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The Pac 12 Preseason Breakdown: The Offensive Line Units

June 18, 2018
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Welcome to our Pac 12 Football Previews.  We will go through each and every position unit including special teams and coaching (absent recruiting).  

This installment is the offensive line group.  Bear Insider approaches this by looking at last years performance relative to returning starters, potential honor candidates and returning depth in the two deep.  Coaching and system cohesiveness/continuity are factors as well.

Previous Previews:  Quarterbacks  /  Running Backs

1.)  Stanford:  

  • 2017 Performace:  Sacks on 4.7% of Pass Attempts;  Running Backs averaged 6.6 ypc
  • Returning Starters:  4 starters return; 2 Seniors; Junior and 2 Sophomores projected to start
  • Total Starts:  94 career starts
  • 2017 Honors for Returners:  1 1st Team All P12 and 3 HM All P12
  • Two Deeps:  7 players who have started a game; 6 non projected starters with game experience
  • Notes:  This may be the nation's best offensive line unit.  RG Nate Herbig is an All American Candidate while Sophomore LT Walker Little is already on NFL 1st round Draft Projections for 2020.  Senior Center Jesse Burket and Senior RG A.T. Hall provide experienced leadership.  Plenty of quality experienced depth sits behind the starters.  The one risk factor is the loss of Mike Bloomgren who was Stanford's OL and Running Game OC for the past five seasons.  

2.)  Washington

  • 2017 Performace:  Sacks on 5.7% of Pass Attempts;  Running Backs averaged 5.8 ypc
  • Returning Starters:  4 starters return; 3 Seniors, a Junior and a Sophomore are projected to start
  • Total Starts:  97 career starts
  • 2017 Honors for Returners:  1 1st Team All P12 and 1 HM All P12; 2016 2nd Team AA that was out with injury for much of 2017
  • Two Deeps:  3 players beyond projected starters have seen game experience
  • Notes:   This group mildly under performed very high expectations in 2017.  The mid season loss of AA candidate LT Trey Adams was a factor as were a smattering of other injuries along the line.  Still, the group was a near elite run blocking unit and only gave up 20 sacks.   Kaleb McGary, the senior RT was a 1st team All P12 choice in 2017, giving the Dawgs arguably the best bookend tackles in all of college football.  Junior Nick Harris will call the signals at Center after an HM All Pac 12 season.  The one challenge is limited experienced depth.  Scott Huff returns for his 2nd season leading the OL after a strong tenure at Boise State.

3.)  USC

  • 2017 Performace:  Sacks on 6.1% of Pass Attempts;  Running Backs averaged 5.7 ypc
  • Returning Starters:  4 starters return; 3 Seniors and 2 Sophomores projected to start
  • Total Starts:  79 career starts
  • 2017 Honors for Returners:  1 2nd Team All P12 and 1 HM All P12
  • Two Deeps:  3 players beyond projected starters have seen game experience
  • Notes:  An experienced group that was struck hard by injuries last year and had an up and down season.  With four starters back including three seniors, this group should improve markedly.  Center Toa Lobendahn is a preseason All Pac 12 choice and fellow Senior Left Guard Chris Brown is coming off an HM season.  Neil Callaway's entering his third year leading USCs Offensive Line.  

4. tie)  Oregon

  • 2017 Performace:  Sacks on 8% of Pass Attempts;  Running Backs averaged 5.8 ypc
  • Returning Starters:  3 starters return; 4 Juniors and a Freshman are projected to start
  • Total Starts:  89 career starts
  • 2017 Honors for Returners:  2 HM All P12
  • Two Deeps:  2 players beyond projected starters have seen game experience
  • Notes:   This was a strong run blocking unit in 2017 that struggled at times in pass protection.  The loss of 1st team AP12 LT Tyrell Crosby will hurt though Junior Center and Right Guard Jake Hansen and Calvin Throckmorton respectively will help ease the loss.  Alabama grad transfer Dallas Warmack and JC recruit George Moore will help plug the gap in what's a relatively young group with limited depth.  With Mario Cristobal being elevated from OL coach to head coach and Marcus Arroyo continuing at OC, continuity will be strong with the group.

