State of O-Line Recruiting

Apr. 16 -- With a number of UCLA offensive line prospects recently committing elsewhere, and Offensive Line Coach Adrian Klemm suspended indefinitely, is it time to panic yet about UCLA offensive line recruiting for 2016?

You wouldn’t say that UCLA offensive line recruiting is in crisis mode just yet. There’s too much time left before National Signing Day next February. At this point last year, UCLA wasn’t even recruiting many of the prospects that made up its offensive line recruiting board in January.

But while we’re not at Defcon 1 or 2, you’d have to say that offensive line recruiting is at Defcon 4.

It has to be said: Since the suspension of Offensive Line Coach Adrian Klemm for alleged NCAA violations on March 16th, offensive line recruiting has fallen off a cliff. A month ago, UCLA looked pretty good in offensive line recruiting, leading or among the favorites for a number of good to elite OL prospects. Since, a number of them have committed elsewhere, or UCLA has fallen out of their favorites list.

It’s probably due to a combination of both Klemm not being able to recruit due to his suspension, and the perception from recruits.

In the last month, six 2016 offensive line prospects that UCLA has offered and was recruiting aggressively committed elsewhere. They are:

Luke Wattenberg, #25 OT, San Juan Capistrano JSerra, committed to Washington
Jonah Williams, #12 OT, Folsom (Calif.), committed to Alabama
Nathan Smith, #26 OT, Murrieta (Calif.) Murrieta Mesa, committed to USC
J.P. Urquidez, #28 OT, Copperas Cove (Tex.), committed to Baylor
Jacob Capra, #48 OT, Auburn (Calif.), committed to Oregon
Frank Martin, #11 OG, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, committed to USC

There are some explanations and elaborations here. Williams is the truly elite prospect here, and he was going to the SEC regardless. You could make an argument either way that Smith or Martin are losses – or not. While UCLA and Klemm had been pursuing Smith, he didn’t look very good at The Opening L.A. (he said he was injured). He did have an impressive offer sheet, but we still think Smith possibly wasn’t that big of a loss. Martin is a solid prospect, but not elite. Urquidez is probably in that same category – a solid prospect but not elite. Most scouts are on the fence about Capra. After Williams, Wattenberg might be the second-best OL prospect in the west. He’s not elite, but better than just “solid,” and UCLA was probably leading for him a month ago, with his sisters having attended UCLA. So, Wattenberg you can chalk up as a clear loss.

In analyzing UCLA’s needs for the 2016 class, you first have to look at UCLA’s projected depth chart for the 2016 season:

Left Tackle
Conor McDermott (6-8, 290, R-JR.)
Kolton Miller (6-8, 305, R-SO.)

Left Guard
Kenny Lacy (6-4, 285, R-JR.)
Zach Bateman (6-5, 310, SR/R-JR.)
John Lopez (6-5, 315, R-JR.)
Josh Wariboko (6-3, 305, R-FR.)

Scott Quessenberry (6-4, 282, SR/R-JR.)
Fred Ulu-Perry (6-2.5, 295, R-FR.)

Right Guard
Alex Redmond (6-5, 300, SR.)
Poasi Moala (6-4, 285, R-JR.)
Tevita Halalilo (6-4.5, 340, R-FR.)

Right Tackle
Caleb Benenoch (6-5, 310, SR.) OR
Simon Goines (6-6, 320, R-SR.)
Andre James (6-4.5, 285, R-FR.)

It still holds up fairly well, barring injury or transfer. Ideally, when recruiting to the offensive line, you’d like to bring in a recruit as a true freshman, get him in the system and weight training program for a year, before you’d project him to really contributing. So, looking at this depth chart, there are potentially five seniors, even though Quessenberry and Bateman could redshirt this season (2015) and still be juniors in 2016. You also have to consider that Conor McDermott, with how good he is as a left tackle, and if he progresses, could be a threat to leave early. So, really, UCLA probably needs at least 3, if not 4 offensive line prospects in the 2016 class. Again, what's critical, too, is the 2017 depth chart, after losing the 2016 seniors, and having a 3- or 4-man 2016 class plugged in.

Using hindsight, it might have behooved the projected depth chart some if UCLA had brought in a fifth signee for 2015, since there were some in that class it could have gotten. In that class it signed three interior OLs and just one tackle-type in James, and will more than likely lose two tackles to graduation after 2016 in Benenoch and Goines. Also, after a couple of weeks of spring practice, it appears that Bateman is more suited to guard than tackle.

In other words, UCLA needs tackles.

Where does UCLA offensive line recruiting, then, go from here?

The biggest factor, obviously, is the fate of Adrian Klemm. We’re hearing that it’s likely he returns to UCLA and be sanctioned for some NCAA rules violations. The process, we’ve heard, could take a few months, which would project to getting back Klemm on the staff in the summer, before fall camp. It’s impossible, though, to anticipate what 2-3 more months of Klemm not being able to recruit could do to UCLA’s offensive line recruiting. It could take us to Defcon 3.

What it will do is truly challenge Klemm to live up to the reputation of being a superior recruiter. He will have missed on a number of months of recruiting and it clearly will set back UCLA recruiting considerably. Klemm has shown since being at UCLA that he is one of the best OL recruiters in the country, so to get a good OL class in 2016 will really put those recruiting talents on the line.

Again, it’s impossible to anticipate what the OL recruiting landscape will be like when Klemm returns. We can only anticipate that it will be more of the same that we’ve seen in the last month, with many UCLA prospects having committed elsewhere, or UCLA falling significantly behind in recruiting others.

A big indicator of whether UCLA OL recruiting gets to Defcon 3 is what some of the key remaining UCLA targets do before Klemm returns.

Michael Eletise
Keep an eye on Willie Allen (Pictured Above), the nation’s #5-ranked tackle, from River Ridge (La.) John Curtis Christian. He’s been at the top of UCLA’s OL recruiting board for a while. Klemm has put in a great amount of time recruiting him, visiting him last winter a few times, so the question will be whether Allen will still have UCLA among his favorites after potentially a couple more months of Klemm’s suspension. LSU was going to be difficult to beat anyway so this makes it quite a bit tougher. The other prospects to also watch are Greg Little, the nation’s #1 tackle prospect from Texas who is verbally committed to Texas A&M but intended to visit UCLA; and Michael Eletise, the #9-ranked guard, from Hawaii, who UCLA and Klemm had built a good relationship with. As of right now, with UCLA kind of persona non gratis, he's feeling Oregon and Washington.

An interesting situation to watch is that of Alex Akingbulu, the prospect from Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne. UCLA, along with other programs, offered him this spring, and then he didn't look the part at The Opening in March, weighing about 230 pounds. He, though, was in his basketball season and had lost weight, and is expected to gain a great deal of it back in time for fall. It could be very timely for Akingbulu to re-emerge as a legitimate prospect right when Klemm is reinstated. It could also be a year that Klemm has to knowingly take a development player, and that would be Akingbulu.

A couple Hawaii recruits, Nate Herbig and Sean Auwae, are two guys UCLA has been recruiting, and could be two prospects they move on and end up recruiting aggressively. They both did well at The Opening, with Auwae winning the OL MVP and Herbig looking good. Two local tackle types that UCLA could end up pursuing are Francisco Perez and Cohl Cabral, both of whom have Pac-12 offers.

The OL depth chart, as we said, will need tackles, and it happens to be a fairly down year for tackles in the west – for OLs in general in the west. Klemm has been very effective at recruiting nationally, so we could see him going national to try to fill in his 2016 class. And then also waiting and watching for some west coast prospects to emerge during their senior seasons.

Given Klemm’s suspension, and when and if he returns, it’s impossible to know how many OL prospects that are on UCLA’s list now will be there by August. As we said, even last year the OL recruiting board looked almost entirely different from March to August. More than likely, Klemm will be starting from scratch when he returns.

A key to OL recruiting is going to be UCLA’s Big Man’s Camp June 26th. If Klemm is reinstated by then it would go an extremely long way to salvaging the 2016 offensive line class. Many prospects traditionally come to it, and some get offers from it. It would heighten the damage of 2016 OL recruiting if Klemm can't participate and benefit from that camp.

Before Klemm's suspension it was, admittedly, easy to be selective, and consider recruits like Martin and Smith just passable prospects. It could be, as the full effect of Klemm's situation is ultimately felt, that prospects of the caliber of Martin and Smith will be considered very desireable. It could be that, with a pretty good projected depth chart, that UCLA feels it would feel like a win to get through the Klemm situation and ultimately sign one or two OL prospects of that caliber, along with a couple of development recruits.

No matter, Klemm is going to face perhaps the biggest recruiting challenge of his career in recruiting the 2016.

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