UCLA Fall Camp Preview: Offensive Line

Jul. 31 -- It may not be saying much, but this should be the best UCLA offensive line in a long, long time...

If you spend much time reading national previews of UCLA, you'll see that behind quarterback questions and concerns about a pass rush, the biggest issue most pundits seem to settle on is pass protection. And it's understandable looking at the raw stats, where UCLA gave up 40 sacks, including 10 in a disastrous performance against Utah.

But those total stats are a little deceptive, particularly if you analyze last season's offensive line in terms of pre-Conor McDermott and post-Conor McDermott sections. McDermott was inserted into the starting lineup for the game against California, which was the 7th game of the season. Here's a look at the sack totals for those two chunks of the season.

Six games pre-McDermott
Virginia: 5 sacks, 21 yards
Memphis: 4 sacks, 22 yards
Texas: 3 sacks, 24 yards
Arizona State: 1 sack, 5 yards
Utah: 10 sacks, 59 yards
Oregon: 2 sacks, 25 yards

Total: 25 sacks, 156 yards, 6.24 yards lost per sack.

Seven games post-McDermott:
California: 1 sack, 1 yard
Colorado: 0 sacks, 0 yards
Arizona: 4 sacks, 14 yards
Washington: 1 sack, 4 yards
USC: 2 sacks, 10 yards
Stanford: 5 sacks, 26 yards
Kansas State: 2 sacks 14 yards

Total: 15 sacks, 69 yards, 4.6 yards lost per sack.

So, in other words, there was a profound effect when McDermott was inserted into the starting lineup. Not only did the total sack numbers go down considerably (UCLA allowed ten fewer sacks in the seven games with McDermott than they did in the six games without him), but the average yards lost per sack dropped substantially. Instead of taking sacks at the peak of his drop, at least a handful of Brett Hundley's "sacks" over the last half of the season were more akin to rushes that were dropped for a slight loss. The only team that seemed to have considerable success against UCLA from a pass rush perspective was Stanford, which is understandable given the quality of that defense.

Every player who was starting at the end of the year last year returns for this season. Scott Quessenberry is unlikely to play at this point after undergoing two shoulder surgeries this offseason, but UCLA has enough depth to make replacing him fairly painless. Given the quality UCLA showed over the last half of the year, and the rushing numbers UCLA was able to generate over the course of last season, there's every reason to expect UCLA's offensive line to make a huge leap this season.

Injury/Personnel Updates


***Scott Quessenberry -- UCLA would ideally like to redshirt Quessenberry this year, as he's still recovering from two shoulder surgeries to repair labrum damage. It's unlikely that he does much of anything in San Bernardino.

***Caleb Benenoch -- Benenoch should be ready to go for fall camp after being limited this spring after offseason knee surgery.

***Simon Goines -- Goines was able to go through most things during spring, but he was still limited during one-on-one drills. It'll be interesting to see what he's able to do during fall camp.

Incoming Freshmen


Center/Guard Fred Ulu-Perry
Guard/Tackle Andre James
Guard Josh Wariboko
Guard/Tackle Tevita Halalilo

It's a talented freshmen group. The most likely to play early, from what we've heard, would be Ulu-Perry and James, with Ulu-Perry having the ability to play both guard and center, while James projects as a tackle or guard.

The Starters



We touched on this up top, but Conor McDermott had such a profound effect on the offensive line at the midway point through last season that he's gone from basically an injured afterthought at the beginning of 2014 to arguably UCLA's most indispensable offensive lineman entering the 2015 season.

He's everything you want in a left tackle, with great feet, excellent bend, very good lateral agility for his size, and very good strength. If he has the kind of season many expect, he could start to build some considerable NFL hype by the end of the year, which would be a stunning turn given how he started the 2014 season.

The only other real contender for the title of most indispensable on the offensive line is Jake Brendel, who'll start at center. Brendel has started at center for the Bruins since 2012, and he's been the same steady performer pretty much every year. We're expecting a little bit of a jump for him this year, though, as he's gotten stronger and had a really nice spring going against UCLA's star interior linemen Kenneth Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes every day.

The rest of the starting group is at least somewhat unsettled, but we'll take a stab at it. Alex Redmond's job is probably safe, and he'll slide in at right guard. We thought Redmond had a pretty rough year after a good freshman season, struggling especially with pass protection. If he can get back to playing with the tenacity he showed his freshman year, he can make up for some of his lack of elite agility.

We'll also go ahead and say Benenoch will win the starting right tackle job. When he was fully healthy last spring, he looked like a future star at left tackle. He injured his knee and ankle toward the end of that spring, and really didn't look mobile last season as he nursed those injuries. This spring, he was still coming back, but when we saw him in one-on-ones toward the end of spring, we saw flashes of the same player we saw the previous spring. Assuming he's fully healthy, we think he'll be the obvious choice at right tackle.

The remaining guard spot is probably the most uncertain, mostly because it will actually be filled by someone other than Quessenberry, who started there last year. As it stands, we'll go with Kenny Lacy. We actually thought he was the best of the revolving door of guards last season, between Lacy, Quessenberry, Malcolm Bunche, and Redmond. He is a pretty good athlete and does some positive things in pass protection and downfield run-blocking. The big thing for him has always been getting stronger, and hopefully entering his third year in the program, he'll be that much stronger than he was during his second year.

Depth



UCLA's depth on the offensive line is pretty decent, though still not spectacular. With Quessenberry almost assuredly sitting out the year, and Goines always having some injury uncertainty surrounding him, there are still a few good options if UCLA has an injury or two, but after that, it'll be down to freshmen.

Zach Bateman didn't have a great spring, looking a little out-of-sorts after having to play guard for most of April (remember: he came in with the intention of playing left tackle). After seeing him this spring, we're not sure if he'll be able to beat out Benenoch for the right tackle job, so his best bet is probably trying to win the starting left guard job from Lacy. We wouldn't anticipate that happening at this point, but he should provide solid depth at both guard and tackle in the event of an injury.

Kolton Miller had a very good spring, and looks like a pretty obvious heir to McDermott at left tackle, assuming he continues to develop. Everything you can say about McDermott, you can say about him: he's long and tall with great feet, good agility, and is developing physically with good weight. He could fill in at either tackle spot if necessary.

Poasi Moala played mostly guard this spring, and he had flashes where he looked pretty good, and flashes where he still looked pretty lost. He still needs to continue to get stronger, especially if he's going to play inside. If he's made considerable progress, that would go a long way for us to consider the depth pretty solid, because it would give UCLA another swing backup who could play either guard or tackle.

John Lopez had some nice moments this spring, but he had most of those moments against walkons. We really didn't see him go against legitimate defensive linemen much this spring, so that's one thing we'll be watching this fall. If he can start winning some battles against some of the top defensive linemen on the team, we'll be more comfortable considering him a real contender for the two-deep.

Obviously, if UCLA can get anything out of Goines, that would make the depth very good. Beyond him, with Quessenberry out, UCLA will likely have to lean on freshmen.

The first among the freshman would probably be Ulu-Perry. Everything we've heard about him so far this offseason emphasizes how strong he is. He has the potential to play either guard or center, and will probably be Brendel's primary backup at center if he goes down. He could also crack the two-deep at guard if Moala doesn't develop.

Andre James could also find his way into the two-deep depending on Goines' health. He looked good physically when we saw him in June, and with an offseason of strength-training, he could be pretty close to college-ready by the start of fall camp.

Tevita Halalilo and Josh Wariboko are probably a little further off, and would make more sense as redshirt candidates, from what we've heard, though strange things happen when the team hits fall camp.


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