To kick off our camp previews, we're going to first look at the status of UCLA's offensive line heading into August.
There will be plenty of new faces on the field at Cal State San Bernardino, and a few missing.
As we reported previously, offensive linemen Albert Cid and Alexadru Ceachir left the program during spring.
The Adrian Klemm Housecleaning has had a pretty significant effect. That's seven offensive linemen that have left the program in the last year and a half.
There are only a handful of holdovers who were here before Klemm and Jim Mora, and those are the guys that have proven themselves worthy of being in the program and playing.
Klemm will get his seven new incoming freshmen this fall (in fact, they reported for summer session yesterday), as well as a couple of other guys. Colby Cyburt, who was part of Klemm's first UCLA class, has finally been cleared to play after a long-time back issue. Lacy Westbrook, too, will take his first real shot at football since having a brain aneurysm that required surgery last summer. Westbrook, more than likely, will have some limitations placed on him going into fall.
Projected Pre-Fall Starters
With players sitting out and those that left, in spring practice there were so few bodies that Klemm couldn't make out a two-deep fully. He won't have that problem in fall.
In fact, Klemm will have the luxury of shuffling around players into different positions. Well, to a degree.
We've heard that the most significant move will be Xavier Su'a-Filo, the pre-season All-American, from left guard to left tackle. The reasoning: quarterback Brett Hundley heard footsteps last season, not feeling completely confident that his blind side was going to be protected. So what do you do to make your star quarterback feel more comfortable in the pocket? Put your best offensive lineman at left tackle to protect his blind side. The best measuring stick for whether someone can do that would be to put UCLA star rush linebacker Anthony Barr against whomever at left tackle and see if they can stay in front of him. Last spring the only offensive lineman who could do that was Su'a-Filo. If Su'a-Filo can stay in front of Barr, he can stay in front of just about anyone in the country.
That, then, opens up two starting spots at the guard positions. But we'll get to that in a minute.
The other mainstay of the returning line with Su'a-Filo is Jake Brendel, the sophomore center. Brendel had a good redshirt freshman year, while he was hampered by some nagging injuries. He should be healthy this fall and ready to take the next step.
At right tackle, the two returning starters at tackle will fight it out for the starting spot, or perhaps even platoon. Sophomores Simon Goines and Torian White started at the tackle positions last season, but they'll go head-to-head against each other to try to win the starting right tackle spot, at least initially, this fall.
It's interesting how the stock of these two players has gone up and down, almost alternately. Coming out of last season, Goines was probably the favored one. Heading into spring practice he was even moved to left tackle. Goines, though, had off-season knee surgery, and was in and out of spring practice. When he was in, he looked slowed by the recovery. He's actually never been fully healthy in his year at UCLA, so hopefully he will be this fall. As Goines had his issues, White emerged. White had an up-and-down season in 2012 – at times looking very promising, then at other times looking like he needed to quit football because of a lack of effort and focus. He matured some this spring, and looked like he might have found his mojo, or at least the beginning of it, during spring practice. White still has a ways to go to prove he can sustain intensity throughout a season, but his development this spring, in terms of his maturity, his body and skills, was very promising. White has a chance to play in the NFL – with that kind of athleticism – if he continues to work hard, mature and develop. At this point, he'd have to be the favorite to win the right tackle spot.
With Su'a-Filo moving to left tackle, that leaves the two starting spots at guard open, and the competition should be good. One of the holdovers from the last coaching staff, Ben Wysocki, has worked hard and proven himself with Klemm. He had a good spring, and has continued in the off-season to get in great shape. We saw Wysocki at the recent UCLA Elite Camp, and he physically looked very impressive. Big, strong, but also lean and in shape. He's also grown since coming to UCLA; he was probably 6-3 to 6-4 when he arrived and he's now closer to 6-4 or 6-5. To start fall, expect Wysocki to begin in the starting spot at left guard.
Probably the #1 candidate to knock off Wysocki from that starting left guard spot will be his old high school teammate, incoming freshman Alex Redmond. If you want to talk about a kid who is physically impressive, it's Redmond. A number of people who have seen him in the last couple of days when the freshmen reported for the summer sessions talked about how Redmond looked physically. He's all of 6-5 and probably 290-ish, and it's put together well. Redmond, too, has that kind of nasty streak you like in offensive linemen. We've thought for the longest time that Redmond would have the best chance among the incoming freshmen to play in 2013. He'll be completely motivated, too, to knock off his former high school teammate.
