Cal football practice notes: Offensive line is mostly set

One of the biggest regrets for this semi-lost 2020 season for Cal is the immense amount of talent the Bears will enjoy up front on the offensive line. New offensive line coach Angus McClure will have a host of options to tinker with as he works on bolstering this unit on the recruiting side.

Cal puts out three solid seniors in Michael Saffell, Jake Curhan, and Valentino Daltoso, along with rising talents in Will Craig, McKade Mettauer, and Matthew Cindric. These six Golden Bears are expected to hold up the majority of snaps in 2020, but expect a ton of competition for second-string time as Cal has to ready for the transition into 2021.

Left guard: The biggest battle appears to be between Valentino Daltoso and Matthew Cindric. Daltoso has the most experience on the team, but Cal seems to favor his super-subbing ability—he can almost certainly come in on a pinch and play at any guard or tackle spot. The problem for him in trying to get that starting guard spot is Cindric is pretty locked in, starting all 13 games last season and 11 at left guard. It might take a bit to dislodge him.

Every other position is pretty stable.

Left tackle: No surprise to anyone, Will Craig has locked this spot up. Craig’s injury threw a wrench into the hopes of Cal taking drastic leaps, as Cal surrendered 47 sacks, a mark that placed the Bears at 125th out of 130 schools in FBS. Daltoso slid over to try and mitigate our issues, but the Bears offense hit neutral in large part due to rough pass protection.

Craig’s foot injury took away his 2019 season, but he’s returned as strong as ever. McClure had nothing but high praise: “I think he’s got extremely good feet, he’s got good awareness, he’s got natural hip bend, which helps for pass protection. He has the ability to run, so as an overall athlete, Will is excellent.”

Center: Things are pretty stable here, as Michael Saffell is locked in to start here for the second year in a row here. Saffell knows the offense will be asked to carry a bigger load this season.

“We’ve been working our tail off for four years, trying to be that unit. We are experienced as ever. We need to stay healthy as a team — I need to stay healthy. I think our strength staff has done a great job of putting us in position to do that.”

Right guard, right tackle: Both McKade Mettauer (RG) and Jake Curhan (RT) are locked in their positions. McClure was complimentary of Mettauer’s ability to come in as a freshman and dominate that position:

“[McKade] plays with a lot of aggressive attitude, which fits my style…Say we’re on a 10, 12, 13 play drive and we need that energy to get into the end zone, I think a lot of that would come from McKade.”

Who comes next?

With not much movement happening up front, the biggest questions settle in on who will end up on the final two-deep (although it’s quite likely we should be prepared for a bunch of “OR” on that chart).

Gentle Williams would likely be next up, but he hasn’t quite yet recovered from an injury. I would not be surprised if he petitions for an extra year of eligibility, as he had been the projected starter at guard in 2019.

Brayden Rhome saw brief action last year during leaner times, but did redshirt. The redshirt freshman is a likely two-deep member as the second backup tackle.

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Ben Coleman has transitioned over to the offensive line. McClure was quick to praise the redshirt freshman’s technique, particularly his stance and agility.

Brian Driscoll appears to be slated as the backup center, and the redshirt freshman seems to be improving at identifying defensive fronts and blocking schemes.

However, you’d probably expect Daltoso to be the immediate replacement offensive lineman in case of injury and some line reshuffling, with Rhome/Coleman/Driscoll only coming in if further attrition occurs.

PJ Poutasi seems to have made strides this season. McClure complimented his framework and offseason improvement. Erik Nisich received praise as well, and even was complimented for his ability to flex out as a potential fullback in power situations.

Here are the full video interviews with McClure: