We're heading into the first spring in recent memory where we'd actually be inclined to say that everything is pointing toward UCLA having a pretty good offensive line this season. First, UCLA had a strong finish to the year up front, especially after Conor McDermott was inserted in place of Malcolm Bunche at left tackle about halfway through the year. UCLA returns every player who started at the end of the year, so the expectation is that they'll improve as a group from the end of last year, when they were pretty good.
Of course, this being UCLA, and with nothing ever being easy, there's another item to consider heading into spring: Adrian Klemm's status. As Tracy posted recently, there's reason to expect that Klemm's suspension won't be resolved until after spring practice, which means that UCLA will need to figure out some sort of interim coach for spring, or some way of shifting the staff to account for Klemm's absence. It's not ideal, but UCLA has enough experience on the line, with enough returning starters, that we don't think it'll be catastrophic.
A Look at Spring
We promise we won't mention this more than a dozen more times between now and the start of the 2015 season, but McDermott really had a significant effect on the offense last year, protecting Brett Hundley much better than any left tackle he's had while also looking above average as a run blocker. What's exciting is that, up to this point, McDermott hasn't had a really healthy offseason in his time at UCLA. With the past three months to work out and continue to improve his shoulder strength, it's going to be very interesting to see what McDermott has to offer this spring.
Scott Quessenberry, who's had two shoulder surgeries for labrum issues in the last few months, is out for the spring, and could be questionable for the season. We've heard, as we heard last year, that in an ideal world UCLA would love to redshirt him this year, so we'd imagine that'll be the goal heading into the year.
Caleb Benenoch, who had relatively minor knee surgery in January, will probably be limited in spring, but we've heard he should be fine by the start of the season. We would imagine he'll work at guard when he does team stuff, though, because Zach Bateman is probably good enough to start early, and the best fit for him will be at tackle. So, in that case, Benenoch's versatility probably means he gets flipped to guard.
We're excited to see Bateman, since we've only gotten a look at him up close during one game. The initial plan, as we mentioned, is for him to get a look at right tackle, and the competition for that spot should be one of the more interesting things to watch this spring.
Simon Goines, healthy now, will likely be among the main challengers to Bateman at right tackle. Goines sat out all of last year while rehabbing from the several leg injuries and surgeries he's had in the last few years. If he's fully healthy, he could provide very real competition to Bateman, but, regardless, it'll be good just to get him through the spring without any recurrences of his injuries.
Jake Brendel has a firm lock on the center position, and we'd imagine Alex Redmond has the other guard spot more or less locked down. It'll be interesting to see, though, what happens with Kenny Lacy. We actually liked the way he performed at guard last year more than Redmond or Bunche. If he's continued to transform his body, perhaps he'll actually push Redmond, or even Benenoch, at either guard spot, and if he's really transformed, perhaps he'll even get a look at tackle as well.
Poasi Moala is a wildcard in the right tackle competition. The light seemed to start to flicker on toward the end of last year when he got some time playing as, effectively, a tight end in UCLA's heavy package. If he's continued to grow into his body, and has added some weight, he could definitely factor into the competition.
We don't expect much from Kolton Miller this spring, since he's still in the process of building his body, but we liked what we saw from him in terms of his physical tools last year. A nice spring will be good for his development and help set him up for a potential starting role in a couple of years.
John Lopez and Colby Cyburt are the odd men out to an extent. Lopez hasn't progressed as well as some of his classmates and still has work to do on his body. It'll be interesting to see what progress he's made in the last few months. With Cyburt, his back injury early in his career put him a fair bit behind in his development, and it's been hard for him to catch up. He's a hard worker with a good attitude, so he'll have a role on the scout team, at least.
Najee Toran, as we've reported, is potentially moving to the defensive line, though we're not sure if that'll be the case from the start of spring. With Benenoch potentially limited and Quessenberry out, we could see a situation where Toran has to flip between the two positions for a while for depth purposes.
Projected Post-Spring Depth Chart
Spring Preview: Offensive Line
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