Post-Spring 2008 Preview: Offensive Line

2006-07 RG McDowell has moved to C.

The offensive line returns four starters from a year ago. In addition, it saw numerous freshmen contribute because of the rash of injuries to the line last year. As a result, everyone saw a lineup mix and match itself throughout the entire season.

This group, while lacking a marquee name like former Bulldog and current New England Patriot Logan Mankins, is still a solid veteran unit. Those who sat out of spring should heal and get into the rotation during summer workouts. This will be one of the deepest and talented lines Coach Pat Hill has ever assembled.

The offensive line recruits from this year may well have been the best group of linemen Hill has ever recruited. The group averages 6'3.5, 288lbs. The norm for most of the Hill coached offensive lines had smaller, lankier incoming players who were developed into solid players. Mankins came in weighing only 220lbs and Chris Denman came in at only 230lbs. This years group comes in physically ready to contribute.


The starter: Sr. Bobby Lepori (6-5, 300)

Lepori is arguably the best run blocker on the team. Although he may still need work on his pass protection, there is no denying the Bulldogs will rely on him to open up holes on his left side for their talented backs.

A walk-on transfer from Nevada, he has contributed since his freshman season, and has been a stalwart at left tackle since. Injury sidelined him during spring and much of the offseason, but he should be ready to contribute once fall session arrives, and will start at LT for the year.

The backup: So. Kenny Wiggins (6-8, 310)

Wiggins is the tallest linemen of the group. But for his height, he has an incredible sense of balance, and can get very low to keep his blocks in front of him and keep his feet moving. He is one of the more surprising linemen from the last few recent recruiting classes.

He gained over 50lbs in the course of last season while keeping his athleticism, to become one of the better linemen on the roster. There is almost no falloff from Lepori to Wiggins, and he can take over the position should there be any injury to Lepori. He is one of the more fundamentally sound pass blockers on the team.

Impact newcomer: Trevor Richter (6-5, 285)

An all league selection, Richter comes in as the projected third left tackle on the depth chart. He has amazing footwork, and is very agile for his size. He played just five games at LT as a senior. He was a dominant DT most of his high school career.

Displaying the same tenacity on offense as he did on defense, he can hold his ground on blocking schemes and keeps driving until end of whistle. He would have seen action with the second team offense had he been able to graduate early and enrolled in time for spring practice.


The starter: Sr. Cole Popovich (6-2, 300)

Popovich returns along with Lepori as the veteran leader of the group. A FWAA freshman All-American, he has a nonstop motor that aids in creating and sealing holes from his guard position for the running backs.

He is the Bulldogs' most dependable run blocker. He suffered an injury midway through last year, and Wendell sliding over from center replaced him. He sat out contact drills during spring to further heal, and will be in the starting rotation once fall camp arrives.

The backup: So. Charley Robbins (6-2, 290)

Robbins saw limited action last year as the rash of injuries forced the team to dig deep into its depth. He has been compared to Popovich, and has the motor and athletic ability to drive his blocks out of the picture. He will back up Popovich at left guard, and can start if need be.

2008 recruit: Richard Helepiko (6-2, 290)

Helepiko is quick off the line and physically ready to play. Led his team to the league championship and he was named first team all league. He is projected to play guard, and is built in the mold of Charley Robbins, aggressive and endless motor. He will add to the depth and will be ready to contribute next year after FS loses McDowell and Popovich to graduation.


The starter: Sr. Adam McDowell (6-4, 290)

McDowell took over the center spot in spring because of the lack of bodies, due to Wendell graduating and Joe Bernardi still recovering from a knee injury. McDowell was the starter at right guard last year. However, when he went down to injury, freshman Andrew Jackson filled in, and never let go of the position, even as McDowell healed.

McDowell's move to center will likely be temporary if Bernardi comes back. McDowell has the range and capability to play any position on the line, but his athleticism lends him to the guard spot the most. Initially starting out on the defensive side, he moved to offense in 2006. He is an experienced starter who brings a great motor to the run-blocking end of the offense.

The question mark: So. Joe Bernardi (6-2, 285)

Bernardi, pound for pound, is the strongest linemen on the team. If not for a veteran Wendell taking over center, Bernardi would have started last season as the frontrunner. When Cole Popovich went down to injury at LG, Wendell slid back to his original position from a couple years ago, and Bernardi started five games at center.

He was a stalwart there until he himself got hurt, and had corrective knee surgery this offseason. He looks to be back for fall camp, but he is still a question mark at this point.

When he is in, however, Bernardi has the strength to hold his blocks and push anyone out of the way from his center position. He is one of the most fundamentally sound linemen when it comes to blocks, and if he returns, he will solidify the center position, if not reclaim the starting spot.

