Offensive Line Review
Top Performer: Conor McDermott
McDermott was certainly challenged a bit this spring by an improved UCLA pass rush, the switch to more of a run-oriented offense, and a minor upper body injury toward the end of spring, but he still showed why he's the best offensive lineman on the team, and, in terms of UCLA's hopes this year, just behind Josh Rosen as the most valuable player on the offensive side of the ball. Coming out of a three-point stance a little bit more was a challenge for the 6'9-ish McDermott, but he has such good bend that he was able to manage. His pass protection is his obvious strongpoint, and he was once again very good this spring. Assuming he can stay healthy this year, he should be one of the top linemen in the entire Pac-12.
Most Improved: Najee Toran
Toran narrowly edges out Kolton Miller here, more due to recency bias than anything. While Miller's best two weeks of camp were probably the first two, Toran's best two weeks were the last two. He really started to come on in terms of pass protection toward the end of the spring, looking a little less likely to lunge and a little more patient, which was a big key for him. His run-blocking is an absolute plus, because he's mobile enough to act as a lead blocker on pulls and he also plays angry enough to make up for not being a huge guard. It's going to be interesting to see how the guard competition goes this fall, especially with Tevita Halalilo more than likely missing the year. Toran seemed to be the mainstay at guard this spring, so we wouldn't be shocked to see him starting this fall.
As we wrote many times this spring, if you were just looking at UCLA's tackles, you'd say that UCLA has a potentially dominant offensive line. With McDermott and Miller, UCLA has two 6'7+ tackles with great bend and great feet who are very good in pass protection and developing as run blockers in this new pro-style system of Kennedy Polamalu's. Miller, like we said, wasn't quite as good over the last two weeks as he was during the first two weeks (he looked perhaps a bit worn down, which makes sense given UCLA's lack of offensive line depth), but given what we saw out of him last year and into spring this year, we have very high expectations for him heading into the season.
The interior was a bit more of an issue, particularly at the two guard spots. As we wrote above, Toran seemed to settle in at guard over the last two weeks and got better in terms of pass protection, but the first two weeks were not pretty for him against pass rushers. Hopefully, he continues to improve his patience and reins in his natural aggression against pass rushers. Poasi Moala was in and out of the first string with what looked like a continuation of his hand injury from last year, but even when he was in, he seemed fairly inconsistent. He still looks pretty lean, and struggles some with his assignments at times. We had heard the light bulb was coming on for him right before he got hurt last year, so hopefully it can come on in a big way during fall camp. The other guard who got significant time with the 1s was Kenny Lacy, and he certainly has valuable experience as a starter. We've always liked what he brought to the table in terms of athleticism, but strength seems to be much more of a premium now in the new offense, so it'll be interesting to see what happens with Lacy.
At center, Scott Quessenberry, coming off of a redshirt year after shoulder surgery, had to shake off some rust through the first week or two. He looked much better over the last two weeks of the spring, and we've heard rave reviews about what he brings to the game mentally as well. Obviously, UCLA has Jake Raulerson coming in this fall, and he'll compete with Quessenberry at center, but it's probably a given that Quessenberry will start this year, either at center or guard.
There isn't much depth anywhere, thanks to the multitude of injuries and early entries over the last year. Andre James looks like he's the second-string tackle at both spots, and ideally you'd like another year to get him ready. He has a lot of ability, but still is too inconsistent to be trusted game-in and game-out to protect a quarterback's blind side. As we said earlier this spring, his best position might even be guard, but there's a serious lack of tackle depth. Zach Bateman is still far from a reliable contributor.
In the depth chart at guard, Josh Wariboko really struggled this spring, and had a couple of practices where he just looked like he had lost all confidence. He's got a lot of work to do, and it's hard to imagine him being a significant contributor this year. Cristian Garcia, who was pressed into action last year, could be called on to play at some point, and he'd probably be more capable.
As should be obvious, health is going to be of paramount importance for the offensive line this fall. One injury to a starting tackle and UCLA is in trouble. More than one injury to a starting interior lineman and UCLA is in trouble. If Raulerson can come in and steal the center spot from Quessenberry, that'll alleviate some mild depth concerns, but the overall issue (lack of playable depth) will remain. The potential starting group of something like McDermott, Toran, Raulerson, Quessenberry, and Miller has a chance to be very good, but when has a UCLA offensive line made it through an entire season unscathed?
Projected Fall Depth Chart
LT: McDermott, James, Alex Akingbulu
LG: Toran, Lacy, Wariboko, Mike Alves
C: Raulerson, Garcia
RG: Quessenberry, Moala, Francisco Perez
RT: Miller, James, Batemannull