4. tie)  California

  • 2017 Performace:  Sacks on 7.4% of Pass Attempts;  Running Backs averaged 5.2 ypc
  • Returning Starters:  5 starters return, 3 Seniors and 2 Sophomores are projected to start
  • Total Starts:  76 career starts
  • 2017 Honors for Returners:  1 HM All P12
  • Two Deeps:  7 total players with starting experience, 5 players beyond projected starters have game experience
  • Notes:   Cal's front 5 in 2017 was the least experienced Power 5 offensive line in the nation.  While they struggled at times, principally in pass protection and short yardage running, they clearly exceeded expectations and finished the season strong.  Patrick Mekari and Addison Ooms are the line's senior leaders with Mekari coming off an HM AP12 season.  Ooms is expected to contend for similar honors this year.  Depth at tackle is an issue.   Offensive Line coach Steve Greatwood leads this group continuing his stellar Pac 12 Coaching Career.

6.)  Utah

  • 2017 Performace:  Sacks on 9.1% of Pass Attempts;  Running Backs averaged 5.3 ypc
  • Returning Starters:  4 starters return, 3 Seniors and 2 Juniors are projected to start
  • Total Starts:  54 career starts
  • 2017 Honors for Returners:  1 HM All Pac 12 returns
  • Two Deeps:  3 players beyond projected starters have game experience
  • Notes:  The Utes had a disappointing year up front in 2017 with their worst pass protection in a decade.  The one starter they lose will hurt as LG Salesi Uhtafe was a 2nd team All Pac 12 winner last year.   Yet they have seniors at both Center and LT in Lo Falemaka and Jackson Barton to anchor the line.   Jim Harding has been a solid OL coach at Utah for four seasons and his charges will benefit by being in their second year with OC Troy Taylor's system.

7.)  Oregon State

  • 2017 Performace:  Sacks on 5.0% of Pass Attempts;  Running Backs averaged 4.8 ypc
  • Returning Starters:  4 starters return, 2 Seniors and 3 Juniors are projected to start
  • Total Starts:  82 career starts
  • 2017 Honors for Returners:  No Honors winners return
  • Two Deeps:  2 players beyond projected starters have game experience
  • Notes:  Oregon State's OL lost the road grading prowess it had in 2016 last season though that was offset by better pass protection.  With four starters returning and an all upper classmen group projected to start, 2017 should be much improved.  Converted NT Sumner Houston was a dependable center and the Senior will be this unit's leaders.  Junior LT Blake Brandel has 24 career starts and will help anchor the front.  Depth and experience are limited so avoiding injuries will be critical.   Cal fans will be very familiar with this unit's coach as Jim Michalzik moves over from Arizona.  

8. tie)  Arizona

  • 2017 Performace:  Sacks on 6.4% of Pass Attempts;  Running Backs averaged 5.2 ypc
  • Returning Starters:  2 starters return, 1 Senior, 1 Junior and 2 Sophomores are projected to start
  • Total Starts:  66 career starts
  • 2017 Honors for Returners:  1 HM All P12
  • Two Deeps:  3 players beyond projected starters have game experience
  • Notes:  This units numbers in 2017 were better than they look as Khalil Tate averaged 9.2 ypc running while also running into easy sacks.  They lose three starters including an honors winner.  Nate Eldridge is a standout Junior Center after an HM All P12 campaign and Layth Friekh brings 25 career starts to LT.   Joe Gilbert steps in as the OL coach after spending the last six years in the NFL.  Brand new system for the players and the OL coach will add risk.

8 tie.)  Arizona State

  • 2017 Performace:  Sacks on 9.9% of Pass Attempts;  Running Backs averaged 4.8 ypc
  • Returning Starters:  3 starters return, 2 Seniors, 2 Juniors and a Sophomore are projected to start
  • Total Starts:  81 career starts
  • 2017 Honors for Returners:  None
  • Two Deeps:  3 players beyond projected starters have game experience
  • Notes:  The Sun Devils got flat out awful Offensive Line Production in 2017.   This year they return three starters and insert two grad transfers with LT Casey Tucker coming over from Stanford where he started 21 games and LG Roy Helmsley, who comes from USC after appearing in 16 games.   Dave Christensen will coach the OL after a stint as Wyoming's HC.  He previously had coached the OL at Texas A&M and Utah with mixed results.  

