Spring Preview: Offensive Line

UCLA could be without as many as three of the offensive linemen who started last year this spring, which could lead to some interesting battles for playing time...

After starting last season looking like it might have a chance to be the most improved unit on the team, the offensive line was hit significantly by injuries soon after conference play began, which forced the coaching staff into triage along the line the rest of the year. Three of UCLA's top four tackles (Torian White, Simon Goines, and Conor McDermott) missed the majority of the year. Three true freshmen were forced to start for much of the season (Scott Quessenberry at left guard, Caleb Benenoch at right tackle, and Alex Redmond at right guard).

Shockingly, the results were almost passable, which is a credit to the coaching job that Adrian Klemm did as well as the development of the young players. Xavier Su'a-Filo's contributions, and certainly his ability to play both tackle and guard, cannot be discounted, but the development of the younger players has to be seen as a silver lining. Although the line in general did not perform up to preseason, fully-healthy projections, the experience gained by the younger players should provide significant dividends going forward.

A Look at Spring

Obviously, the biggest loss that the line has to deal with is that of Xavier Su'a-Filo. The left guard has been the mainstay of the line for the last two years, and has helped to turn the running game, in particular, into a dynamic force when he's slotted in at guard. It'd difficult to look at the remaining players on the roster and find another with his ability to pull and get downfield, but finding that guy will likely be a priority in spring.

It's still uncertain when or if Torian White will return to the team, and as of now, we'd say it's unlikely that he'll be good to go for spring. He not only is still recovering from a lower leg injury suffered early last season, but he is also still under investigation with regard to a potentially criminal incident that occurred while he was injured during the season. We'll operate under the assumption that he'll not be ready for practice.

As Jim Mora told us on the podcast, Simon Goines will also be out for most of spring after undergoing a knee operation this offseason. We've heard that in an ideal world the coaching staff would love to redshirt Goines this season to give him time to fully heal his knees, which have ailed him throughout his first two years at UCLA.

It's going to be an interesting spring, with a variety of younger players slotting in along the offensive line as the Bruins look to not only replace Su'a-Filo, but build depth with some of the more experienced players sitting out the spring.

What to Watch For

-- Is Poasi Moala ready for prime time? Moala is one of our favorite prospects to come out of the 2013 class, and, as Greg Biggins opined during his recruitment and we've reiterated a few times, he has pro potential at tackle. He gained plenty of good weight during the season last year, and we'd be shocked if he didn't come into spring football at 280 or more. The question will simply be whether he's ready for significant reps in his redshirt freshman year. Linemen progress at different rates, and even with his excellent athleticism and frame, it could still take him a while to develop into a potential starter at left tackle. This spring will be very big for him, as reps with the first team should be easy to come by.

Malcolm Bunche.
-- Who's the main contender for the vacant left guard position? Su'a-Filo's departure leaves a huge hole in the interior of UCLA's offensive line. Among the candidates to replace him by the start of the season include Kenny Lacy, Quessenberry, incoming graduate transfer Malcolm Bunche, and depending on how the tackle positions shake out, Benenoch. If we had to handicap it, we'd say that Bunche probably has the inside track on securing the position, based on his experience, but Lacy or Quessenberry could surprise. As with Goines, we've heard that, ideally, the coaching staff would love to get Quessenberry a redshirt year to build some distance between he and Jake Brendel at center and to allow him time to build up physically. Lacy, we've heard, has impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic, and there's a chance he could have a big spring that propels him into serious consideration for playing time. Evaluating Bunche, though, will likely be a big priority for the coaching staff, since his contributions could be key to the season.

-- How much growth will we see from Benenoch and Redmond? If the pictures are any guide, Benenoch has had a physical transformation in the offseason, going from a little pudgy to what looks like a prototype right tackle, with significant arm and chest definition. If Redmond has undergone a similar transformation in the offseason, the right side of the line could quickly become the anchor of the entire unit.

-- Can McDermott build on an impressive start to last season? As we wrote in fall camp, McDermott was arguably the second best tackle in San Bernardino, and was certainly deserving of a spot in the two deep. Due to injuries, he actually got his shot against Stanford, and looked good, briefly, before suffering his own season-ending shoulder injury. He's reportedly healthy heading into spring camp, and based on what we've seen of him walking around campus, he looks like a different person physically, carrying an easy 285 to 290 pounds. If he has maintained his flexibility and agility, while building his strength, he could be a contender for a starting spot, or at least a spot in the two deep.

-- Will this finally be the year where UCLA can redshirt some true freshmen? Najee Toran would be the obvious candidate of the two true freshmen to be a potential player this year, but UCLA would like to be able to redshirt him. The question will be whether UCLA can develop enough depth on the interior to keep Toran at bay. We know the coaching staff loves what they've seen of Toran so far, particularly with his athleticism and mean streak, and with the Texan coming in early, he'll have a chance to crack the two deep at either guard or center.

Projected Depth Chart for Spring

Left Tackle
Poasi Moala
Colby Cyburt

Left Guard
Malcolm Bunche
Kenny Lacy
Najee Toran

Jake Brendel
Scott Quessenberry
Kevin McReynolds

Right Guard
Alex Redmond
Carl Hulick
Ben Wysocki
John Lopez

Right Tackle
Caleb Benenoch
Conor McDermott

Bruin Report Online Top Stories