The offensive line: a unit that is rarely given love on a stat sheet.
But when an offensive line is strong, an offense works in harmony…more holes for the run game, more time for plays downfield to develop, and less opportunities for a quarterback to be rattled.
In a sense – and what coaches will tell you – the offensive line is the key for any offense to be successful.
And in that sense, junior left tackle Mitchell Schwartz – the leader of Cal's 2010 offensive line – will have an unprecedented impact on where Cal's offense will go, and how the Bears’ season will wind up.
As a redshirt freshman in 2008, Schwartz quietly earned a starting position at tackle. In his first game, Schwartz laid out the key block in Vereen's fourth quarter, 81-yard touchdown run, which turned out to be the deciding score in Cal's 38-31 victory over Michigan State.
After the season, Schwartz earned Freshman All-American honors, as he was part of a unit that saw then-sophomore running back Jahvid Best rush for 698 yards over the final three games of the 2008 season. Heading into 2009, Schwartz earned high preseason accolades, coinciding with the high expectations for the team.
But the 2009 team struggled to match those expectations, falling to a disappointing 8-5 season. Not by coincidence, the play of the offensive line was worse than expected.
Schwartz finished 2009 with decent accolades, including All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention. But, as Schwartz noted, the offensive line fell way short of expectations, resulting in an inconsistent offense.
Heading into 2010, the offensive line is one unit that is considered to be very uncertain – more so with sophomore left guard Matt Summers-Gavin suffering a bone bruise early in fall camp. For Schwartz, the time to fully step into a leadership role has emerged.
“We just need to get better from last year,” says Schwartz.
“From watching all that film during the summer, you critique what you do. Looking at all the NFL guys on film, we have tons of [talent]. You can compare and contrast what they were doing with what you are doing, and carry it out of there, and learn from it.”
With that said, Schwartz feels like his unit is making progress.
“We have improved in everything; individually, learning our assignments, getting our technique down, blocking people, collectively doing a great job in pass protection, working together as a unit” says Schwartz. “Those are the types of improvements that are really coming together.”
The camaraderie among the offensive lineman is very strong off the field, as well. Schwartz noted that the offensive line loves going out to eat together, and is particularly big on bowling.
But perhaps the biggest reason for improvement is through continuity that is working for a second year under OL Coach Steve Marshall.
“The first year was a huge transition,” says Schwartz. “[Former Offensive Line Coach Jim] Michalczik did his things his way, while Coach Marshall would do things his way. Just getting used to a different coach and slightly different techniques from before make for a transition period. But going into our second year with him, we're definitely a bit more comfortable and are making huge strides.”
In that sense, perhaps the California offense will perform in harmony as the underdog in 2010, lead by the big uglies up front.
Such play will only determine how far California football will go in 2010.
Practice News & Notes
The team completed their second two-a-day of fall camp, and the final “clutch” period in pads was dominated by the defense. In an opportunity to see the backups perform, sophomore quarterback Beau Sweeney and sophomore running back Isi Sofele ran with the first team offense against the first team defense, and junior quarterback Brock Mansion and sophomore quarterback Ryan Wertenberger split reps with the second team offense going against the second team defense.
The defense dominated the final team period, as senior safety Chris Conte and junior linebacker D.J. Holt came up with interceptions, senior linebacker Jarred Price recorded a sack, sophomore cornerback Marc Anthony recorded a tackle for loss, and junior linebacker Ryan Davis forced a fumble.
Practice ended with field goal reps, as junior Giorgio Tavecchio hit attempts from 30 and 37 yards, the second of which hit the right upright before going in. Tavecchio casually described it as a “love tap” from the upright. Sophomore Vince D'Amato missed an attempt from 30 yards, and freshman Jed Barnett nailed an attempt from 37 yards.
Junior tight end Anthony Miller was named to the preseason watch list for the Mackey Award, which is given annually to the nation's top tight end.
Head Coach Jeff Tedford could not be reached for comment after practice.
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