Bryson Cain had only practiced at tackle with the Arizona Wildcats before this season started, but he had no qualms when told he was moving to guard.
“It was whatever was best for the team. I just did whatever I can to help the team,” Cain said. “Whatever Coach (Joe) Gilbert thinks is right for me is right, because he is a very good coach, a very experienced man and I’m definitely going to take his advice.”
Besides, Cain, who has started all four games at right guard in 2018, is just happy to be on the field. The Temecula, California native redshirted in 2016 then missed the entire 2017 season with a nasty ankle injury.
In the final week of fall camp last August, he rolled his ankle while blocking a linebacker, which not only resulted in a broken ankle, but multiple torn ligaments as well.
“It was not a good time and I was out for about 12 weeks, so I was out for a good chunk of the season,” Cain said.
Cain was expected to be a key backup, so he said it was difficult to be a spectator.
“I was very eager to get on the field last year, and that really did take a hit on the morals, but you just have to keep working on getting stronger and better for this year and that’s pretty much the way I approached it,” he said.
Since Arizona graduated nearly its entire starting offensive line, Cain knew he had a chance to start in 2018. And while he didn’t envision playing guard, it has not been a tough position to pick up.
“It’s all very similar in my opinion,” he said.
Cain said the guards are doing a lot of pulling this year. He likes that.
“I like hitting people,” he said.
The Wildcats’ offensive line had some hiccups early in the season, particularly in the first two games, but Coach Kevin Sumlin has been encouraged by the unit’s progress the last couple weeks.
Getting veteran left tackle Layth Friekh back from a two-game suspension has helped. So has moving Cody Creason from right tackle to left guard. He was named to Pro Football Focus’ National Team of the Week, receiving stellar grades in both run blocking and pass protection.
But through all the position changes, Cain has been a consistent performer at right guard.
“Layth is a huge key of our offensive line. He’s our most experienced lineman and he definitely does a good job leading the O-line, and I have been feeling pretty good about it,” Cain said. “A lot of guys have been changing positions, but we’re all familiar with the offense and we’re all prepared to play where we need to to get the win. That’s the most important thing.”
Cain thinks the O-line’s communication and run blocking has improved the most the last two weeks.
The numbers bear that out. The Wildcats rushed for a season-high 442 yards in last Saturday’s win at Oregon State. The week before, they rushed for 268 yards against Southern Utah, which was also a season-high at the time.
“We’re getting to the point where we don’t have to make certain calls anymore because we can look up and see the defense lined up a certain way and we don’t have to make it because everyone is on the same page,” Cain said.
Arizona’s running backs have been reaping the benefits. J.J. Taylor (284 yards) and Gary Brightwell (113 yards) both had career days against the Beavers.
Taylor is the nation’s ninth-leading rusher (477).
“It’s a great feeling. It’s fun,” Cain said. “It’s a really good feeling coming off the field and looking up at the (scoreboard). In the fourth quarter we saw we had over 400 rushing yards and that felt really good as an offensive lineman, because that means ...we’re moving the ball for the running backs.”