or another blocker.  The most obvious change is for the center, who now will often have to snap the ball five yards back to the quarterback, who lines up in the shotgun for the spread.  "It's not really hard to just snap the ball," Michalczik said. "But it becomes more difficult when you snap it, and you're then moving and getting ready to block somebody."  Mack said he's making the transition to the longer snaps. He also said the new offense really wasn't that different, with the Bears still using the same basic running plays.  As for pass protection, he said the line's philosophy remains the same.  "Forever and a day," he said. "Never give up a block."


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