- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
"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."