The last few weeks for UCLA's offensive line have been filled with turmoil. Coming into the year, the coaching staff had high expectations for the offensive line, with Jim Mora saying on a few occasions that he thought the o-line could make the same kind of leap that the defensive line made last year. That actually seemed prescient through the first three games of the season, with UCLA blocking better than it has in years, thanks to excellent performances from the interior linemen, including freshman right guard Alex Redmond, and improved play from the tackles.
Against Utah, Torian White, who had just returned to left tackle after starting the year at right, went down with a leg injury that will sideline him for the rest of the regular season. Since then, the line has been in a state of flux, with his backup, Simon Goines, exacerbating an existing knee injury, and then HIS backup, Conor McDermott, dislocating his shoulder. Now, heading into Oregon tomorrow, there's a very good chance that UCLA will start three true freshmen on the offensive line, with Scott Quessenberry in line to potentially get his first career start at left guard.
Heading into the year, many expected the offensive line to be marginally improved over a year ago, with the influx of talented backups at most positions. Last year, the depth was extremely thin, and the expectation was this year that UCLA would finally have the makings of a two deep.
You can see that depth to a certain extent, but the simple fact is that UCLA has already suffered an absurd amount of injuries to its offensive line, particularly at the tackle position. Where UCLA had a full two deep at tackle to start the year, with White, Goines, McDermott, and Caleb Benenoch, the Bruins now have one healthy tackle and Xavier Su'a-Filo, who hasn't really played the position since before he left for his mission. It's clearly a difficult problem, one that probably won't be fully solved this year.
Last year, UCLA received commitments from seven offensive linemen, one of which has now transferred in Christian Morris. Between the six true freshmen, the position breakdown is essentially this:
Tackles: Poasi Moala, Benenoch
Guards: Kenny Lacy, Alex Redmond, John Lopez
Center: Scott Quessenberry
Additionally, this year, UCLA has switched Brandon Willis into a part-time offensive guard, so you have to factor him into the depth as well. In the healthy depth chart right now, eliminating guys who are intended to redshirt this year, and based off what we suspect will be the case from coach commentary, we have this:
LT: Xavier Su'a-Filo, ?
LG: Scott Quessenberry, Ben Wysocki, Willis
C: Jake Brendel, Quessenberry, Carl Hulick
RG: Alex Redmond, Wysocki, Willis
RT: Caleb Benenoch, ?
Reasonably, we can expect that Goines and McDermott will return at some point this year, and Mora is still holding out hope that Goines could return tomorrow against Oregon. Goines, for our part, is really the linchpin for the season. With White out, UCLA doesn't have a tackle on the roster with real game experience. Goines, when healthy, gives UCLA a reasonable starting lineup, with the two true freshmen on the right side, and Su'a-Filo back in his rightful place at left guard. With Goines out, UCLA has no depth, and is potentially starting three true freshmen.
The issue is that Goines has had what can only be termed chronic knee problems. Here's where our analysis comes in: if Goines is marginally healthy this week, at something like 70% capacity, don't play him. If he's a little bit better the following week, say at 75%, also don't play him. The reason? Oregon, tomorrow, is going to be a wildly tough game to win, even with a healthy Goines. Colorado, the following week, is going to be a wildly difficult game to lose, even with Tracy playing left tackle. Our thought would be to keep Goines out, give his knee the first extended rest its had since the offseason, and see how healthy he can be for the stretch run against the Arizona schools, Washington, and USC. If Goines is healthy for those games, UCLA has a chance to go 4-0 down the stretch and get another crack at Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game with a much healthier team.
Looking ahead, to 2014, it's easy to see that UCLA will have an improved starting offensive line, barring injuries. White, before he got hurt, looked like a potential All Pac-12 player. Redmond showed through the first three games of the season that he has the potential to be a high quality four year starter for UCLA. Jake Brendel will most likely figure out his snapping issues, and when he has the snaps down, has been a very effective center. Goines improved his body drastically this past offseason, and we'd have to imagine he will continue to improve it with another, hopefully healthy, offseason. Between Benenoch, Quessenberry, Lacy, John Lopez, and whichever players UCLA brings in this recruiting class, you can expect that they'll get credible play from the left guard spot, if not the otherworldly play from Su'a-Filo.
In terms of this upcoming recruiting class, though, it's becoming clear that it may need to be a bigger one in terms of offensive linemen than previously thought. At tackle, UCLA only has five guys that have really shown either potential or ability, in Moala, White, Benenoch, Goines, and McDermott. You could make a case, too, that Benenoch may move to guard with Su'a-Filo out, and that Goines, while he's shown the ability to play at a high level, needs to be healthy for a full season before he can be counted as a shoe-in 14 game starter next year. McDermott and Moala are both still a bit underweight, too, though you can project both filling out more next year. So, right now, we'd say the Bruins need to grab at least two tackles in this recruiting class.
With guards, there's a bit more leeway, especially if Willis turns out to be a player, but there's a lack of quality depth after the top line players. Redmond, Benenoch, Lacy, and Lopez could make up the two deep for UCLA next year. We figure Ben Wysocki has shown that he's probably more of a backup level player than a guy who should playing time. It's not certain that Willis will even stay on offense long term. Colby Cyburt hasn't been fully healthy at any point in his career, and Kevin McReynolds has battled concussion symptoms since fall. As with the tackle, we'd say UCLA should probably bring in two guards next year.
The beautiful thing for UCLA is that, for the first time in the Jim Mora era, the Bruins probably don't need to go out and pick up multiple offensive linemen who can come in and start immediately. UCLA has the luxury, now, of recruiting players to fill a depth chart rather than start immediately. That's not to say that a freshman couldn't come in and win a spot, like what could happen with, say, a Damien Mama at left guard (if he decided to come), but it's not a necessity like it has been these last two years.
The long term projection for the offensive line is much rosier than it's been at UCLA in quite a long time. The thing is, and as we've learned as UCLA followers all these years, depth on the offensive line rests on the head of a pin, and it takes just one or two injuries to take what is a very promising unit and turn it into a patchwork. And given that way UCLA has suffered injuries, retirements, and transfers on the offensive line, you can make the argument, easily, that the Bruins should be bringing in at least four offensive linemen every year.
Offensive Line Analysis
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