Now that spring practice is over, and we've gotten an eyeball on the personnel, a few more questions have come up that UCLA is going to need to solve.
These questions may not be pressing for this fall, but they'll become more important as the 2013 season bleeds into 2014. The key to success under Jim Mora will be maintaining a talent level so there is continuity of a sustained quality of play. That, of course, starts with recruiting, but management and evaluation of the existing players in the program is probably just as key.
We've seen in the past, both in UCLA football and basketball, how poor evaluations of a program's own players can dramatically contribute to that program's demise.
UCLA's personnel is in a critical transition period – between when it is still dealing with the aftermath of the tail end of a departed coach, which typically leaves at least some cupboards of a program bare, and a new coaching staff bringing in their own talent. Personnel decisions during this time can either be huge boosts in that transition, or mistakes that can ultimately be costly. The thing is, personnel decisions made now can not only affect the 2013 season but the 2014 season, so the UCLA coaches have to be good evaluators, have a good sense of their overall talent and personnel, and have some vision on where all the puzzle pieces fit.
Some moves can end up being like Anthony Barr being moved to linebacker last season, or former quarterback Osaar Rashaan being moved to wide receiver as a senior.
We've already looked at Projected Depth Analysis: D-Line, Projected Depth Analysis: D-Backs, Projected Depth Analysis: QB and Projected Depth Analysis: Linebackers.
There's a generalization that every good offense requires a good offensive line, but last year's UCLA team might have been the exception. Despite the team racking up some very good offensive numbers, the line was mediocre at best, and had very little depth. The offensive line has been that way for years now at UCLA, and, while the tide is in the process of shifting, the Bruins could be in for one more year of mixing and matching among those five positions. However, you could easily make the argument that by this fall, UCLA will have made a significant upgrade in the top level talent at each position. The challenge remaining is to continue to develop the talent and fill out and maintain the depth.
This spring showed that UCLA has between three and four of its starters already in the program. Xavier Su'a-Filo (2013 JR) and Jake Brendel (2013 RS SO) have already secured their spots for the fall, and one or both of Simon Goines (2013 SO) and Torian White (2013 RS SO) will start at the tackle spots. In one of the more interesting twists of the spring, White may have put himself on equal footing with Goines after a good spring. Whichever way you slice it, though, the right guard position vacated by Jeff Baca will see probably the most intense battle in the fall.
As of now, we project that one of Alex Redmond (2013 FR) or Caleb Benenoch (2013 FR) will win the spot, and if we had to put money on it, based on what we've seen from Redmond in person and Benenoch on film, we'd guess that Redmond will win the job. He's already well put-together at somewhere around 275 or 280 with very little fat on him, and he has that wrestler strength which can be an asset in the trenches. Whichever one starts will have his work cut out to provide the same level of play as Baca did last season, but both could have more upside.
If we could see one tackle starting immediately, over either Goines or White, it'd probably be Christian Morris (2013 FR), whose body is similar to Goines'. We wouldn't rule out Poasi Moala (2013 FR), though, who's shown some impressive weight gains already this offseason based off the times we saw him out at practice.
The next step is to look forward to 2014. UCLA graduates no seniors after 2013 (now that Greg Capella and Alberto Cid have retired from football), but we expect that some players will leave the program to pursue playing time elsewhere with the arrival of the new freshmen. We know that Alexandru Ceachir is unlikely to continue playing football going forward after experiencing some concussion issues this past season. We'll include all eligible players aside from Capella, Cid, and Ceachir in the 2014 depth chart, but it wouldn't be out of the question to expect four or five more players currently on the roster to look for playing time elsewhere by the end of the 2013 season. If, say, four players leave the program by 2014, in addition to Cid, Capella, and Ceachir, UCLA will have just 15 offensive linemen on roster that year (not counting any potential injuries in the meantime). That's really not a huge amount of depth, especially considering the injury rate of offensive linemen and the importance of the position.
Then you have to consider the possibility of Su'a-Filo putting his name in the NFL Draft. We've heard before the Su'a-Filo could be enticed by both the idea of getting his degree and playing on a potential National Championship contender in 2014, but if he has a season similar to or better than last year, he could be a high round draft pick, which could make it difficult for him to stay. For now, though, we'll project that he remains on the team for his senior season. It is a rare guard who leaves early for the draft, and Su'a-Filo still probably has some work to do on his body before he reaches his physical potential.
By the 2014 season, there's also the chance that one or two of the seven offensive linemen coming in this fall decide to transfer for playing time. It's the one issue with signing more players than positions—if they're all good enough to play somewhere, there's a good chance some will leave to go play somewhere. You have to recruit as if it's the case that one or two of the freshmen could leave the program by next fall.
Given the numbers, UCLA could make a good case for recruiting four offensive linemen for 2014. With, likely, a maximum of fifteen linemen on roster come 2014, and potentially fewer, UCLA will once again need to get some more bodies in the program. Right now, the Bruins are looking good for some players who have the potential to make an instant impact, including guard Demetrius Knox (2014 FR), tackle Jermaine Eluemunor (2014 JR), tackle Dominick Jackson (2014 JR), and guard Natrell Curtis (2014 FR). If the Bruins can lock down three or four of those players, it could leave them in very good position for 2014 and beyond at both tackle and guard.
UCLA has done a very good job upgrading the talent level of the offensive line over the past two years. Now comes the hard part of seasoning that talent and maintaining that momentum and building out the depth. If the Bruins do the job correctly, the offensive line could become the backbone of the offense within a year or two. Most significantly, if Su'a-Filo actually returns for the 2014 season, UCLA could, for that season, bring back its entire starting offensive line from the 2013 season. That would mean Su'a-Filo, senior and a four-year starter; Brendel, White and Goines, juniors and all two-year starters; and possibly Redmond/Benenoch as a sophomore and returning from starting one season. You can reasonably project that all of them will continue to develop under the tutelage of UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm. That could mean, probably for the first time in a long time in the UCLA football program, that the UCLA offensive line has elite talent and experience. And then, as we've said previously, if any of the other OLs, like Morris or Moala, overtake any of those incumbents, it would be because they're actually better than an experience starter. If UCLA then also retains another five good back-ups that are pushing the starters for playing time, it makes the UCLA offensive line for 2014 the type of OL a program needs to win at a high level.
*We haven't included Lacy Westbrook in the below depth chart because he has yet to participate in practice in his UCLA career, and we're not sure if, or when, he'll be able to.
*Colby Cyburt also hasn't participate in any team drills, but he started to make progress in the spring, and physically he looked bigger than a year ago.
*We still think Kevin McReynolds (2013 RS SO) could be a candidate to switch back to defense if he gets buried on the depth chart.
Projected 2014 Offensive Line Depth Chart
LT: Simon Goines (JR), Poasi Moala (RS FR), Kenny Lacy (RS FR), 2014 Frosh, Will Oliver (RS JR)
LG: Xavier Su'a-Filo (SR), Caleb Benenoch (RS FR), 2014 Frosh, Ben Wysocki (RS JR), Kody Innes (RS SR)
C: Jake Brendel (RS JR), Scott Quessenberry (RS FR), Carl Hulick (RS SO)
RG: Alex Redmond (SO), John Lopez (RS FR), 2014 Frosh, Kevin McReynolds (RS JR), Colby Cyburt (RS SO)
RT: Torian White (RS JR), Christian Morris (SO), 2014 Frosh, Conor McDermott (RS SO)
Projected Depth Analysis: O-Line
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