Projecting UCLA's O-Line and D-Line

We admit it's entirely premature, but UCLA now has enough young talent in the program -- and coming into the program -- to make it fun to project out to the 2011 and 2012 seasons just what the offensive lines and defensive lines might look like...

As you might have surmised by now, I think football is won on the offensive and defensive line. If you have good lines you can have average guys at your skill positions and still succeed, but not the other way around.

So, I thought I'd get everyone kind of excited in projecting UCLA's offensive lines and defensive lines for the next couple of years.

I truly think UCLA, for the first time in a very long while, is approaching the point that they're going to have considerable talent on the OL and DL, rather than the patchwork kind of stuff we've seen for probably the last 5 seasons or so. It's approaching the point that they'll have the potential to be successful for a while because the talent on the OL and DL looks very promising for the next couple of years.

2011 Offensive Line

LT: Sean Sheller (SR), Brett Downey (JR), Torian White (FR)
LG: Chris Ward (SO), Casey Griffiths (SO), Ben Wysocki (FR), FR
C: Kai Maiava (SR), Greg Capella (SO), Kody Innes (RFR), Jacob Brendel (FR)
RG: Jeff Baca (JR), Wade Yandall (RFR), Stan Hasiak (SO), FR
RT: Mike Harris (SR), Nik Abele? (SO), Darryl Jackson (FR),
Marc Mustoe (FR)

Sean Sheller getting a sixth year of eligiblity is key. If so, the 2011 OL should be a strong one. It's really amazing, too, given the fact that Sheller was on the DL scout team not too long ago and wasn't even sure if he wanted to return this season. The fact that he didn't have enough units to graduate in four years was probably the biggest contributing factor to him returning. So, in this case, being a bit behind academically was a huge boost.

Chris Ward is getting raves from the coaching staff. They love his ability, and he's already played this season in order to get him ready to step in next season. The coaches are drooling over what he'll be like when he has a year to get his body cleaned up some.

Jeff Baca will redshirt this season and then return as a junior in 2011. We're speculating that the coaches will install Ward as the staple at left guard and Baca will then plug in at right guard. He'll get competition, however, from Yandall, who the coaches like quite a bit, and Hasiak, if Hasiak can keep his nose clean in the program. To Hasiak's credit, he physically looks very impressive this fall, having lost some weight.

Mike Harris will probably still have the right tackle spot claimed, but it would really make things very interesting if Nik Abele did, indeed, return from his neck issue. Remember, in spring, they were thinking Abele would be a starter this spring before the injury. We're still a bit skeptical he'll be able to return to football, but if he does, UCLA's usual cursed situation at OL looks like it will see its luck turn, especially combined with Sheller's probable return.

So, even though UCLA would lose three starters in Darius Savage, Ryan Taylor and Eddie Williams, it would have a starting five that consists of four experienced starters. The depth, for the first time in a long time would appear to be exceptional with just Yandall, Hasiak, Downey and Capella (and possibly Abele), and that's not even considering if Griffiths turns into a potential contributor, or just how good the potentially six true freshmen would be.

2012 Offensive Line

LT: Xavier Su'a-Filo (SO), Torian White (RFR), Brett Downey (SR), FR
LG: Chris Ward (JR), Casey Griffiths (JR), RFR, RFR
C: Greg Capella (JR), Kody Innes (SO), Jacob Brendel (RFR)
RG: Wade Yandall (SO), Stan Hasiak (JR), Ben Wysocki (RFR), FR
RT: Jeff Baca (SR), Nik Abele? (JR), Darryl Jackson (RFR),
Marc Mustoe (RFR), FR

Of course, it's gettng a bit dubious to project out two years, since there is going to be so many developments, injuries, etc., that change this picture.

But it has to be said that this is the first time in quite a while that UCLA projects to having enough talent in the program to even be able to speculate like this.

This will be the season that Su'a-Filo returns, and he would almost certainly plug right back into the starting left tackle spot. He should be scheduled to return very early in 2012, so he'd have all of the off-season in 2012 and spring practice to get himself back into playing shape. Given that amount of time, you'd have to think he'd be in at least as good of shape as he was as a true freshman, when he was very effective.

