The Takeaway: Offensive Line

Offensive line will have to play better for Golden Bears to return to Pac-12's elite.

Spring practice has come and gone, but in the fourth part of this series, Cal Sports Digest looks at the top three storylines at a given position. Today, the offensive line.

The front five will decide how far California goes in 2012
The Takeaway: The quarterback gets too much of the blame and too much of the credit, so inevitably Zach Maynard will be tagged as the man that will make or break the Bears' season. Consider, however, that in the Holiday Bowl against Texas, he was forced to try and convert third downs of nine, 19, 20, eight, 11, 10, 19, 11, 27, 18 and 11, leading to an interception, strip sack and lost fumble, and another sack.

Maynard isn't good enough to carry a team through those situations; heck, Joe Montana in his prime with the 49ers' remarkable supporting cast wouldn't. The challenge will be squarely on the offensive line to keep Cal out of those third and longs and just play better against the top teams on the schedule.

The Bears were abused by the Longhorns, USC, Oregon and even UCLA's talented but underachieving defensive line, which cannot happen again given the formula for success they will need to rely on offensively. The running backs will be stellar, the wide receivers outside of the magnificent Keenan Allen slowly but steadily brought along. Run the ball, use play action, and let the defense go to work.

That requires the line step up to the challenge. They have to play better. Coaches have already thrown down the gauntlet by moving incumbent center Dominic Galas to guard – though Galas was sidelined by a shoulder injury this spring – along with subtler hints.

There was slow but steady progress throughout practice, but not nearly at a fast enough rate to put Cal back among the conference's elite. The challenge this fall will be accelerating that development to build those sorts of road graters.

Practice will be harder than games up front
The Takeaway: Not to steal too much of what will be coming about the stellar defensive line group assembled by the now black-hatted Tosh Lupoi and developed by new assistant coach Todd Howard, but they could and should be special. I mean, ‘among the best position groups in the Pac-12' special, with USC's wide receivers and Oregon's running backs.

The offensive line will be challenged everyday by this gifted group. Every rep will be a clash of the titans.

That's how teams become exceptional. I saw it first-hand during the best of Pete Carroll's Trojans, where every practice was an absolute war. The same philosophy is now employed in Eugene, where Chip Kelly has won three straight conference titles.

You make the three or four or four practices during the week so taxing, so invigorating that the game becomes easy. For the offensive line, outside of perhaps Utah and its star defensive tackle Star Lotulelei who the draftnicks are only now discovering (try watching a game west of the Rockies, lads), that's what life will be like for the O-line.

They won't see a defensive line as talented and deep as Cal's. They must embrace that opportunity and use every session to grow.

The family affair on offense continues
The Takeaway: Who do you have to know to start for the Bears this season? Easy.

Either be related to Maynard, as his half-brother Allen and cousin Maurice Harris will be the primary pass-catchers entering the season, or a Rigsbee. Tyler Rigsbee will be at left tackle, younger brother Jordan at left guard.

Five of the 11 starters from two family trees? I can't ever recall a similar situation.

Maybe Ancestry.com can come through with a one-year sponsorship of the newly renovated Memorial Stadium.

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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