NCF Nation: Dominic Galas

Cal's Brian Schwenke has played in 26 of a possible 38 games for the Bears. He's started 24 games in his career -- all at offensive guard. He was one of the top guards in the country coming out of Oceanside High, where he helped his team to county titles and a state championship.

Not once during the hundreds of snaps and dozens of pancake blocks had he ever remotely entertained the idea of playing center.

[+] EnlargeBrian Schwenke
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireCalifornia senior Brian Schwenke is making the switch from guard to center this season.
"Until this past spring, I hadn't even really picked up a football," jokes the 6-4, 300-pound senior. "Initially, it was pretty tough. Just learning to snap and calling out the defense and having that guy closer to you than when you play guard. It's a pretty big change, but I played center all through spring ball and now I'm completely comfortable. It's like I've been playing center for three years. There is a learning curve, but once I got a grasp on it, it was pretty easy to get better after you get over that first little hump."

The switch to center should be helpful to a Bears' offensive line that recently lost a lot of experience. Schwenke, tackle Matt Summers-Gavin and Dominic Galas were supposed to make up an impenetrable right side. But Galas will miss up to three months after tearing a pectoral muscle in offseason training -- meaning Schwenke and Summers-Gavin are the veterans of the group.

"It sucks losing Dom," Schwenke said. "He's a really good player. On the other hand the younger guys have to step up and I'm not worried. We had a good spring. Everyone is ready to play. Multiple guys could step in and do well. It would be great to have Dom, but it sucks and we're bummed. We'll get through it."

Geoffrey Gibson is slated to replace Galas at right guard.

"He played there all spring," Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said of Gibson. "He's done OK. I thought he started off in spring really well. I wasn't pleased with how he ended spring. There's a big goal for him to pick up in the fall. But he has a lot of experience since he played there all spring."

Offensive linemen measure their success -- aside from wins -- by how many sacks they allow and how their running backs do. The latter was solid last season as they helped Isi Sofele to 1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns. The sacks allowed, however, was not so solid, as the Bears linemen yielded 28 sacks.

"A lot of it is most of the sacks were communication errors," Schwenke said. "Often times we were doing different things. Our protections were pretty complex. We've gone through it and simplified a lot of our offense. I don't think it's ever been an issue of talent on the offensive line. What we've done is simplify the protections and we're going to do a lot better job since we'll be all be on the same page the whole time."

And now it's Schwenke's job as center to make sure everyone is on the same page. He'll be making the protection calls -- which involves a lot more knowledge of the playbook.

"When I first started out, I really only knew what I was doing," he admitted. "I was really young and it was a lot of offense to pick up. But over the years I've learned the entire offense. I know everything I need to know to play center. Now it's up to me to communicate that to everyone."

As quarterback Zach Maynard becomes more comfortable in the offense and with the Bears switching to a two-back set with Sofele and C.J. Anderson, Tedford said finding the right combination on the offensive line will be paramount.

"It's going to be key that we find the eight or nine guys that can move to different positions and interchange," Tedford said. "And with Dom being out now, some of the other guys are going to have to step up. The offensive line will definitely been a focal point in fall camp."

Who has brains coming back?

April, 3, 2012
Recognition is so important for an offense. Think Andrew Luck -- or Peyton Manning -- wildly gesticulating at the line of scrimmage.

Or, for that matter, Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas doing the same thing.

That was something that stuck with me after I chatted with Oregon sophomore center Hroniss Grasu a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about how he improved at making line calls during the 2011 season, but he went out of his way to note how good Thomas was at helping out, at identifying last-second changes a defense made that perhaps hinted at its ill intentions.

The point: Centers and quarterbacks are the brains of an offense. The center typically makes the calls at the line of scrimmage that make sure everyone is accounted for. And quarterbacks communicate to both the skill players and the line about check and audibles.

The QB and center work in tandem. They need to be in sync. And having smart, experienced signal-callers and centers is a big deal for an offense. It means an offense can go to the line with more options, and it can check into the right option more often than not. That breeds confidence, both among players and with their coaches.

So which Pac-12 teams are experienced at QB and center? Who has both back, one back or neither?

Thanks for asking.

Arizona: Center
: While Nick Foles was the Wildcats' quarterback last year, Matt Scott has started five games, so the offense is not in inexperienced hands. Senior center Kyle Quinn did a solid job in 2011, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. On the downside, the Wildcats are installing a new offense with coach Rich Rodriguez, so past experience isn't as helpful.

Arizona State: Neither
QB Brock Osweiler is gone as is center Garth Gerhart. Kody Koebensky likely takes over at center, while the quarterback competition continues to be wide-open. Of course, the Sun Devils are installing a new offense under new coach Todd Graham, so being green isn't as much of an issue.

California: Both
: QB Zach Maynard should be much more in control as a second-year starter. While center Dominic Galas is back, he's sitting out spring due to a shoulder injury, and it appears he will switch over to guard. Galas, some of you Bears fans might recall, did have some issues with shotgun snaps last year. Chris Adcock or Mark Brazinski could end up winning the job.

Colorado: Center
: Tyler Hansen is almost certainly going to be replaced at quarterback by Texas transfer Connor Wood, a sophomore with no game experience. It should help Wood, however, to have junior Gus Handler back making the line calls. Daniel Munyer, who's slated to start at guard, also has starting experience at center.

Oregon: Center
Skinny: Center
Grasu's first start as a redshirt freshman was against LSU's beastly defensive front. That was a baptism by fire, but he consistently improved throughout the season. QB Bryan Bennett has some experience, including one start, but he will be challenged this spring by redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

Oregon State: QB
: Sean Mannion is back at QB, but center Grant Johnson is gone. The frontrunner to win that job is sophomore Roman Sapolu. The Beavers have injury issues on the line this spring, and that likely will slow down the unit's -- and Sapolu's -- development.

Stanford: Center
: You might have heard that Andrew Luck is gone. Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes look like the favorites to replace him, but neither has significant experience. Senior Sam Schwartzstein did a fine job stepping into Chase Beeler's shoes in 2011, but life was, naturally, easier with Luck at QB. More will fall on Schwartzstein in 2012.

: The Bruins have two quarterbacks with significant starting experience back: Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. But redshirt freshman Brett Hundley might end up winning the job. All three are learning a new offense this spring under new coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Sophomore Jacob Brendel -- or perhaps junior Greg Capella, who mostly started at guard last year -- are the frontrunners to replace Kai Maiava at center.

USC: Both
: You've maybe heard of Trojans QB Matt Barkley and his receivers, Robert Woods/Marqise Lee, being the best pass-catch trio in the nation. Well, Barkley and senior center Khaled Holmes are the perhaps the best QB-center combination in the nation. Holmes was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2011, and he's probably the best center in the conference.

Utah: Both
: Junior Jordan Wynn, a three-year starter, only needs to stay healthy for the Utes to get at least solid QB play. Center Tevita Stevens is solid, but he will be breaking in a pair of new OTs.

Washington: Both
: Junior QB Keith Price was a revelation last year as a first-year starter, far eclipsing the production of his celebrated predecessor, Jake Locker. Senior center Drew Schaefer is a 30-game starter. So this is a strong combo for the Huskies.

Washington State: Both
: Jeff Tuel feels like a decided frontrunner to retain his starting job at QB, while junior Matt Goetz returns at center. A junior-college transfer in 2011, he started the final nine games of 2011. A year of seasoning -- and in the weight room -- should help Goetz in 2012.