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2022 Cal Football Positional Preview: Offensive Line
Out of the trenches, the Offensive Line rises
Offensive lines are the unsung heroes of football. Talents at the level of Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow falter when the OL fails to pass protect. Runners such as Gale Sayers wither when the OL fails to give an RB any inch of daylight. I cannot emphasize how essential for any football team and scheme the OL is, from the triple option to the air raid teams live and die by their performance.
All this to add to the worry of Cal fans in 2022 wherein there are only 2 returning starters with only one of them keeping their original 2021 positions. The relative lack of experience was mitigated with 2 transfers of TJ Session and Spencer Lovell, however, the experience of playing together is lacking.
Notes on 2021-22 Turnover
For accounting purposes, per PFF, we had a grand total of 4075 snaps on the OL in the 2021 season. Out of those snaps we are returning only 2039 (50%) snaps across 6 players (Cindric, Coleman, Rohme, Driscoll, Johnson, and Swinney) with the departures of Daltoso (NFL), Mettauer (transfer to Oklahoma), and Craig (medical retirement).
Note: This does not account for the fact that Coleman is moving to LT out of LG position, which only has Cindric returning on the roster in his main position. Do note that the center is one of the most important positions in any offense, especially one that is breaking in a new QB in a QB-centric system.
2022 Incoming Talent
All of these guys are coming into a team that has 3 open spots on the 1st string OL with a chance for Lovell and Session to slide into the right side of the line in their natural positions from their previous teams. It is quintessential for the OL Coach McClure to figure out the first string OL to have them work and gell together.
Analyst hat off:
BUY VATIKANI STOCKS NOW, MEN THIS BIG SHOULD NOT MOVE THAT FAST. JUST READ WHAT TD HAS TO SAY
Sioape Vatiakni is a big, nasty offensive lineman who looks to have a good basis for his foundation as he enters a Golden Bear. Among several things he does well is that he uses his power to straight up dominate opponents while also doing proper handoffs and disengagement techniques to quell and balance the power within the context of the game.
Not going to lie, there isn’t anything that jumps off the screen as needing improvement for Vatikani. He’s the most exciting offensive lineman prospect I’ve seen in such a long time, and frankly I can’t wait until he steps on to campus. He doesn’t seem like a penalty machine which is also a good thing and I think he will put his football IQ to good use once he steps on campus. I think Vatikani’s future is in the interior line, as with that IQ, he can do wonders like a Atonio Mafi of UCLA could. I don’t see much of any issues other than the competition his school played, but other than that I love what we have here. He looks ready for the big stage and looks to be the type of offensive lineman that Stanford wish they could have for their power scheme.
Analyst hat on.
Currently, my personal depth chart projection for the unit in week is:
LT: Coleman, Johnson
LG: Driscoll, Vatikani
C: Cindric, Driscoll or Jemtegaard
RG: Lovell, Aguilar
RT: Session or Rohme
This is an experienced OL unit that hasn’t had a lot of experience playing together. There is a school of offense where one argues that in the case of an OL that hasn’t had time to play together gap scheme runs are preferable since zone runs require the OL to perform in tandem more often (one reason why Mike Shannahan’s OLs had to commit to running only wide zone runs in order to really drill the timing and understanding of what each OL does facing different defensive fronts).
I can see that the run game could hit the ground running considering the overall improvement in the athletic aspect of the OL. There is a worry with the left side of the OL, there is a question on whether Coleman’s move to LT will be fortuitous or not since he was our best run-blocking OL out of his LG spot. And whether having Coleman at LT and Driscoll at LG is better than having Johnson at LT and Coleman at LG. I want to say the former is in the way of having the best 5 OL on the field. As mentioned before I do think Vatikani will be pushing for the starting spot at LG due to how physically he plays the position. It is my bias to have a violent “ass-hole” OL that just makes the opposing front 7 miserable.
Another worry is how well the new additions to the OL will adapt to the new pass-protection verbiage/cadence of the snap between a new QB and Center. Again, I have to hammer at the point that it is imperative for the coaching staff to assemble the OL early to give them time to adapt to one another. I would expect to see a handful of OL penalties early in the season, especially @ ND.