So I asked Jim Michalczik, still offensive line coach but now also the offensive coordinator, if he was going to make big changes with his new role, such as scrapping this Tedford offense. “We’re going to run the wishbone,” Coach M. said with a laugh.
No, Michalczik isn’t planning any sweeping changes, except for maybe his own unit. Talking about spring ball, Michalczik said he will take a look at center Alex Mack at tackle.
Taking a guy who projects to be one of the top centers in the country and switching positions is pretty bold stuff. But the thought of such a move has more to do with Cal’s overall situation on the offensive line.
Mike Gibson, who became of the top right tackles in the Pac-10 in only a half season of play, is going to miss spring ball following shoulder surgery. It was a pre-existing condition he had in junior college, so imagine what he will be like completely healthy
Mack and Gibson are kind of the sure things on a line that has experienced guys, but also guys who have a lot to prove. Are Brian De La Puente and Noris Malele ready to take that step forward to be difference makers instead of just guys? Is Mike Tepper ready to play up to his tremendous physical potential? Is Chris Guarnero ready to handle Pac-10 competition at center? Is Kevin Bemoll ready to put his tremendous strength to good use?
Michalczik will have to examine all those issues and then piece together a lineup. He also emphasizes that just getting Mack ready to play tackle, even if he ends up at center, is great insurance in case of injuries down the road. You don’t want a guy learning on the job in the middle of a Pac-10 season.
No matter where Mack ends up, he will make a difference. “He’s a pretty darned good player,” Michalczik said. “Of course, he needs to work on being a better player. He really is just a one-year player and he can improve on his pass blocking. He also goes too far at times with those first steps when he tries to get a linebacker.”
Mack quickly has developed into a team leader. “He is a little quiet,” Coach M. said. “But he has done a great job in the off-season on conditioning. He is an amazing worker. Playing in high school, he played harder snap to whistle than any kid I’d ever seen. He is a grinder. He’s the guy who you want to have shoveling dirt in your back yard, because you know the work is going to get done.”
Michalczik said Gibson is still raw and he feels bad that he won’t have the spring to season him. However, health is more important. “We plan on flipping him to the left side to take a look,” Michalczik said. “He has such great feet. You see him move and think, ‘geez.”
Malele will miss the spring following ankle surgery. His ankle bothered him all last season and Michalczik thinks that might have been what held him back from being an impact player. “I would like to see him get more powerful,” Coach M. said. “He gets the job done, but I want to see more snap.”
De La Puente was in somewhat the same boat, hindered by injuries. He has been hindered by a broken foot but he is healthy now. “I am looking forward to him showing he can be the guy,” Michalczik said. “He’s got good power and he can knock guys out of there.”
Tepper showed well in his few opportunities but Michalczik said he needs to think about dominating instead of not messing up. “There is room for improvement, but he is moving great,” Michalczik said. “He still is in the growing process.”
Chet Teofilo remains a guy who needs to get lots of snaps in practice to speed his transition from being a defensive lineman. “His growth in some ways has been slow,” Michalczik said. “But he has the physical tools. He just can’t get frustrated.”
Matt Laird dealt with a shoulder injury last season and Michalczik just would like to see him add weight to his 6-foot-7, 290-pound frame. “He had better be eating right now,” Coach M. said.
Justin Pruitt is a red-shirt freshman who has got a lot to learn but is moving forward.
The development of Guarnero and Mark Gray at center has Michalczik thinking about moving Mack. Michalczik said that it took Gray last season to get over some of the habits he picked up in JC ball. He calls Gray an overachiever.
Guarnero is starting to come into his own. “I think he has a great future in front of him,” said Michalczik, who seldom speaks in grand terms. “He is a bright, hard-working kid. He has got a toughness to him.”
Bemoll made significant strides last season in terms of technique. “Power wise, he has natural strength equal to Ryan O’Callaghan. He is capable of that kind of thing. But he has to pay attention to detail. He has to turn that corner.”
Mark Boskovich is a walk-on sophomore who has a chance at earning some time according to Michalczik.