<
>

California positions of strength, need

We continue our series looking at the positions of strength and need in the Pac-12. Next up are the California Golden Bears.

Position of strength: Offensive line

Key players: LT Aaron Cochran, LG Chris Borrayo, C Dominic Granado Jr., RT Steven Moore

How this unit is shaping up heading into 2016: Cal must absorb some staggering losses on the offensive side of the football. The obvious one is quarterback Jared Goff, who decided to forego his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL draft. Goff is considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the country, and a quick look at his college film shows why: He orchestrated a potent Bears attack with precision. Goff's receivers, by the way, are gone too, so Cal has lost its six most productive targets from 2016.

Oh, and Daniel Lasco, the team's best running back, is also gone, as is offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.

Long story short: The Bears' attack must reload everywhere -- except for the offensive line. Four of five 2015 starters return there. The only departure is right guard Jordan Rigsbee, who has exhausted his eligibility. Patrick Mekari is the leading candidate to replace him, and the rest of the starters are listed above. So it should be a relatively simple transition up front.

At least initially, the strength of Cal's offense may move from the passing game to the rushing attack. The Bears will be breaking in a new quarterback -- the favorites in that competition are Chase Forrest and Ross Bowers -- but they do have running backs with experience on the roster. The offensive line will be tasked with blocking for Tre Watson, Khalfani Muhammad and Vic Enwere, and paving the way for a ground game more consistently productive than last year's. The hogs will also need to keep Cal's new quarterback clean to prevent all hell from breaking loose early in the season.

Position of need: Defensive line

Key players: DeVante Wilson, James Looney, Tony Mekari, Cameron Saffle, Noah Westerfield

How this unit is shaping up heading into 2016: There's considerable production and depth to replace here. About half of Cal's defensive line rotation is gone. Between the departures of Kyle Kragen, Todd Barr, Jonathan Johnson, Puka Lopa and Mustafa Jalil, the Bears must replace 53 percent of their 2015 sack production. The team's pass rush improved immensely last year after an anemic 2014, and that was a huge part of Cal's defensive jump. So maintaining pressure from the front will be integral moving forward.

The Bears will rely on returners to fill at least part of the void moving forward. Wilson, Looney and Mekari are all players with considerable experience. Saffle and Westerfield have both shown promise, and they're among the players who'll have to step up to make sure Cal keeps ticking on the defensive front.