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Cal Fall Camp Preview: Offensive Line

August 3, 2022
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Continuing in our series of fall camp position previews, we move on to the offensive line, with a rundown from OL coach Angus McClure on roster depth on the line.

With 14 now healthy scholarship offensive linemen along with an additional four preferred walk-ons, the Bears are perhaps more well-stocked at the position than they’ve been in years.

One particular area of success in spring ball was the health of the line, where hardly any practices were missed by any of the unit.

Third-year offensive line coach Angus McClure addressed those elements and more in breaking down his OL unit.

“What people don’t talk about is when offensive lineman aren’t getting injured, said McClure. “That means they’re staying on their feet and that’s a good sign because precision is the name of the game with your footwork - whether it’s run or pass, and that means all five guys need to be working as one. Five as one. Guys aren’t falling into each other or stepping on each other.

“These are smart guys. They’re at Cal. Very few assignment mistakes. Even for the freshman, and the young guys, very few assignment mistakes. That’s always encouraging for the offensive line because we want guys to break that huddle, get to the line of scrimmage, and assess the defense and make the calls and execute.”

Summer workouts continued the trend as the line stayed healthy and got stronger and leaner or heavier, according to their targets.

“The guys had an outstanding summer,” said McClure. “I talked to Brian Johnson yesterday, or two days ago, when I was doing some driving and boy, he's really impressed with how well the team's doing.

“He's just a good all-around coach, and I like his style because he uses the latest technology and sports science, but he also has some old school in him too. And you know it's not always about GPS (fitness tracking) numbers. It's kind of about what he's seen with his experience, and I know my group has really benefited from having him in the program. He's a former offensive lineman, too. I have been really impressed.

“It was nice to have a longer off-season for those guys, especially the guys in my group, so they could really get ready, and Coach B does a great job of getting those guys ready. But certain guys needed to lean up, some guys needed to put it on, so that's what I really like about Coach B. It's not a cookie cutter strength program, he really designs it individually.”

One of the bigger changes physically from the S&C program can be seen in a leaner version of redshirt soph OT Ben Coleman, who made the move to left tackle, replacing former starter Will Craig after he announced his injury retirement before spring ball.

“Ben's body has been transforming, and as you mentioned, he hasn't lost a ton of
weight, but he's kind of just transformed it as he's losing fat,” said McClure. ”He's gaining
muscle and foot speed and certainly his work ethics outstanding so he's you know benefiting
from everything he's been doing.

“He's a good athlete, a very good athlete, and he has a lot of great abilities. It's easy to get caught up in the numbers and in the measurables and all that stuff but if you're just a good athlete and you're able to accomplish what you need to accomplish, there's no reason why you have to be 6'7 to be a good tackle. That's nice to say that you have that, but Ben's an outstanding pass protector, so looking forward to his season.

“I think people forget, during the COVID season he played some left tackle for us. He played really well against Stanford at left tackle. He’s just a natural athlete, and sure he's not 6’5, but he's an athlete and at that position, I would take an athlete over the perfect body type. If you're the best pass protector that's probably where you need to be.”

Redshirt senior center Matt Cindric is another mainstay of the Bears’ offensive line this season and will be counted on for his leadership skills as well.

“Matt’s just a natural leader in everything he does, whether it's in the classroom or, certainly on the field, in the community, he’s just a great leader,” McClure said. “He and Ben are doing a nice job of bringing that group together. And they both have their own different styles of leading. I really like to have two guys with really different ways of delivering the same message.”  

“Matt had a really good spring. It's great to hear how great of a job Cindo's doing as a leader along with Ben over the summer. It’s a nice thing when the coaches aren't around and you really find out who your leaders are going to be. It's been great to hear those two have really done an outstanding job and especially with the young guys.

“They've been around me long enough to know you know exactly my expectations and our coaching style and our techniques and our assignments. It’s such a huge benefit keeping the same coaches around is huge

“So we’ve got a good combination of leadership on the offensive line; in the end, it’s huge because it trickles throughout the team, and it's always great to have your team leaders be offensive linemen too. Really encouraged by those two guys.”

Another element of experience that’s played a nice role in the last year is the work of former Cal center Michael Saffell, who works with McClure and the program as a grad assistant. When forty-plus members of the team and coaching staff were quarantined during their game with Arizona, Saffell stepped in with fellow former center Addison Ooms to coach the line in their game in Tucson.

Another returner with plenty of playing time under his belt is offensive guard and backup center Brian Driscoll, who McClure refers to as The Anvil for his hard-hitting style of play. The redshirt soph missed most of spring ball rehabbing an injury but he’s back full-go for fall camp.

“He's a hundred percent,” said McClure of Driscoll. “He’s at 315, but being The Anvil, I mean he can put on ten within a night. It'll be great to have him rolling again. He'll be on the left side and some center, too.”

