Andre James with Hank Fraley (Blair Angulo)

UCLA Football Spring Review: Offensive Line

May 9 -- We take a look at the offensive line, which is short on bodies and somewhat short on overall talent...

Offensive Line

Positional MVP: Andre James

This one didn't come quite out of nowhere -- we thought James had a chance to be pretty good at guard down the road -- but it was still impressive to watch him work this spring. He really does look like a natural at the guard spot, and he's come a long way in just the last year. He plays with a nice, wide base that gives him great balance in pass protection, and he also looks to be an effective run blocker (though that's harder to tell in a practice setting). Every spot on the interior was a huge question mark coming into the spring, and James did a nice job of shoring up at least one spot in the group. We'd be pretty stunned if he's not a starting guard this fall, and that's not just a testament to the lack of depth -- he looked legitimately good this spring.

The other contender for this title is Kolton Miller, who did well most of the spring at left tackle. He didn't have to contend with anyone like Takkarist McKinley this spring, which helped (Jaelan Phillips will get there at some point, but he's not quite there yet), but he still did a nice job in pass protection on Josh Rosen's blind side. He looks like he'll be a stronger run blocker than Conor McDermott was, with a bigger, stronger base, so if he can get his pass protection to the level of McDermott the last few years, that would be a huge boon to the line. He looked none the worse for wear after the injury that ended his year last year.

Best Younger Player: Jake Burton

Burton made the switch from defensive line to offensive line this spring and didn't look half bad doing it. He has a body that projects well for offensive tackle, and he already has shown the requisite athleticism and strength to be a good one down the road. In an ideal world, this would be an obvious year for him to sit and learn, but we wouldn't be shocked if he ends up the first tackle off the bench this year -- that's how thin UCLA is. Packing on a little bit more weight over the coming months is going to be key, because the odds are good if he's the third tackle on the team that he'll probably need to play at some point, and might even need to start. That's a heck of a thing to ask of a redshirt freshman newly converted offensive lineman, but those are the breaks when the roster looks as bad as this.

The other contender for this spot, though distantly behind Burton, was Mike Alves. He looked pretty competent this spring, and there's a chance that he'll end up the first guard off the bench depending on how things shake out with the rest of the depth chart. He actually played a little tackle at points, and while you wouldn't want to play him there if you can help it, he didn't look completely uncomfortable. Again, Alves looks like the kind of guy who could compete to start in his third and fourth years in the program, but he might be pressed into extensive duty this year.

Scott Quessenberry (Blair Angulo)

Player Who Most Needs To Step Up: Scott Quessenberry

Quessenberry has never really been a bad practice player, so this isn't really even a critique of the spring. But while he drew All Pac-12 honors for his play last year, it didn't really add up from what we saw from him on the field. UCLA really seemed to feel the loss of Jake Brendel last year both in terms of his individual play and in terms of his leadership and acumen up front. In the state UCLA is in, the Bruins really need Quessenberry to step up in a big way this year and help shore up what will be at best a woefully inexperienced interior.

You could also make the case that Najee Toran needs to step up in a major way as well. Toran is very likely going to start this year at guard, and he's put on the kind of strength he'll need to play that position at a high level this year. The question for him has always been whether he can pass block at the level he needs to. This spring, he looked improved, but he still has a ways to go. Kenny Lacy made the move to tackle, and through the first couple of weeks, he would have easily won this dubious award, but he looked better over the last couple of weeks of spring.

We didn't see anything of Poasi Moala (hip), Alex Akingbulu (leg), or Zach Bateman this spring, and we don't have much of an update on them, so it's hard to project how they might fit in this fall. Josh Wariboko-Alali struggled this spring in much the same way he struggled last spring, having difficulty especially in pass protection, where he was prone to lunging. Paco Perez gives UCLA a big body at guard, but he still has a ways to go before he'd be a real contender for a starting job. As it stands, he might have to play this year, but that's simply because of the lack of depth.

The offensive line is not in good shape; yes, there's a depth issue, in that there isn't a lot of playable depth, but there's also the issue that the starting five, if it carries through to fall camp, might be the least talented group UCLA has started a season with on the offensive line since Jim Mora has been here. Hopefully, the next few months see a good deal of gelling among this group.


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