Expectations were extremely low for the offensive line last season, with three freshmen, one returnee from a Mormon mission, and just one senior in the starting lineup. Given the move toward a new offensive system, it was entirely expected that UCLA's offensive line would have a pretty bad year.
That UCLA's offensive line was simply mediocre last year, and not actively awful, is a testament to the new offensive system, the impact of Xavier Su'a-Filo, and the coaching of Adrian Klemm. Having Su'a-Filo back gave UCLA an elite offensive lineman at guard, which provided substantial benefits to the running game. There were several times during the year where Johnathan Franklin ran for long gains based almost solely on down field blocks made by Su'a-Filo.
The freshmen played generally pretty well for freshmen offensive linemen. In any other year, Simon Goines likely would have redshirted, but pressed into the duty as the starting right tackle, he did surprisingly well—even moreso if you consider that he was playing with a knee injury the entire season. Torian White, on the other end of the line, had his moments, but was plagued by inconsistency of effort that saw him get pulled at a couple of points during the season. Jake Brendel, who had to handle the line calls as a redshirt freshman, performed admirably. He, too, played through pain last year after suffering a shoulder injury early in the year.
If there was one significant area where UCLA's offensive line struggled, it was blitz pickup. Simple blitzes, like the ones Baylor ran in the bowl game, were hard for UCLA to pick up, and the only wonder was why other teams didn't blitz them more. With two freshmen offensive tackles, the Bruins were vulnerable to any manner of edge blitzes the entire year.
A Look at Spring
Aside from Jeff Baca, UCLA returns every one of its starters from last season, and all four should be reasonably healthy for spring (Simon Goines had knee surgery in the offseason, and may be limited). The depth, though, is once again going to be an issue. With none of the seven freshmen offensive linemen coming in early, UCLA has just one new addition—Lacy Westbrook—who isn't expected to compete this spring after coming off of an aneurysm last year.
UCLA will also be missing Will Oliver, who is out while recovering from shoulder surgery. Oliver has been injured more than he has been healthy in his UCLA career thus far. Colby Cyburt, who sat out all of last year, will also be out for the spring after back surgery in December. Additionally, we've heard that Greg Capella could be limited this spring, after nursing a concussion all of last season. We've also heard that Alexandru Ceachir is doubtful to participate this spring. So, as in the secondary, UCLA is going to have to cobble together assorted spare parts to put together a second string offensive line.
There's also a very good chance that guys will move around as the coaches try to find the right fits. There is talk that Xavier Su'a-Filo could move back to left tackle by next fall, especially if Caleb Benenoch or Alex Redmond is determined to be a better player than Simon Goines or Torian White. In that case, UCLA will probably try to get him some work at left tackle this spring. Again, though, as with the secondary, it's going to be hard to determine much of anything from spring, since so much of the talent is not yet in Westwood.
What to Watch
*Can Su'a-Filo take his game to a higher level? The answer to this question is going to be a function of how helpful another offseason of conditioning and weight training was for him. It's astounding, really, given how well he played, but Su'a-Filo never really got in optimal shape last year after sitting out for two years on his mission. He got by mostly on athleticism and technique, but with an offseason of work, he should be much stronger heading into this spring, which could help him take his game to surefire NFL draft pick level.
*Will Torian White falter? We know that at times last year, White's desire and passion to play the game was in question. During the season, he sometimes seemed unfocused from play to play, which got him pulled at a couple of different points. The move to right tackle is an interesting one, as that moves White out of a critical position, so it might be the case where he has something to prove this spring to maintain his starting spot.
*How will Simon Goines handle being on the blind side? If there was one issue with Goines last year, it was his lack of lateral quickness. He struggled to defend against speed rushers on the right side. How much of that is attributable to his knee injury is difficult to say, but he doesn't strike you immediately as a great athlete. Since he injured the knee so early on, we never really saw him healthy, so one of the most interesting things to watch this spring will be how he moves now that he's had a year under his belt and now that his knee is relatively healed.
*Can Alberto Cid throw his hat in the ring for the starting right guard spot? Cid will run with the 1's out of necessity at right guard in the spring, but with Benenoch and Redmond coming in, he could be on the outside looking in come fall. If he can put together a good spring, and has continued to work on his body over the offseason, he could potentially play his way into the competition.
*With so little depth, will UCLA be able to go up tempo? The pace of practice last year, especially in the spring, was a marked departure from the Neueheisel era. The question is, with so few offensive linemen, will UCLA be able to run up tempo scrimmage situations, mimicking the pace of actual games? The coaches will certainly try, but with the depth being what it is, the results might look a little ragged.
Projected Spring Depth Chart
Simon Goines (6'6, 320)
Xavier Su'a-Filo (6'3, 304)
Xavier Su'a-Filo (6'3, 304)
Greg Capella (6'3, 304)
Jake Brendel (6'4, 276)
Carl Hulick (6'2, 277)
Kody Innes (6'3, 275)
Alberto Cid (6'2, 325)
Ben Wysocki (6'4, 280)
Lacy Westbrook (6'4, 320)
Torian White (6'5, 282)
Conor McDermott (6'8, 260)
Spring Preview: Offensive Line
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