It is commonly accepted that a football team succeeds or fails based off of line play. Certainly no part of the last decade of UCLA football disproves that theory—on the contrary, the Bruins' mediocrity over the last 10 to 15 years can be attributed in large part to the failure to recruit and develop defensive and (especially) offensive linemen. Until Jeff Baca was drafted in the sixth round by the Minnesota Vikings this year, UCLA hadn't had an offensive lineman drafted since Kris Farris in 1999. That's astounding for a school with the recruiting potential of UCLA.
True, many of UCLA's issues on the offensive line can be heaped onto both player development and simple bad luck. The Bruins have certainly had their fair share of injuries and retirements along the line over the last few years. You can also make an argument that UCLA has had a pretty extreme miss rate that can be attributed in some measure to bad luck. If recruiting is not always an exact science, and offensive line development is more of a crapshoot than most positions, then the simple fact that UCLA hasn't developed more than one draftable player in the last fourteen years, even out of the chaff that the Bruins have largely recruited, is pretty improbable.
However, with the understanding that, at least anecdotally, there is greater variance in the development of offensive linemen than at other positions, UCLA has too often made the mistake of under-recruiting the offensive line positions with the hope that project-level recruits would develop beyond their modest beginnings. If you believe that offensive linemen get injured more often than players at other positions and have more of a likelihood of not reaching their potential, and if you subscribe to the theory that a quality offensive line is the most important piece in a well-functioning offense, then it follows that, to give yourself the best chance of having a quality offense, you need to over-recruit the offensive line. All too often, UCLA has not done that, but that is finally changing, and the credit needs to go to offensive line coach Adrian Klemm.
Prior to Adrian Klemm's arrival as offensive line coach, recruiting along the offensive line was in relative shambles. UCLA's last class under Rick Neuheisel and the somnambulant Bob Palcic was comprised of the following players:
**Albert Cid (junior college)
This class has actually turned out to be one of the better ones under Neuheisel, in that two players ended up as starters as redshirt freshmen. Of course, that's also a pretty significant statement about the previous classes under Nueheisel. Oliver, to put it as kindly as possible, is a long-term project, but will almost certainly never play at UCLA. Albert Cid has retired from football, but never got his weight under control while he played. Both McDermott and Wysocki project as backup level players going forward. Even White, who projects as a starter, has experienced questions about his motor and desire.
The point isn't to diminish the players in that class, but to point out that the 2011 class was fairly indicative of UCLA o-line recruiting over the last dozen years: maybe one or two fairly talented players, a couple more who might contribute down the road, and then one or two "projects" who showed some physical attributes that, for whatever reason, warranted a roll of the dice.
To compare: in Klemm's first full season of recruiting at UCLA, he signed seven offensive linemen (more than had been signed in any single year under Neuheisel), five four-stars and two three-stars. As a whole, it's UCLA's best offensive line recruiting class since before Scout.com began keeping records of recruiting rankings. Perhaps most shocking, Klemm was able to sign a class of seven offensive linemen despite having three freshmen already ensconced in starting positions.
Coming into the job, Klemm (and head coach Jim Mora) realized exactly how much of a problem UCLA had along the offensive line. After a stopgap 2012 class thrown together in one month that produced one starter level player in Simon Goines, Klemm had the freedom to recruit as many as eight offensive linemen in 2013, and somehow had eight high level players committed before Sean Dowling dropped out of the running after a mutual parting of the ways.
That's amazing in and of itself. Despite packing so many recruits in a single class, and despite already having three freshmen starters, Klemm was able to sell an entire class of offensive linemen on the idea of competing for starting spots—and somehow managed to only lose ONE of those recruits, and the loss was a mutual decision. And it's not as if these players are low level talents—Caleb Benenoch had offers from the major Big 12 schools, Alex Redmond was an Oregon de-commitment, Christian Morris had SEC offers, and Poasi Moala decommitted from Washington, to name a few. All of these players elected to forego their other opportunities for the chance to win a starting spot under Klemm, with the understanding being that, at the very least, two of them would not start.
It obviously begs the question: what the heck is Klemm selling, and how is it different from what UCLA has done in the past? First, it has to be said that UCLA won nine games last year and looked pretty impressive doing it, which helped recruiting efforts across the board. But even before the season was over, Klemm was doing well with all of his eventual commitments.
