Cal offensive and defensive linemen go one-on-one in the board drill

BERKELEY -- We get in the middle of Cal's board drills between the offensive and defensive lines, and talk with offensive line coach Brandon Jones, one-on-one, who has a new name pencilled into his starting lineup for next season.

We caught up with California offensive line coach Brandon Jones after practice on Monday to get a state of the Bears' offensive front.

It looks like you have about 8-9 guys rotating through, but only two (Aaron Cochran and Chris Borrayo, the latter of whom has not seen any contact this spring, but has worked in offense-only drills) consistently at the same position. 

"We're just trying to solidify some depth. I know I've got a pretty good idea of what a lot of guys can play. A guy like Chris Palmer, he obviously doesn't need to move. A guy like Dwayne [Wallace] doesn't need to move, but [Patrick] Mekari, he's probably our most valuable lineman, because he can play anywhere. He's probably our top backup. We're just trying to figure out a role for him. We're trying to find the best five. I think just have some competition, because kids seem to get complacent, so there's no designated starters."

Is it tough when you have a guy like Mekari, who could probably be one of those top five, but he's good at all three spots -- center, guard and tackle -- that you need him to be the No. 6 guy?

"I think, with him, he's extremely valuable. Physically, he might be a little bit away, but I know he can get it done. He played a few snaps last year, as a true freshman, so I know he can do it. It's just a matter of just making sure that he's confident, going in."

How much of an improvement did you see from when you stopped doing the vertical pass set? We've quantified it (Cal allowed just seven sacks over the final six games, after giving up 20 over the previous seven, and allowed 20 tackles for loss over the final six games, compared to the 47 they gave up in the first seven games of the season), but how do you evaluate it, qualitatively?

"It's so much more conventional. I had done it before, at East Carolina, my first year, and you get away from it. It's all about the kids and being successful. That didn't work for us in college, because we threw the ball 90 times a game. With us being so multiple and doing so much pops and play-action and stuff, it just fits what's better. We're not a five-step drop or three-step drop, 60 times a game team. That helped. It'll be interesting to see us in some twist situations and some third-and-longs, but it's worked fine, so far."

Are you anxious to see what it looks like over a full season?

"Yeah, I am. I feel you'll see a ton of it. It's just because you're firmer. It's a lot cleaner pocket. The quarterback can work in there, and things like that. It should be pretty beneficial."

Three different players worked at center -- Dominic Granado, Mekari and Addison Ooms -- how soon do you want to get that sorted out, given that you're trying to get a new quarterback sorted out, too, and you want to get them on the same page?

"It's not that pressing, right now, for me, because you can never have enough centers. I've gotten burned on that in the past, with kids getting hurt, or kids become ineligible, so it's just like having people who can play multiple positions -- it only helps you in the long run."

You don't have him yet, but Jeremiah Stuckey can play multiple positions, also.

"Ultimately, he's probably -- not probably, for sure -- he's going to start. I keep saying 'probably,' but I'd be shocked if he's not starting. He knows the system, and all that stuff, and being able to get around him, he's been pretty impressive so far. I'm all about just playing the best five."

Where would he start? Center? Guard?

"Probably center. I wouldn't say Dom was bad last year, because he was obviously a first-year starter. Just trying to solidify the interior. We played three-down teams, I felt that was a weakness, so that's obviously something we need to address. That's probably why we've repped all three of them [at center], thus far, just trying to find the best fit."

Is that to find the second guy, and the third guy who can move over to guard if Stuckey does start at center?

"Absolutely. We've got a pretty good two-deep at guard. I feel pretty good about that. Once Chris [Borrayo] comes back, I think Palmer's probably had one of the best springs of any of the offensive linemen. J.D. Hinnant has gotten a ton better. It's only going to make us better. It's competitive depth. Nobody's for sure starters. Last year, Jordan [Rigsbee] was a for-sure starter. No matter how we tried to manipulate it, through all that, he was going to be a starter, because he was the best we had."

Cochran seems to be at left tackle in every alignment you've tried. It's been Cochran left tackle, and Borrayo at left guard in non-contact, and Cochran and Palmer in contact situations.

"The biggest thing with [Cochran] is the continuity. They did some good stuff together last year, and they just play well with each other, now. Having Palmer go through spring ball, him and Aaron are developing the same relationship, so it won't be just a disaster if Palmer has to play."

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