10.)  Washington State

  • 2017 Performace:  Sacks on 6.2% of Pass Attempts;  Running Backs averaged 5.1 ypc
  • Returning Starters:  2 starters return, 1 Senior, 2 Juniors, 1 Sophomore and 1 Freshman are projected to start
  • Total Starts:  41 career starts
  • 2017 Honors for Returners:  1 HM All Pac 12 honor winner returns
  • Two Deeps:  2 players beyond projected starters have game experience
  • Notes:  WSUs front five had a huge resurgence in 2016 before posting a solid but slightly disappointing performance in 2017.  They lose 2x AA tackle Cody O'Connell and 1st team All Pac 12 RT Cole Madison and return only two starters.   They are counting heavily on two Juco recruits and the leadership of LT Andre Dillard who earned HM All Pac 12 honors in 2017.  Depth and experience are real concerns.   Mason Miller will be in his first year as the OL coach, the Air Raid expert has but one season of D1 coaching experience.   

11.)  UCLA

  • 2017 Performace:  Sacks on 5.4% of Pass Attempts;  Running Backs averaged 4.6 ypc
  • Returning Starters:  2 starters return,1 Senior, 3 Juniors and a Sophomore are projected to start
  • Total Starts:  53 career starts
  • 2017 Honors for Returners:  None
  • Two Deeps:  1 player beyond projected starters has game experience
  • Notes:  Given Chip Kelly's success with his offensive line, it's tempting to project the Bruins to be strong in 2017.  However, this is thinnest OL in the Pac 12 and one that after a mediocre performance loses two HM All Pac 12 and one 2nd team All Pac 12 performer.  DT Boss Tagaloa was moved over from the DL in the Spring and is projected to start at Center.  Hank Fraley was retained as the OL coach by Chip Kelly after his inaugural season in 2017

12.) Colorado

  • 2017 Performace:  Sacks on 9.5% of Pass Attempts;  Running Backs averaged 4.8 ypc
  • Returning Starters:  2 starters return, 1 Senior, 3 Juniors and 1 Freshman are projected to start
  • Total Starts:  45 career starts
  • 2017 Honors for Returners:  None
  • Two Deeps:  2 players beyond projected starters have game experience
  • Notes:   Two Juniors, Aaron Haigler and Tim Lynott will be asked to lead a rebuilt Buffaloes Offensive Line in 2018.  The 2017 group was solid in supporting the run game and absymal in protecting their QB and now faces the task of replacing 3 starters (4 if you count their RT who went down half way into the 2017 season).   Very little experience returns though there are plenty of bodies to compete for playing time.   Klayton Adams returns to coaching the OL for the third year after two mediocre first two campaigns.  This position is a major question mark for Colorado.
Discussion from...

The Pac 12 Preseason Breakdown: The Offensive Line Units

GivemTheAxe
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It is very encouraging to see Cal's Oline projected at tied for 4th.

First of all because last year JW and crew tended to exceed expectations. They seemed to get their players to overperfom. That bodes well.

Second because the Oline usually is the driver of a college football team's success. The Oline can make a good QB look like a great QB and vice versa. We will need a strong Oline this year while we sort out who is to be Cal's QB.

Third I expect that JW will put together a strong Defense. So it is imperative that we counterbalance a strong defense with a strong offense. For too many years (even before Sonny) Cal has been too one-sided.

Fourth last year it was maddening that Cal could not score on short yardage plays and had to settle for FGs when the other team was scoring TDs.

Finally I have really hated the fact that Cal's Oline could not match up with Stanfurd's Oline. That put Cal at a definite disadvantage at the Big Game. Sure Cal at #4 is not equal to Stanfurd at #1; but it's a whole lot better than Cal at #10 or #12.
Things are really looking up for Cal. (At least as seen through my blue and gold colored glasses)
Big C
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Yes, "tied for 4th" is encouraging. I'm wondering, though, if it might not be a bit optimistic. This is one of those areas where I'd love to be wrong, of course...

Anybody else want to make a case for us being ranked this highly?
GivemTheAxe
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Big C said:

Yes, "tied for 4th" is encouraging. I'm wondering, though, if it might not be a bit optimistic. This is one of those areas where I'd love to be wrong, of course...

Anybody else want to make a case for us being ranked this highly?

Ranking could be attributable to the fact that Cal has the largest number of returning starters (5).
We are tied with UO which has only 3 retuning starters. So I gues the party doing the ranking feel that the UO's non-starters are better than Cal's non-starters. So much so that they make up the difference between Cal's 5 and UO's 3.
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