Driscoll will compete to start at left guard against redshirt frosh Bastian Swinney, who played with the ones all spring save for the few practices he missed before coming back again from injury.

“Bastian really improved this spring. He did a tremendous job,” McClure said. “He took his pass protection to a higher level. He's big, physical, and athletic. He can run and pull. I thought he really improved at the guard position. He did get some snaps at center so we want to continue to keep grooming him again if he was a backup center and we will see what the future holds too for him.” 

The other returning lineman with the most experience in the system is redshirt junior Brayden Rohme, who will battle it out for the starting nod at right tackle.

“Brayden’s at 285. He's put on ten good pounds,” said McClure of Rohme since his injury last spring and getting over the intestinal flu he had prior to spring ball. “I think he had a good spring. He continues to improve and I just think he's going to have a big year for us, I do. He's got that positional versatility where he can play right or left, and I think he's going to have a real good camp. He's got the right mindset, and he's competitive, and I think he's gaining confidence more and more so.

“You know, Rohme’s is a competitor. He showed big improvement on the right side. He’s naturally a left tackle but we wanted to give him a ton of reps at right tackle, which we did. He really improved his pass protection.

“He's got the frame to add more weight. I mean he's a little bit taller than people realize. He's 6’5, so he's got broad shoulders and he'll continue to put the right weight.

“You’re talking to a guy who was 235 my freshmen year and 305 my senior year, so I mean I know how to do it from experience. It’s called carbohydrates.”

For players coming off injuries, particularly debilitating leg injuries like Rohme suffered in spring ball last season, they often have to develop a trust in their bodies in order to play with the physicality necessary to excel.

“That's the whole thing, especially the way he got injured two springs ago, cause he never saw it coming, and that's like the worst on you mentally,” said McClure. “He was finishing a block, and the guy got thrown into his legs, and that was that deal, but he's just gotta gain confidence back after it, and I see it every day from him.”

Rohme will go head to head with Montana State transfer OT TJ Session, a 6-4/300 redshirt soph transfer from Montana State. The new arrival started for the FCS National Championship runner-up program in 2021 and he brings quick feet and a higher level of athleticism to the RT position than the Bears have seen in a while.

“TJ brings athleticism. He brings experience,” McClure said. “I coached in the Big Sky conference for 7 years. I know the type of players that were in the Big Sky conference. They certainly produced a good number of NFL players. I think Montana State had someone drafted in the 3rd round. But, certainly, I’ve coached a handful of guys when I coached in the Big Sky who went on the play in the NFL. It’s a higher level of football that most college fans realize.

“To be in the national championship at any level is a big-time game. He’s going to bring some experience. He’s going to bring a little bit of an edge. He’s a finisher. As I mentioned earlier, that’s always something we evaluate with our guys. Real good feet. He runs well. Half steps. He does a good job. He has some technique things that we’re going to work on here. We’re excited to have him. He’s just going to add that much more to our offensive line.

“TJ's had a good summer, also. I'm hearing very, very positive things. He's kind of made that transition from mid-major to major school from the standpoint of using the resources around him and leaning on Coach Johnson, and all those different things, especially when it comes to athletic training and just stuff like that. 

“What I'm hearing is he's benefitting from all of it. Not just football, but academics, too, and that's great to hear a guy come in and be able to adjust with our level of support.”

Another transfer portal O-lineman with plenty of playing experience is 6-6/335 offensive guard Spencer Lovell, who will battle for the right guard position after being slated to start at the same position at ASU coming out of spring ball before his transfer to Cal.

“He’s suited for guard. In adding TJ and with a couple of our young guys coming in and with Rohme, we would need him more at guard. We may need him some time on the road to fill in at right tackle to finish the game, possibly. He could do it. He’s done it. That’s the thing. That’s certainly a possibility, but his main focus in coming to Cal is to play guard.”

“I’ve also heard great things about Spencer over the summer,” said McClure. He is a workhorse. He's a great example for our young guys. He gets there early, the last one to leave, just somebody who's an experienced textbook player and can't wait to see him at camp.

“Spencer brings a wealth of experience. He knows this conference well. In evaluating film, he brings a physicality to the run game. He really enjoys the run game. He brings a physical presence to our offensive line also with his size. Big and he’s really quick at picking up schematics. I noticed that I’m not exaggerating on his visit, we probably watched hours of film with him. I’ve met with him myself three times. Bill met with him for a good hour and a half. He was very inquisitive. He wanted to really feel how he would fit into our offense. We watched his film. We watched our film. We watched individual film. We watched all sorts of things. He really picks up things quickly. I’m excited to have him in the program.”

Lovell will go head to head with 6-7/315 redshirt junior Everett Johnson, who put himself in contention with a very solid spring working mainly with the first unit.

