After watching just two practices, it really isn’t enough to make any conclusions, but we’re going to be presumptuous when analyzing the UCLA offensive line.
On one hand, it’s concerning.
If there's been a revelation at all, it's been Toran. He’s quite a bit bigger physically from a season ago, looking to be 300 pounds, and he still moves well. He was always good against the run, with very good strength, while questionable in pass rush, but in two practices he’s looked stout, wide and difficult to get around with a great punch in the OL/DL drills.
http://www.scout.com/college/ucla/story/1768935-video-ol-dl-one-on-ones James, too, has made some strides, looking quite a bit more refined and confident. He was moved inside to start spring, and he’s done well there, but for lack of anyone else who could play right tackle, he’s gotten some reps at his old spot, and has looked the best among anyone. He’s the only one who’s shown that he’s comfortable at the spot and has the lateral quickness to make it work.
Quessenberry has had two good days, showing some refinement and more consistency, along with an improved body.
Miller is by far the best OL on the team, hands down. It’s what a future NFL tackle looks like. UCLA is probably one more Kolton Miller away from being really good in 2017. The UCLA Medical Center was reportedly doing some clone research and it might think about experimenting with a Kolton Miller clone.
After those four, it appears UCLA offensive line coach Hank Fraley is in search of that fifth guy. It could either be a guard or a tackle, because of James’ versatility of being able to play inside or outside.
You’d think that Kenny Lacy would be a guy, by his redshirt senior year, who would be able to own a starting spot, but he’s been inconsistent so far in two practices. Perhaps he’s just shaking off rust. There were times in the 2015 and 2016 seasons he was among the best performing OLs on the team in any give game, but his focus has always been a question. He’d have a good game and then a particularly poor one. The experiment this spring for him is right tackle, but after two practices it appears he’s better inside without an open edge.
A big question mark has been the whereabouts of redshirt freshman tackle Alex Akingbulu. He has been absent for the first two practices. We didn’t ask Jim Mora about it after UCLA’s first practice Tuesday, and no one else in the program either knows or is allowed to talk about it. Akingbulu showed promise last year in practice, and there was a chance he could have improved enough to plug in at right tackle. We’ll definitely ask Mora about him Saturday.
After Lacy, none of the younger offensive linemen have really shown the potential to be a starter this season, at least in the first two practices. Perhaps redshirt sophomore Josh Wariboko-Alali has fared the best. He looks physically improved, with his weight being shifted to the right spots, and he has displayed a good combination of foot speed and strength. But he’ll then mix in a rep that is a big miss at times. Redshirt freshman Mike Alves might be the slight best among the 2016 class, with a good body and flashes of some athleticism. Redshirt freshman Paco Perez, after spending most of the time recovering from an injury last season, is about at the same level as Alves at this point, showing some promise but then lapsing. Walk-on center Markus Boyer has had some moments, but it’s been against mostly walk-on DLs. We’d like to see him get more chances against Boss Tagaloa and see how he does. He’s small, at probably 6-1 and 290, but he’s stout and violent. Redshirt freshman Jake Burton, who has converted from defensive end to offensive tackle, absolutely has a legitimate chance to be a player. He still looks fairly thin – and he’s 280 pounds, so that’s very promising; it seems he’ll very easily be able to add weight, then. We think it’s a stretch, though, he could transform into a starter at right tackle by next fall, but perhaps good enough to be playable depth by then.
Walk-on redshirt senior Gyo Shojima, who got some playing time last season, has looked decent, and he could be in the competition for that fifth guy.
Poasi Moala, the redshirt senior, is out for spring, still recovering from off-season hip surgery.
As we’ve all suspected, and the first two days of spring practice have confirmed, the offensive line is easily the biggest worry on the team heading into the 2017 season, and while the first four look solid, it’s still a matter of finding that fifth guy and playable depth. Every season there are injuries, and you need to go probably at least eight deep with guys who can play and not hurt the OL’s performance significantly.
UCLA has five 2017 offensive line recruits coming into the program this summer, and we’d be surprised if there’s a 2017 starter among them. The most purely talented is Stephan Zabié, the nation’s No. 29-ranked offensive tackle, from Texas. We’ve heard there is still a question of whether he qualifies academically, but it’s looking good. If he does, he’d be a candidate to immediately play as a true freshman, either at that right tackle spot or perhaps inside initially if he was forced in to playing. Sean Seawards would be the only other true freshman perhaps ready to play physically, but we suspect, even though he’s 315 pounds, he would still need some time in the weight room before he’s playable. There’s Kanan Ray, from Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, but we think he’s probably on the talent/development level and track of an Alves or Perez, and will need at least a redshirt year. Zack Sweeney and Jax Wacaser physically need to develop, so we’d be very surprised if either were ready to play for 2017.
And by the way: incoming tight end recruit Moses Robinson-Carr attended practice Tuesday, and we’re keeping our money on him ending up at offensive line. He looks very big, at about 6-6 and 260ish, and completely like a future offensive tackle.
That leaves UCLA with the graduate transfer market to plug in some immediate help for the 2017 season. We’ve heard that UCLA is still shopping, but we haven’t heard that there is one particularly candidate at this time. The name we had heard previously was Baylor’s starting tackle from a season ago, Dominic Desouza. He revealed in late February he was leaving the Baylor program after graduating – but also that he was retiring from football. He started all 13 games for Baylor at tackle and would provide some immediate help for UCLA’s OL, and while he still has the option to be a grad transfer, it sounds like he is actually choosing to retire. Since he was originally from the College of San Mateo, a JC with which UCLA has some ties, there was a thought he’d be a possibility. There are a couple of other names we’ve heard, but they have yet to leave their current schools so we can’t share them at this time. Getting one graduate transfer, if not two, would be a big boost to the 2017 UCLA offensive line, and the 2017 season in general.