Since the end of his season in a 39-35 CIF Regional loss to San Clemente, California center commit Michael Saffell has been fawned over by more observers than just about anyone else in the Bears' 2017 class. Remember: He's a center. Offensive linemen are notoriously difficult to project, and their work often slides under the radar because of the chaos in the trenches. The fact that Saffell has been more than noticeable; he's been notable.
Dan Albano of the Orange County Register -- one of the Register's two longstanding high school football gurus, along with Steve Fryer -- gushed about Saffell during the San Clemente game.
Before that, it was the Los Angeles Times' Eric Sondheimer:
Danville (Calif.) Monte Vista head coach Chris Babcock -- who has never faced Saffell -- was studying tape of that San Clemente game in advance of calling the CIF bowl games this Saturday, and, unsolicited, sent the following text: "The center from Edison committed to Cal is a beast."
Babcock -- who has 20 years as a head coach under his belt -- went on to say that Saffell is "an anchor on the offensive line. Strong with setting his hands on blocks. A good get for Cal."
So, with that, we take a closer look at Saffell in his final senior tape. The old adage in football goes that the linemen are the smartest men on the field, and it can't go without mentioning that Saffell has a 4.3 GPA. That intelligence allows him the mental flexibility to excel in pass protection and run blocking, man and zone schemes, and both pro-style sets and spread. It's really in run blocking that he excels, with quick explosion off the ball, getting up into his defender and keeping leverage (4:59).
In the very first clip, Saffell picks up two blow-up blocks, both at the point of attack, and down field, as he runs to keep place with the play. We see zone blocking concepts early on, with his second clip, and he has his head on a swivel, keeping both pace with the play, and awareness of his surroundings as he gets to the second level.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1736534-bearterritory-gift... 26 seconds in, Saffell again shows his mobility, getting down field for a block. At 39 seconds, he bullies his man and pushes a blitzing linebacker seven yards and out of bounds.
Saffell's film shows him against a variety of schemes -- odd and even fronts -- and a 1:11 we see his work against a defensive tackle coming out of the I-formation (most of what we've seen up to this point has been shotgun). Again, he holds the point of attack and drives his defender back, while staying engaged with his hands. We see this again at 5:27 against a 4-3 front and at 5:36 against Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei.
Until 1:25, though, we don't see him actually going head-up with a true nose in a 3-4 alignment (most slant to get around him or avoid direct engagement), and when it shows up at that time stamp, it's as impressive as it is violent. We see that same kind of pancake block against a nose in the very next clip.
Saffell stays over his feet, doesn't over-extend and keeps those feet moving. Much of the first 2:15 is zone blocking or straight-forward man, and at 2:18, we get a look at Saffell's ability to pull, coming out to the right to pick up a linebacker. Because of motion in the backfield on the handoff, the second level can't freely and quickly flow to the ball, which is part of the play design, but Saffell keeps on his man, again, not over-extending or trying to do too much, but rather playing assignment-sound football.
It's not an overly remarkable play, on the face of it, but at 2:36, we see a pretty clear example of what's certainly one of Saffell's trademarks: Leverage. He doesn't lose it. He sinks his hips, engages his block and uses the opposing nose tackle's bull rush momentum against him, driving him to the ground. We see that again at 5:44.
The next play that caught my eye was in a 17-9 win over local power Los Alamitos (Calif.) at 2:50. At first, Saffell allows the defensive tackle to get outside of his shoulders, but his feet and balance are so good that he's able to adjust and keep square, keeping the tackle from shooting the A gap on the zone read, and sucking up the two middle linebackers. The running back draws the defensive end, freeing up the short side for a quarterback run.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1736762-senior-film-cal-qb... At 3:02, we're more than midway through the season, and teams are starting to bring double teams at Saffell. He handles it with ease, again, thanks to quick, constantly-chopping feet, a low center of gravity, balance and strength. At 4:39, we see him block a defender down, but say upright and square down field with feet moving in pass protection.
A running theme throughout Saffell's highlights is the ability to neutralize one defender, then disengage and pick up another (4:19 and 4:50)). As fast and as strong as Saffell is, he's also explosive, as we see at 4:14, when he sends a defender flying away from the play. At 4:55 and 5:11, we see two prime examples of how well Saffell can use his hands, setting and replacing to adjust to his defender's multiple moves.
At 6:44 we see Saffell pick up a blitzing middle linebacker in pass protection, again, keeping his head on a swivel and keeping his feet moving, the exploding out of his stance to make the pancake block.
We talked earlier about Saffell's work in the spread formation, and at 6:30 is a play that is of particular interest, given Cal's downfield passing game. Saffell, instead of firing off the ball and exploding through a block and taking himself out of the play, keeps his hips sunk and his feet chattering, turning back the defensive tackle four times on a would-be 44-yard pass play (the ball was dropped).
The Bears are getting an absolute mauler in Saffell, who has sound and quick footwork, a real mean streak, plays with superior leverage, has enough athleticism to face off against defensive tackles and linebackers, enough mobility to get down field to block at the second level and the mental acumen to make calls at the line.