“Everett has made great progress this past year,” said McClure. “He’s focused on developing his technique. Got his first start last season and saw action in the second half of the season. He had a strong spring and took another step forward as a pass protector.”

A wildcard in the mix for early playing time at either guard position is powerful 6-3/335 frosh guard Sioape Vatikani. How strong is Vatikani? In Cal’s S&C program this summer, the Nevada lineman benched an astounding 440 lbs ten reps. His squat numbers are off the charts, too.

‘He’s close to 6’4,” said McClure. “His squat is unbelievable. Obviously, I know his former program really well. The strength coach there is amazing. They don’t squat to parallel. They go below. They put the ass in the bucket as they say. Just explosive.

“He’s only played left tackle for four years on the varsity at Manogue, which is a good team. As a true freshman, he played against Bishop Gorman for a state championship. We’ll see. We’re going to start him at guard. We’re definitely going to cross-train him. He’s definitely going to get some reps at left tackle.”

“Sioape's one of those kids that just come in really strong. I have a different relationship with him, knowing him since his freshman year of high school (with his son Malcolm his close friend and teammate). He's always done a great job in the weight room, and he's one of the strongest guys I've ever recruited. That includes the Odigiziwa brothers. He's just impressive and he works hard. He's that type of kid that is intrinsically motivated, not only in the weight room and playing football but also in the classroom and I'm really excited to see how he does in camp.”

Vatikani’s one of three frosh offensive lineman recruits they brought in this summer they have high hopes for, including 6-5/285 OT Trent Ramsey and 6-6/305 OT Jackson Brown.

“Well, I see all three of those guys are extremely motivated to play,’ McClure said. ‘Trent came out during his spring break and spent the whole week in Berkeley during spring ball, had a chance to understand the offense a little bit more, and see our practice and all of that stuff.

”Trent's transformed his body,” said McClure. “He's put on 10 pounds since coming in June. So Trent's about 285, and Jackson, I hear great things about him in the player run practices, and I heard he's really picking up the offense, so those young guys, it's going to be fun to see them. 

“Jackson's around 300, so it'll be fun to see those guys in camp. I never would ever want to project a true freshman because you just don't know until the bullets are flying.”

A wildcard on the line is redshirt soph OG/OT Ender Aguilar. A former tight end in high school before switching to OT his senior year, the 6-5/285 OT seemed to struggle early in the spring but really hit his stride as the spring sessions wore on and was a very effective blocker by the end.

“Ender really improved,” said McClure. “I think he may be a candidate for one of the most improved guys in the spring. He played 50/50 right guard and right tackle,” McClure said. 

“He can run. He can run and hit. I mean, hell you see that in Ben too and Cindo, too, guys that have played defense. Ender played a lot of defense in high school, defensive end, he can really run. He’s an athlete. Being a guard in our system plays more to his positive traits.”

Coming in last season, center/guard Dylan Jemtegaard was seen as potentially being a guy who could crack the rotation early but after being sidelined early with an injury, the Washington native is working his way back into playing shape in his second season in the program.

“Dylan got more comfortable the last two weeks of spring,” said McClure.  He really did. His snaps have improved. I think the biggest thing is just gaining that confidence again. Everybody knows that he’s definitely a finisher. He won the finisher award many times this spring. We give an award every practice for the offensive line for best finisher and highest grade. 

“He’s somebody who blocks through the end of the whistle. Somebody who’s going down and pulling the running back out of a jam. We all know how it is. It’s thud or touch-off in spring. He’s always there to help the running backs and just brings an extra energy to our program.

The Bears added some additional depth last year in walk-on OT’s Colin Hamilton (6’7/305) and Colin Moroney (6-5/265). Both saw a lot of reps with the second and third teams much of spring ball.

“Well, I think Colin Hamilton has really improved since day one,” McClure said. “He’s done nothing but improve here. We’re definitely expecting him to compete. He’s come a long way. His body has totally changed. At times, especially against some of our edge guys, he got out of position. He is a legit 6’7 and has super long limbs. When he gets his body in proper position, he can stay in front of anybody. Again, it’s a credit to our strength and conditioning and building confidence in our younger offensive line. When you’re playing left tackle, it’s all about confidence, right? That’s what I’m seeing. We call him the ‘Hambone.’ Every offensive line has a Hambone.”

“And Colin Moroney brings it every single day. That’s impressive. He’s one of those kids that always has a smile on his face and comes with his heart every day. So, we’ll see how he continues to develop.”

Redshirt frosh Ryan Lang saw mostly second and third team reps in the spring and is on more of a developmental path currently.

“Ryan is another guy that just improved by playing,” said McClure. “He really improved in his play. He finally realizes sometimes you’ve just got to ready, fire, aim instead of ready, aim, fire. Sometimes you’ve just got to go. The speed of the game has slowed down for him. I saw some big-time improvement with him.

