Cal football’s offense hinges on work of linemen

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Sometimes, all it takes is one little improvement to a team that can lead to a massive improvement to the entire system. This is the case for Cal’s offensive line. But improving Cal’s performance in the trenches is easier said than done as it left much to be desired resulting in the entire offense struggling.

Giving up 36 sacks last year, it was a common sight for Bear faithful to see the offensive linemen help pick their quarterback, Jared Goff, off the floor rather than actually protect him.

But the offensive line’s poor play last season wasn’t limited to just mediocre pass-protection. Its struggles also led to the Bears performing dreadfully on the ground, as no running back on the team last season recorded more than 450 rushing yards.

Last season, the offensive line gave up an average of three sacks per game and struggled to open up running lanes for tailbacks. As a result, the offense found it extremely hard to move the chains and had no choice but to give the ball to punter Cole Leininger — who was busy every game. With Cal routinely coming across fourth downs, Leininger was no stranger to getting off the bench after a failed drive, as evidenced from his 69 punts in the season. But many of Cal’s offensive problems could easily be solved with an improved offensive line.

One of the most difficult and complicated elements of football is analyzing individual offensive linemen. Pancake blocks as well as winning individual matchups against defensive linemen can only say so much. A successful offensive line is composed of five players who are constantly communicating.

The majority of the linemen on the team exhibit talent and some degree of potential. Each lineman displays good size and footwork and can likely hold his ground against the average defensive lineman.

But in the offensive line, individual talent is meaningless if all five are not on the same page. Throughout the entire season, the offensive line was discombobulated and lacked focus. They often did not seem prepared and were noticeably shaken when defenses used more complicated schemes. The Bears have the tools in the offensive line to be a productive unit, but they need to have a game-by-game approach that concentrates on the other team’s tendencies so as to not make the same mistakes as last season.

If offensive line coach Zach Yenser can utilize his players effectively, the offensive line can be very deadly in the interior. Guard Jordan Rigsbee is projected to be a favorite to start . Standing at 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, the junior is expected to lead a stacked rotation of big bodies to handle guard and center duties.

Looking to work beside Rigsbee at the guards are 6-foot-3, 310-pound Chris Borrayo and 6-foot-4, 295-pound Alejandro Crosthwaite. In addition to these two, 6-foot-3, 305-pound center Chris Adcock is also making quick strides in recovering from a knee injury he suffered last season during practice-related activity. If Adcock is healthy come opening day, expect him to make an immediate impact.

On the other hand, the depth chart for tackles is much thinner. The two available for the Bears at the moment are 6-foot-6 and 295-pound Steven Moore and 6-foot-3, 310-pound Matt Cochran. If need be, Crosthwaite could also potentially slide over to tackle to back up Moore and Cochran.

There could easily be some newcomers that come in and be productive for the squad. These include 6-foot-5, 275-pound Vincent Johnson, Cochran’s 6-foot-8, 355-pound brother Aaron Cochran,  6-foot-6, 325-pound Christian Okafor and 6-foot-4, 280-pounder J.D. Hinnant.

If the unit can make progress, there is a great chance that Yenser’s linemen can make a drastic turnaround from the lifeless group it was last season to a respectable squad. If the offensive line improves, it’s going to make life easier for everybody and can make Cal’s offense in 2014 bearable to watch.

Contact Richard Lee at [email protected].