Offensive Line Looks To Build Consistency

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The scene is all too familiar for fans of the Cal football team. It's third-and-four, late in the game, and the Bears are threatening in enemy territory.

The huddle breaks and players take their positions, but just before the ball is snapped, there's movement on the offensive line.

"False start," the referee crows, and four yards becomes nine. Another penalty later, it's third-and-long, and Nick Harris begins warming up.

As synonymous as the Cal quarterbacks and receivers were with the word inconsistency last year, the Bears' young offensive line was no better.

With senior John Romero in and out of the lineup and starters Langston Walker and Brandon Ludwig in just their second seasons, the line struggled throughout the year to steady the offense - without shooting themselves in the foot.

Now one strong spring practice and grueling fall camp later, Ludwig, Walker and the rest of the Bears are hoping that an added year of experience will go a long way toward establishing consistency and cutting down on penalties.

"The coaches are stressing more discipline and accountability for ourselves," said Walker. "It's not just that you jumped offside, but that the whole offense has to move back five yards."

Walker, in particular, was often caught moving before the snap. But head coach Tom Holmoe believes the offseason work has reduced much of the movement.

"He might be heavier and slower than last year, but he's a lot more confident," Holmoe said. "As a freshman, his eyes were as big as saucers. Now (he's) experienced and knows the offense."

Walker and Ludwig are both entering their third year in the starting lineup. At left tackle and guard, respectively, the juniors feel they have the experience necessary to form a solid tandem on the left side of the line.

"Brandon and I have played alongside each other for the last three years," Walker said. "I know what he can do and can't do - what he's thinking. That's the same way with me."

While the left side of the line seems set, at least three players have seen action at center in the past week.

Fifth-year senior Reed Diehl is the starter at the position because of his leadership skills and familiarity with the system. Diehl has played four different positions (center, tight end, guard, tackle) in his four years with the team.

But Diehl has not practiced since the middle of fall camp in Turlock because of a sore knee and hand, and will not participate in contact drills until next Tuesday. In the meantime, redshirt freshman Nolan Bluntzer and true freshman Marvin Philip have split the reps at center.

"On an offensive line, everything starts in the center and works its way out," Diehl said. "(Offensive line coach Ed White) needed someone to step in, and (the freshmen) have all the aspects mentally and physically (for it)."

While Diehl expects to be back on the practice field next week, the same can't be said for a number of people the Bears were hoping to anchor the right side of the line.

Right guard Scott Tercero won a starting job last season as a true freshman, but has yet to return to action since having knee surgery during the offseason.

Then last week, Tercero's backup, redshirt David Hays, also had his knee scoped. Hays will be out a minimum of three weeks.

With the injuries, the Bears are now counting on senior Robert Truhitte to fill in at guard, as well as take some snaps at center. Truhitte transferred to Cal two years ago from Cabrillo Junior College, but has been hampered by injuries thus far.

"We're really comfortable with Rob playing right guard," Ludwig said. "He came in as a tackle and now at guard, he's proven he can play."

Another player with proven ability is redshirt freshman Mark Wilson, who has won the starting job at right tackle. Wilson is noted for his strong pass protection and has added 35 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-6 frame.

"If four guys make the block and one guy doesn't, the play doesn't go anywhere," Diehl said. "The one thing we've built this year is trust.

"The offensive line is going to take this team where it's going to go this year. If we do well, we'll go to a bowl. If we don't play well, we'll go 4-7."

Judging by how the offense has been able to move the ball this preseason, improvement seems inevitable.

"Last year, we did good things, but all in the same, we did bad things," Walker said. "This year, we're a lot more prepared. The whole H-back system - it works. It works against our defense, which is saying a lot."


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