Probably getting the first look to start at right guard will be true freshman Caleb Benenoch. If there are two of the freshmen physically ready to play it's Redmond and Benenoch. Benenoch is probably 6-5, maybe even a bit taller, and about 315. He might be one of the strongest offensive linemen on the squad as a true freshman. He also has good athleticism, so despite being a true freshman it's not difficult to project him to be among the top five best OLs on the roster next fall.
At left tackle, behind Su'a-Filo, will be true freshman Poasi Moala. Moala might be the most athletic of the incoming freshmen, and have the most upside. He is a great athlete, with great feet. He just needs to develop physically and skills-wise. He came into summer school at about 260-ish, but you can project that now, being able to benefit from the college training table and weight-lifting, he'll put on weight pretty quickly and easily. He's the heir apparent at left tackle. If anything happened to Su'a-Filo this season, more than likely White or Goines would fill in at the spot, but Moala will probably work at the #2 LT spot in practice. Conor McDermott will probably be the scout team left tackle.
As we said, at left guard Wysocki will start out at #1, and be immediately pushed by Redmond, and Benenoch will get first look at the #1 right guard spot. Competing at guard will be sophomore Kevin McReynolds, incoming freshmen John Lopez and Kenny Lacy, Cyburt and Westbrook. Lopez has some potential, but will need to do some work on his body to seriously compete for playing time. Lacy also will have to do some work on his body and was thought to be a tackle, but could be more suited at guard. It's completely uncertain if Cyburt has a chance to contribute at UCLA; right now he'll need to get bigger and stronger, at about 260 pounds. We think that McReynolds could be the next odd-man-out here. We'd be surprised if Westbrook, given his condition, and the fact that he's not close to playing shape, would end up a factor on the OL, even down the line. At center, Carl Hulick, whom we thought could be a candidate to transfer, appears to have made a comeback in spring. While he had some issues snapping the ball, Hulick did put in work and improve in the eyes of the coaches. Incoming freshman Scott Quessenberry is talented enough to overtake Hulick in the two-deep at center. Christian Morris will be at right tackle, and be groomed as the next one in line behind White/Goines.
This definitely presents an issue of depth, in particular experienced depth.
Between Redmond, Benenoch and Wysocki, UCLA is hoping that's enough to get them through at guard for the season. It's questionable who would be next in line. Perhaps McReynolds or Lacy. At tackle, the guys ready to play are Su'a-Filo, White and Goines. Physically, Morris is the next able, so it'd be good if he shows in fall that he's capable of filling in if there is a need. Center depth looks solid, with Hulick and Quessenberry behind Brendel. Quessenberry is probably good enough to fill in if Brendel is out for a short time.
Bottom Line on the Line
While you'd like to say that the corner was turned a bit last season with the OL, the reality is that Klemm is definitely still in the re-building process for the UCLA offensive line. The OL for 2013 isn't going to be greatly deep with proven guys, and will be stocked with youth. In fact, only five guys have actually played D-1 football. Nine guys will be experiencing their first college practice in San Bernardino. There isn't a senior in the bunch. UCLA could go from starting two redshirt freshmen and one true freshman a year ago to starting two true freshmen this season.
There is some talent, though. You have to like that UCLA returns arguably the best offensive lineman in the Pac-12 in Su'a-Filo, and two other spots will be filled by returning starters, including Brendel, who could be a post-season award candidate. The true freshmen you could see starting – Redmond and Benenoch – aren't your average guys; they are very talented, and physically ready. Even with their inexperience, they're probably better than most starting D-1 guards.
There will be two keys: Two guys stepping up among Wysocki, Redmond, Benenoch and even Goines to really seize two starting spots; and an avoidance of injuries. Even a moderate amount of injuries could see UCLA having to dip too far into its inexperienced depth chart.
Depth Chart Going Into Fall Camp
Left Tackle: Xavier Su'a-Filo (JR, 6-3, 304), Poasi Moala (FR, 6-5, 260), Connor McDermott (R-FR, 6-8, 260)
Left Guard: Ben Wysocki (R-SO, 6-4, 285), Alex Redmond (FR, 6-5, 295), John Lopez (FR, 6-5, 305), Lacy Westbrook (FR, 6-4, 320)
Center: Jake Brendel (RS-SO, 6-4, 280), Carl Hulick (R-FR, 6-2, 277), Scott Quessenberry (FR, 6-3, 275)
Right Guard: Caleb Benenoch (FR, 6-5, 315), Kevin McReynolds (RS-SO, 6-2, 292), Kenny Lacy (FR, 6-5, 280), Colby Cyburt (R-FR, 6-3, 255)
Right Tackle: Torian White (R-SO, 6-5, 285), Simon Goines (SO, 6-6, 320), Christian Morris (FR, 6-6, 285)