We'd expect Chris Ward to be a real force by this time. The competition for the open starting center spot would be a great one between the junior Capella, the redshirt sophomore Innes and redshirt freshman Brendel. Whoever emerged would have to be pretty good. It would be Yandall's third season in the program, and you'd have to think that, if Hasiak has stuck, by this time he should be formidable. Jeff Baca would be a fifth-year guy and a four-year starter. Because of that experience we could see him moving back to right tackle to replace the departing Mike Harris.

Again, this looks good with just an average projection of development, and that's without knowing if guys like White or Brendel will develop beyond expectation or even without knowing who possibly could be the other two redshirt freshmen OLs (2011 prospects) or the potentially three true freshmen.

2011 Defensive Line

SSDE: Datone Jones (SR?), Owamagbe Odighizuwa (SO), Wesley Flowers (RFR), FR
DT: Cassius Marsh (SO), Justin Edison (SR), Seali'i Epenesa (So), FR
DT: Nate Chandler (SR), Brandon Willis (RFR), Donovan Carter (JR), Jayson Allmond (SO), FR
WSDE: Keenan Graham (SO), Iuta Tepa (SO), Damien Holmes (JR), Derrick Bryant (RFR), Rykeem Yates (FR), FR

The biggest mystery here is the status of Datone Jones. He's roughly scheduled to return this year in late October, and if that's the case, that he could play in four or five of UCLA's final games, we're pretty sure he'd do it and not redshirt.

And then there's even a bit of a mystery of where Jones would plug in. In this current season of 2010, he'd probably go back to the strongside defensive end spot, and then come out of the game when Akeem Ayers puts his hand down. But in 2011, if you want to get a talent like Odighizuwa on the field, and you'd probably project Odighizuwa to be 260 pounds by then and physically able to play the strongside DE, perhaps Jones would move inside. It's the kind of luxurious problems UCLA has been waiting to have on its DL for quite a while.

If Jones doesn't return this season, he'd redshirt and be a junior in 2011.

Without really being able to evaluate Brandon Willis just yet because he's playing on the scout team whle redshirting, going by what some sources are telling us, he's going to compete for the one open starting DT spot next season. It should be a glorious thing to witness such a trio of talent -- Willis, Marsh and Epenesa, who the coaches are very high on -- all competing for the nose tackle spot.

We're assuming once UCLA gains some depth at tight end next season, Jayson Allmond will make the swithc to the DL.

Like with the OL, this isn't even considering any true freshmen who come in for the 2011 season that are good enough to immediately compete. UCLA is involved with some DL prospects in the 2011 class we believe would be capalbe of doing so.

2012 Defensive Line

SSDE: Datone Jones (SR)?, Omagbe Odighizuwa (JR), Wesley Flowers (SO), RFR, FR
DT: Cassius Marsh (JR), Donovan Carter (SR), Jayson Allmond (JR), RFR, FR
DT: Brandon Willis (SO), Seali'i Epenesa (JR), RFR, FR
WSDE: Keenan Graham (JR), Iuta Tepa (JR), Damien Holmes (SR), Derrick Bryant (SO), RFR, FR

As with the OL for 2012, this is the first time UCLA has had enough talent in the program that we could even attempt to project out two years on the DL.

It's scary to think what level of DE play UCLA could have with Owa and Graham as juniors. We put Datone Jones in italics here because, if he doesn't return this season and redshirts, he would still be around as a senior in 2012.

Even though its far premature to even guess, we'll go with Willis and Marsh as the two starting DTs but it easly could be Epenesa, and then it's still not considering the DT talent that will come in with the 2011 class and be redshirt freshmen in 2012.

Of course, UCLA is going to lose some of these names due injury or transfer, but it's exciting to project out the OL and DL given the talent currently in the program. In doing so, it's pretty clear, barring any disastrous string of injuries, UCLA has perhaps the most promising future ahead of it on the OL and DL in terms of talent than it's had in a very long while.

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