Schwenke learning to do more at center

Brian Schwenke (US Presswire)

Having never played the position before last month, senior Brian Schwenke finds himself doing more than he ever has at center for the Bears.

BERKELEY, Calif. – An unexpected move to center has made Brian Schwenke just how easy he used to have it. No making calls for the offensive line, no dealing with a defensive tackle ready to blast him, no snapping the ball.

"Now I feel like playing guard I wasn't doing anything at all," he said.

With starter Dominic Galas sidelined because of a shoulder injury, California has experimented with several options at center this spring but Schwenke is the last man starting in good health.

Redshirt junior Mark Brazinski hurt his left knee earlier this week and is expected to miss the upcoming season with a possible torn ACL, head coach Jeff Tedford said.

"He was in the depth with guard and center, so it was unfortunate that it happened," Tedford said of Brazinski. "It is typically a seven-month rehab so you are looking at somewhere midseason, October or early November. The season is pretty much over by then."

Another possible option, redshirt sophomore Chris Adcock, was forced to snap with his left hand Saturday at Witter Rugby Field after breaking his right hand in practice earlier this week.

Schwenke, a senior from Oceanside, Calif., was the one working with the starting offensive line, a role he could continue to man into the fall.

"He is picking everything up fine," Tedford said. "He is doing a good job in there blocking and communicating."

Starting quarterback Zach Maynard went one step further.

"I would say Schwenke is doing an awesome job," he said.

But the most important part of a center is snapping the ball to the quarterback, something Schwenke is still getting used to. He had the occasional slip up, balls too high or coming in at Maynard's knees or disrupting the timing and rhythm of the offense.

The two are trying to minimize those disruptions by squeezing in extra reps before and after practice, but Maynard is quick to forgive an errant snap.

"It's just a feel of passing the ball without even seeing the ball basically. I tell Schwenke to get it as close as he can," he said.

Schwenke says he is comfortable with the act of snapping, but mistakes come when he considers everything else required from the position.

"I usually don't mess it up unless I'm still thinking about something," he said. "If I mess it up, it's my fault. I understand why I messed it up. It's not like, ‘Where did that ball go?' I know why it was a bad snap."

One of the ways to eliminate such issues was cutting the fingers off his right glove to prevent the ball from sticking, an idea offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jim Michalczik came up with.

Others like changing his footwork or recognizing defensive alignments will come to Schwenke with time. He had never played center at any level before last month.

"It's only hurt me on a few plays, but it is definitely something I have to get used to," he said.

If he does move back to guard in the fall – Schwenke has started 20 of the last 26 games at left guard with another four on the right side – he believes this time at center will help immensely.

"It's definitely good for me in the long run to be able to play both positions," he said. I'm enjoying it. It's a challenge and that's what I like about it. I used to come out to practice not really worried about anything. Now I'm thinking all the time and always on my toes.

"When you know center, you know the whole offense. You have to know everything."

No Helping Hand
Adcock is just one of a handful of Cal players dealing with a sudden rash of broken hands.

"It's like the flavor of the year because I think we got five broken hands now," Tedford said.

Running back C.J. Anderson dislocated his thumb during a live tackling drill, an injury that will likely require surgery and sideline the senior for the rest of spring, Tedford said.

Linebacker Jalen Jefferson also hurt his hand Saturday, while tight end Spencer Hagan did so Tuesday. Offensive tackle Tyler Rigsbee was able to practice despite his mishap, working with the first unit at left tackle.

Quick Hits
-Running back Isi Sofele left practice early after feeling a "twinge" in his hamstring, Tedford said.

-Linebacker David Wilkerson did not practice again as the redshirt sophomore continues to yo-yo in and out of the lineup.

"We would love for him to be in there," Tedford said. "Unfortunately, it has just been one thing after another with him through the spring, sickness or injury or something. He has had some bad luck."

Tedford said he would like to try Wilkerson at inside linebacker as the Bears look to replace Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt.

-Kicker Vincenzo D'Amato made all four of his field goal attempts, including a 45-yard try that struck the left upright and bounced in.

"He has got great height on that ball," Tedford said. "If you kick it over the net, you are doing something pretty good. He has done a nice job."

-While the Bears' final spring practice on April 21 at Edwards Stadium will be open to the public, the exact formal will depend on the team's health.

"We'd like to try to have it as close to a game as we can, but it depends on what we can do," said Tedford. "Today we played without a fullback."

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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