Nothing happens on offense without the offensive line. For the Cal Bears, they’ll be tasked with putting in a brand new offense under first year head coach Sonny Dykes without their best offensive lineman of the last several years, Brian Schwenke. With the versatile Schwenke moving on to the NFL, who will Cal find to take his place?
It will be difficult for any one man to match Schwenke’s contributions to the Bears’ program as Schwenke himself was pulling triple duty. He appeared in 48 games over his career, starting 36 of them over the last three years, and started at three different positions during that time. In 2012, Schwenke manned the center position and was first-team all-league selection and is rated by Mel Kiper Jr. as the No. 2 center in April’s NFL draft.
And if there’s any coach in college football who understands and appreciates the importance of the center, it’s Sonny Dykes. In his offense with the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Dykes put a ton of responsibility on his center’s shoulders, making him responsible for all of the line calls, but also giving him control over audibles and cadence. In essence, he was pulling pre-snap double-duty, responsible for both the typical reads of the center but also doing the quarterback’s portion as well.
That makes breaking in a new center of paramount importance in Berkeley this spring. The leading candidates to start next fall is redshirt freshman Matt Cochran or senior Mark Brazinski. Neither has very much experience, though Cochran was a highly respected recruit when he signed with Cal and has been impressive in camp so far. His high ceiling could make him the frontrunner for the job in 2013.
Brazinski, on the other hand, has a little bit of experience under his belt, but has been derailed on numerous occasions by injuries. He was penciled in as the starting left tackle last spring, but lost the job after getting hurt. He’s only appeared in four games in his career, managing just two appearances in each of the last two seasons, so his experience factor is minimal. His familiarity advantage is also likely nullified by his lack of playing time and the fact that Dykes has completely changed the offense.
Cal would have been very lucky if they could have kept Schwenke for one more year at least as they went through a massive transition from the old guard to the new. They aren’t that lucky, however, and will have to break in a new leader on the offensive line. Will it be youth or experience that wins out and will either help Cal win in 2013?