Spring Review: Offensive Line

The offensive line doesn't look very talented in the spring, and the depth could prove to be an issue if there are any injuries in the fall...

We'll say it up front: if there's a big concern with the offense heading into the summer and fall, it's the offensive line. At quarterback, you get the sense that Noel Mazzone will get above average play out of the position regardless of who fills it. At the skill spots, UCLA has a surprising amount of talent. But along the offensive line, quality depth is extremely thin.

The good news is that the offensive line actually doesn't need to be spectacular for Mazzone's offense to function, since it's based so much off of quick passes. The offensive line really only needs to be average.

That might still be a bit of a climb though. For most of spring ball, the line showed very little ability to pass block, regardless of personnel. Some of that is technique, with guys who've developed under the pistol, but most of it simply has to do with the limitations of the personnel. Run blocking was, generally, a fair bit better, but that was also due to some lack of depth on the inside for the linebackers.

Xavier Su'a-Filo spent the entirety of spring practice (aside from one odd series as the second string left guard) slotted in at left tackle, after sitting out two years on a Mormon mission. He's still extremely athletic for a guy his size, and he can still move his feet with the same agility. On the flip side, he's going to have to work himself into shape over the summer, because he was frequently sucking wind during practice. But really, conditioning is the one big thing for him to work on heading into the fall, which is something he can improve pretty quickly. So he's not a big worry.

Jeff Baca is also not a worry. He's essentially the football equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, performing several functions well enough. This spring, he played every position along the line except left tackle, and looked good at all, although he's most naturally a guard. He ended spring practice primarily playing right tackle, which is where we figure he'll end up in the fall, but we know that the coaching staff really wants the luxury of using Baca at his natural position at guard. Right now, we just don't figure there's depth enough to make that happen.

Greg Capella sat out most of spring practice with a calf injury, but he came back and slotted in at guard without missing much of a beat, which is a credit to Sal Alosi and the amount of conditioning work he has the injured doing on the sideline. It isn't an exaggeration to say that the hardest working guys on the field may have been the injured. Capella looked good, and his physical transformation from when he first came into the program is actually pretty astonishing. Like most of the linemen, outside of maybe Baca, he needs to get stronger in the offseason.

Jacob Brendel made some big strides during camp. UCLA coaching staffs past and present seem to have had him earmarked for the starting center role, and it looks like he might seize it sooner rather than later. He has snapping issues through the middle of camp, around the time that Tre Hale was taking over the second team reps, but seems to have gotten it under control. We know that he's impressed the coaching staff with the mental side of the game, and that the big issue for him heading into the offseason will be working on getting stronger.

After those four, there really weren't too many bright spots. Albert Cid really isn't starting guard material, but he was thrust into the role for much of spring ball. He's not mobile, but also isn't road-grader strong. He needs to drop a lot of weight in the offseason, while adding muscle. He was one of the big issues on the interior in terms of pass blocking.

Torian White didn't look ready to make a big contribution, but that's almost strictly a physical issue. He's still really skinny, looking like he's about 275, so adding weight and strength is going to be huge for him in the offseason. You could see it on some plays where he'd play a guy perfectly,, and rotate him away from the quarterback, but he just didn't have the strength to finish the play. The coaching staff loves his athleticism and the way he picks up on technique quickly, so if he can put on a little bit of weight, he's going to get a very long look at the starting right tackle position. Our money is still on it eventually being Baca, but we'd guess White will have at least a couple of weeks in August to try to win the position.

Brett Downey is a great kid, but he's neither strong enough nor athletic enough to play a huge role. He looked better moving his feet this spring, but he lacks knee bend, and can't match up against any kind of bull rush.

Alexandru Ceachir came in a little rawer than the coaching staff was expecting. He was primarily a tackle in junior college, and he didn't adapt as quickly to guard as they were hoping. Still, he's got a lot of potential. He's very strong already, and the big issue for him is learning technique. If he can make enough strides in the next few months to put some pressure on Cid for the other guard spot, it could help to free up Baca to play right tackle.

Wade Yandall is a talented enough player who would easily be starting if healthy. In fact, the staff slotted him in as a starter at one of the guard positions in their depth chart coming out of spring, even though he only practiced twice. He has suffered multiple concussions during his career, and while the program is hopeful he'll be able to play this fall, the fact that he has had lingering issues and a reoccurence of symptoms forced him out of spring after those two practices. We're skeptical he'll be actually able to play this fall and might be done with football. If not, and we're just being pessimistic, Yandall would be a huge addition to the starting five.

And then, there are a bunch of guys who are either hurt or who might not be able to play at this level. Hale was probably the best looking of the bunch, getting second string center reps after converting from defensive end. He's a short, squat looking center in the Kai Maiava pre-senior year mode. We liked his strength at the spot, but he had some adventures snapping the ball through the entirety of camp.

Ben Wysocki moved between guard and tackle on the second string, but he should really stick to guard. He's not very mobile, and he needs to gain more muscle over the offseason.

Kody Innes split the second team reps with Hale at center, and looked better snapping the ball. He's small looking, and doesn't look like he's put in a ton of work in the weight room (which isn't unique to him among the offensive linemen). He got pushed around quite a bit during the first few weeks of camp, but began to look a little better with increased reps through the final couple of practices.

Casey Griffiths and Conor Bradford both left the program during the spring, with neither practicing prior to their departure. Yandall, like we said above, might be done with football. Chris Ward sat out all of spring ball recovering from surgery, but those around the program are not enamored with his work ethic, or drive. Will Oliver also sat out the entire spring, and it remains to be seen if he can actually be a contributor.

So, in short, there isn't a lot of raw material to work with among the linemen. You can cobble together an offensive line from some combination of Su'a-Filo, Capella, Brendel, Cid, Ceachir, Baca, and White, but the depth after them is almost completely non existent, and really, only three of those seven (Baca, Su'a-Filo, and Capella) would you feel very comfortable with in a game.

Who would have thought Adrian Klemm, moving from SMU to UCLA, would actually be getting a downgrade in talent.


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