The backup: Jr. Richard Pacheco (6-2, 300)

Pacheco has seen plenty of action on the offensive line, filling in for both guard positions and the center spot when the team faced a thin line in 2006 and 2007. He is a strong blocker, who can release downfield and run well. He is the Bulldogs' fallback option at center, but he will likely see more time at the guard spots. He gives the Bulldogs added depth in the interior.

The walk-on: So. Nick Wright (6-3, 280)

Wright will likely see most of his time on scout teams. He is the emergency center, but he has the size to come in and pull spot duty at the guard positions if need be.

Impact newcomer: Douglas Spacht (6-3, 285)

Spacht will enter the program as the #10 ranked center in the nation last year by An all-state selection and linemen-MVP of his league, he has the talent and physical preparedness to come in and contribute, if not start right away, at center.

If Bernardi does not heal quickly enough, and McDowell cannot hammer down the position, look for Spacht to be one of the many true freshmen to contribute this year.


The starter: So. Andrew Jackson (6-6, 300)

Jackson took over for McDowell when he got injured, and never relinquished the position. He is one of the Bulldogs' best young linemen, with a nasty mean streak and one of the most athletic bodies from the lineup.

Initially starting on the defensive side of the ball, he was moved to offense, and has the frame to play guard or tackle. His blocks downfield and pass protection will remind people of Logan Mankins, except from the guard spot. He has the opportunity to leave as one of the best linemen that Hill has ever had.

Backup help: McDowell

McDowell will, in all likelihood, find himself back to playing guard as the infusion of new players and returning starters come back to the center position he is filling in. He started at guard for 2006 and the start of 2007, until he was injured. Prior to that, he was one of a handful of players who were moved over from the defensive line. His best attribute to the position is his blocking ability, but is also a solid pass blocker in the middle.

Impact newcomer: Matthew Hunt (6-2, 315)

Hunt was a late pickup for the Bulldogs, but he comes in with the drive and physique ready to contribute to the offensive line. The all league, best lineman, and lineman of the year selection by the LA Times, he is light on his feet and displays the mean streak that Coach Hill covets in an offensive lineman. His commitment absorbs the blow from the offseason loss of last year's recruit Eric Sproal. Hunt has the ability to play all positions, but he will look to the guard position to fill in.


The starter: Sr. Kenny Avon (6-3, 285)

Avon comes in as a stalwart on the right tackle position. He is one of the three guys on the offensive line who were converted from the defense. He is also the Bulldogs' most athletic offensive lineman, able to run almost as fast as a Bulldog fullback can. He's a tenacious blocker from his position, challenging Lepori for the top blocker on the team, and is one of the most technically sound lineman in approaching his blocks and keeping his feet moving, his hips fluid and his body low.

The backup: So. Devan Cunningham (6-5, 340)

Cunningham was the largest incoming freshman lineman the Bulldogs have ever recruited (at 342lbs). Coach Hill has lauded him for having "magical feet" for a guy with that much size. He contributed as a true freshman spelling Avon. He will only get better with experience.

He still needs to work on his reads and getting quicker, but once he gets his hands on a defender, that defender is nullified. He should be able to work himself down to the 330lbs range, and his size allows the right side to be well protected from a pass rush.

The rest: Fr. Jory Mason (6-2, 270), RFr. Leslie Cooper (6-4, 280)

Mason comes to the Bulldogs as a grayshirt walk-on, but has the talent to contribute at center. He can provide depth at the center and guard positions as needed, but will likely redshirt and relegated to the scout team.

Cooper is coming off his redshirt year. Coach Hill has stated that Cooper "has tremendous quickness and growth potential. He can play all five offensive line positions." He looks to back up the guard positions this year, but he can come in and play significant minutes if need be. In spring drills, he showed great footwork and was able to keep most of his blocks in front of him and avoid being turned sideways.

2008 recruit: Austin Wentworth (6-5, 290)

First team all-state and Sacramento Bee all-metro, Wentworth comes in projected at tackle, but he can play guard as well. His quickness and footwork is helped by his participation in basketball as well, and like the other linemen, he is a 2-way player, having played defensive tackle. A wide frame and with major room to grow, he can provide excellent depth across the line. A redshirt year seems likely.

2008 recruit: Max Devlin (6-5, 270)

The least touted among the incoming freshmen, but perhaps the most athletic. Devlin can play any position on the line, most importantly left tackle. He played both ways at Windsor (Calif.) and even caught a touchdown pass his senior year. A redshirt year would be beneficial, setting him up to contribute as a redshirt freshman.

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