Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Offensive Line – Cal Bears
When a team averages 5.4 yards per carry over the course of the entire season (good for 10th best in the nation), it’s probably a safe guess that they’ve got a pretty special backfield. In the dynamic 1-2 punch of Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen, the Cal Bears certainly have that.
But while Jahvid Best receives all of the Heisman Trophy hype, and Shane Vereen is heralded as the next big thing in Berkeley (both fairly so), the offensive line will keep doing what offensive lines do best; opening up those holes and leaving the star power to the skill position players.
While the loss of center Alex Mack is a tremendous blow for the Cal Bears to withstand, Coach Jeff Tedford and Cal haven’t produced seven straight 1,000 yard rushers simply by recruiting talented tailbacks. The Bears have done a great job recruiting and developing offensive linemen over that stretch as well, and this year shouldn’t prove to be much different.
With Kevin Riley (sacked 19 times last season) likely to be asked to just run a safe offense this season and let his running backs do the work, the Bears are going to need those holes to keep opening up and Riley to have time when he is asked to throw if 2009 is going to be the year that they finally put everything together and take their spot atop the conference.
79 Mike Tepper, 6-7, 319, Senior
53 Donovan Edwards, 6-5, 285, Junior
- After missing the entire 2008 season with a pectoral injury, Tepper was granted a sixth year of eligibility to have the chance to play his senior season here in 2009. After redshirting in 2004 and missing the entire 2005 season due to breaking his right fibula after being hit by a car, he recovered well in 2006 seeing action as a left tackle in all 13 games. In 2007 he started all 13 games at right tackle, and was part of the unit that allowed only 11 sacks (third best in the nation) that year.
Incredibly bad luck has kept Tepper off the field in two different full seasons, but when healthy he can definitely be a contributor, and he appears to be fine heading into the fall. Entering his sixth season at Cal, there is little doubt that he will be looked up to as a leader.
70 Mark Boskovich, 6-4, 304, Junior
75 Matt Summers-Gavin, 6-4, 291, Redshirt Freshman
- Boskovich, a former walk on who redshirted back in 2006, looks to have earned his chance to start here in 2009. Considered a quick learner and a great athlete, Boskovich has gotten better each season, learning the ropes during his redshirt year and seeing action in all 13 games (primarily on special teams) in 2007.
Penciled in as the starter at the beginning of the spring in 2008, he was eventually jumped for the spot by Chris Guarnero. When Guarnero was lost for the season due to injury, Boskovich took over as the starter and did well in the role.
Behind him is 4-star prospect Matt Summers-Gavin, who was ranked the 17th best offensive guard in the nation in 2007 by scout.com and the 11th best offensive tackle in the nation by rivals.com. Summers-Gavin should see plenty of playing time in relief in 2009
54 Chris Guarnero, 6-2, 275, Junior
65 Dominic Galas, 6-1, 281, Redshirt Freshman
- Chris Guarnero has the daunting task of trying to replace NFL first round draft pick Alex Mack. Giving up 35 pounds to the departed senior doesn’t help, either. But Guarnero isn’t going to be asked to be Alex Mack, he’s going to be asked to be himself; and that should be good enough.
A former 4-star recruit that was ranked the 19th best offensive guard in the nation in 2006, Guarnero has been groomed to take over the center spot for the past few seasons. While he only saw action in one game in 2007, he was listed as the backup center in every game. In 2008 he got off to a great start at left guard (he played too well to be left in a backup role) before suffering a season ending toe injury.
Guarnero plays bigger than his size would suggest and he had a great mentor in Mack. He should do fine in the starting role.
58 Chet Teofilo, 6-3, 329, Senior
73 Richard Fisher, 6-4, 290, Junior
- Another sixth year senior (like Mike Tepper), Teofilo enters the 2009 season with plenty of experience. Recruited as a defensive linemen, the transition took three years from 2004-2006 (he saw no action in 2006 while making the adjustment). In 2007 he played in five games and made one start at left tackle, and in 2008 he was used at both left and right tackle before being lost for the season with an ankle injury.
Coaches believe that a move to the inside of the line will give Teofilo a better chance to show of his explosiveness. Like Tepper, Teofilo will provide leadership as another guy who has been in the locker room for quite a while.
72 Mitchell Schwartz, 6-6, 335, Redshirt Sophomore
78 Justin Prueitt, 6-4, 278, Junior
- Mitchell Schwartz was one of the key pieces to the line in 2008, starting in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman. He started three games at right tackle and then spent the rest of the season at left tackle due to shakeups on the line. The weight he put on during his redshirt year clearly translated to power last season, as he had some monster games including two pancakes and two knockdowns against Michigan State and four knockdowns against Stanford.
Ranked the 27th best offensive guard out of college by rivals.com for the class of 2007, Schwartz has hit the ground running so far and seems a very logical choice to see his game take another step forward in 2009 after the experience he gained starting as redshirt freshman.
This offensive line is powerful, and if they can stay healthy we should see a repeat of the success that they had in 2008. The future looks bright, too; Summers-Gavin should benefit from experience in relief, Dominic Galas was the ninth ranked center prospect in his class by rivals.com, and Mitchell Schwartz can only get better; and 4-star redshirt freshmen Tyler Rigsbee is buried in this depth chart, too.
Again, the key is health. While the young talent filling out the depth chart has plenty of potential, having guys like Guarnero and Tepper in there instead of inexperienced young players could be the difference between winning and losing in pivotal games against teams like USC and Oregon.
But from the looks of it, the pressure will be on Kevin Riley’s shoulders in 2009; because much like the running back tandem, all systems are go for the offensive line unit in Cal.