“He’s lost 35 pounds since he’s come to town. His body is really changing. He’s a kid who’s working with Coach B. He gets some extra cardio. Everyone thinks he’s been here forever, but he’s only a redshirt freshman. He’s still a young guy. We got him a slow cooker. He’s developing.”

One original offensive lineman who was originally part of the ‘22 class -Arizona OT Nick Morrow- has opted to redshirt and come in for the spring semester in January to continue to add size and strength and learn the position after transitioning from a prep tight end who also played basketball.

“He's up to 285, and he's putting on more size,” said McClure of Morrow. “I'm a fan of greyshirting if you can do it, especially someone like him. I mean, I'm not going to say he's (NY Jets OT) Conor McDermott, who I recruited and coached at UCLA. Conor, we greyshirted, redshirted, and then he was a three-year starter for us on the line and now he's a starter for the Jets. He was Mr. Tennessee for basketball and only played two years of high school football, and we just saw like we see in Nick; an athletic, basketball type who projects to a good offensive tackle. I mean boy he's somebody that could really develop.

“You get a year of development naturally, and then all of a sudden, you throw them in a weight room and all those good things happen. Obviously, that's why so many people hold their kids back these days.”

All in all, the Bears seem to be well-positioned to be able to weather potential injury storms within reason and be able to rotate and keep their starters fresh without a major drop-off in effectiveness heading into the season opener just four weeks away.

“We’re the engine of the offense,” said McClure. “We’ve got to be just like an indy car. We’ve got to be rolling. Adding our two transfer guys, and our young guys coming in and the versatility and the repetitions we got with returning guys. We’re excited to get going with camp.”

More stories:

Cal Fall Camp Preview: Running Backs

Cindric Weighs in on OL Depth, Leadership Role This Season

Discussion from...

Cal Fall Camp Preview: Offensive Line

1,605 Views | 6 Replies | Last: 7 days ago by Rushinbear
MoragaBear
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This one was a beast to write and took forever but didn't want to leave any good stuff out, especially with how critical the OL's success is to the team's success.

I'm expecting at least fairly good play out of this group and if that happens, it could be a pretty special year or at least quite a bit better than we've seen recently.
eastcoastcal
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MoragaBear said:

This one was a beast to write and took forever but didn't want to leave any good stuff out, especially with how critical the OL's success is to the team's success.

I'm expecting at least fairly good play out of this group and if that happens, it could be a pretty special year or at least quite a bit better than we've seen recently.
Fantastic article, thanks so much. If I had to jot down a general trend of Angus' responses, it would be that the line had an improved spring while meeting conditioning targets and staying healthy. Let's hope they can continue that in camp and give Plummer time in the pocket this fall.
Rushinbear
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Two settled spots. The rest seems cobbled together. Why do the top teams always have 4, 5 guys who've played together for 2 years? We know the answer to that one.

Hope springs eternal. It's going to help that we've got more athletic guys than before. At least, it sounds like we've got more guys playing in their natural spots, except Ben, who seems to be able to play anywhere. And, a couple of guys with big wheelhouses.
heartofthebear
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Rushinbear said:

Two settled spots. The rest seems cobbled together. Why do the top teams always have 4, 5 guys who've played together for 2 years? We know the answer to that one.

Hope springs eternal. It's going to help that we've got more athletic guys than before. At least, it sounds like we've got more guys playing in their natural spots, except Ben, who seems to be able to play anywhere. And, a couple of guys with big wheelhouses.
I believe Johnson and Swinney were both recruited as OTs and have the taller OT body type. They are slated at OG, which is strange to me because I think Driscoll and Lovell are set there. I guess they provide depth but Jemtegaard. Moroney, Harris and Aguilar are OG types, although somewhat under-weight.
bledblue
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MoragaBear said:

This one was a beast to write and took forever but didn't want to leave any good stuff out, especially with how critical the OL's success is to the team's success.

I'm expecting at least fairly good play out of this group and if that happens, it could be a pretty special year or at least quite a bit better than we've seen recently.
Decent play from this group will determine if we have an 8-4 type of season. Hopefully they can at least shore up the middle. Not having a true OT really can hurt them against decent teams. The ability to run the ball is always a benefit to players playing out of position.
Rushinbear
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bledblue said:

MoragaBear said:

This one was a beast to write and took forever but didn't want to leave any good stuff out, especially with how critical the OL's success is to the team's success.

I'm expecting at least fairly good play out of this group and if that happens, it could be a pretty special year or at least quite a bit better than we've seen recently.
Decent play from this group will determine if we have an 8-4 type of season. Hopefully they can at least shore up the middle. Not having a true OT really can hurt them against decent teams. The ability to run the ball is always a benefit to players playing out of position.
A quick read and release can slow a dl rush. Plummer.
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