From what we've heard within and without the program, what has established Klemm as one of the premier recruiters in the country, and what won over the seven linemen this past year, isn't necessarily just his personality. As many recruits have said, Klemm comes across as a big brother, or an uncle, in the course of a recruitment, and demonstrates a swagger that makes UCLA attractive to many confident young recruits. However, one of the main things we've heard from recruits and others is, over and above his personality, that it is simple work ethic that has won him so many recruiting battles. Whether it's a text message, phone call, email, or other form of communication, Klemm makes an effort to get in contact with every one of his major recruits every day, giving them an overwhelming sense of being sought after. When the person making the call or shooting the text message is someone with the outsize personality of Klemm, it simply adds to the effect.
The way Klemm sells the program is through a simple message, and one that USC fans from the Pete Carroll era are familiar with: competition. Every single one of the top level recruits Klemm signed this past cycle has cited the ability to come in and compete to start as one of the primary factors in their recruitment. However, Carroll's USC squads were able to sell that message after 10 and 12 win seasons, and national championships. Klemm had most of these players relatively committed before UCLA had played more than a month under the new staff, he convinced them to come despite three freshmen and one sophomore in the starting lineup, and he convinced them to remain committed despite UCLA losing its last three games to finish 9-5.
Building on those nine wins, Klemm has now received commitments from the top two junior college offensive linemen in the country (Dominick Jackson and Jermaine Eluemunor) and looks very good for one of the country's top offensive guards in Demetrius Knox. Again, it's astounding. UCLA has three returning underclassmen starters, along with seven incoming freshmen, and, still, Klemm was able to sell a vision of competing for a starting spot at UCLA to players who were being recruited by the defending national champion.
You could make the argument that the vision Klemm sells is one that actually attracts higher level kids because it appeals to their own self-confidence. It's almost a challenge: come to UCLA, where we've already recruited so many highly rated offensive linemen, to see how you stack up against the best. To a certain type of kid, the type that Klemm covets, that challenge itself is an attractive one.
It's famous on the message board, Klemm's "steak eater" speech from this past season, but it's a clear picture of his philosophy. The message of coming to UCLA not to redshirt, and not to automatically stay for four and five years, but instead compete to get to the NFL as soon as possible, is a powerful one for so many of these kids. You have to remember: almost every recruitable Division I athlete in both basketball and football, however unlikely, thinks that he is going to make it to either the NFL or the NBA. With higher level recruits, that mindset is even more prevalent. When Klemm presents these recruits with a vision of coming into a school, starting immediately if they have the ability, and then taking off for the league in three years—and he does it with the personality and panache he's famous for—it's a hard proposition to refuse.
That's how he gets the kids, but there's also a level of sophistication to the plan for recruiting. Greg Biggins posted this on the board, but it bears repeating: recruiting these junior college players this cycle is not only pretty amazing given the class Klemm just brought in, but it also shows a level of headiness about the entire process that's a rarity in recruiting. Acknowledging that the West was weak in prep offensive linemen in 2014, and recognizing that UCLA needed to get just a few very high level players who might need to play immediately depending on the development of the 2013 class, Klemm knew he'd have to secure commitments from either national prospects or junior college players to bring in the level of talent he needs. So far, he's well on his way to accomplishing that task, three months before the second season of the Mora era is set to begin.
Going forward, Klemm has put UCLA's offensive line in position, talent-wise, to be one of the best in the Pac-12, if not the country. This year, UCLA will either have four returning starters once again in the starting lineup, or the freshmen who were good enough to beat out those returning starters. In a year's time, the same story. Where once UCLA envied the school across town for the level of talent not only on the field, but on the bench, the Bruins going forward project to have the talented depth along the offensive line that could lead to some incredible offenses.
If in two years' time we are talking about UCLA competing for the first NCAA football playoff, and the Bruins are once again in the national conversation after over a decade of wandering the desert of ineptitude, it's going to be easy to point to the exploits of Brett Hundley and a fast, attacking defense. But, in our opinion, if UCLA is in that conversation a year from now, much of the credit will have to fall at the feet of Adrian Klemm and the talented offensive linemen he has pitched on the idea of building something great in Westwood.
The Klemm Effect
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