If you look at UCLA's current depth chart, it generally looks pretty stocked, with three and sometimes four players at most positions.
On the offensive line, though, just eyeballing it, there are only two players at every position, and one is a former walk-on, and another is listed at two positions.
It's very obvious that the offensive line is thin this year, and it's a situation that won't soon be rectified. Next season, while only losing senior Shane Lehmann to graduation, there is only one true freshman on the squad in P.J. Irvin.
In talking recruiting, you have to project. In projecting for next year, UCLA's team should be loaded, with most of its top players returning at every position, even on the offensive line. But as UCLA has experienced in the past, an injury bug that takes out a couple of OLs can wreak havoc with your offense, and UCLA's thinness at OL makes it very vulnerable. The line could use an infusion of more bodies next season, but also needs to bring in some top-flight talent, some talent that UCLA wouldn't mind getting into the mix immediately. Also, beyond the 2004-2005 year, if UCLA is to maintain the level of talent it has on the team it will have to recruit well on the offensive line now. While on one hand it's regrettable that UCLA is thin in bodies and talent at OL, it's a great recruiting tool - the ability to sell immediate playing time to recruits.
Here's how it breaks down: UCLA right now has just 20 scholarships to give to the 2004 class, and has already accepted 10 verbal commitments.
So far, UCLA has two commitments from players that project as offensive linemen, Shannon Tevaga of La Mirada (6-3, 295) and Brian Abraham of Rancho Cucamonga (6-6, 260). UCLA will shoot to bring in five total offensive line prospects, and could bring in more, possibly six, if elite players wanted to come. With UCLA already accepting 10 total verbal commitments, throw in three or four more offensive line recruits, that leaves only six or seven for the remainder of the class to fill other positions. Also, with UCLA having two commitments from projected defensive linemen and probably at least two more being needed, that means that only possibly 5 to 6 of the remaining 10 scholarships could go to offensive or defensive line recruits. Of course, more scholarships could become available, and usually do, but the point is that UCLA will have linemen - particularly offensive line prospects - as a top priority in the recruiting class of 2004.
UCLA's philosophy toward its offensive line appears to have changed with the new coaching staff. The previous staff valued very big, tall offensive linemen. It went through a few years when it recruited and signed predominantly offensive linemen that were 6-5+, and many that were 6-7 to 6-9. Despite the fact that the offensive line coach, Mark Weber, is a holdover from the last staff, this new staff looks to change that philosophy a bit. While size is still always good, there could possibly be more of an emphasis on quickness and speed, rather than size. UCLA's running game this season has been fairly conservative and limited, without a pitch or sweep in its repertoire. Many have attributed it to the fact that UCLA's current roster of big offensive linemen can't get out and run in a way necessary to make the pseudo-Denver Broncos offense that this coaching staff has tried to implement work. In fact, the Denver Broncos are very much known for their smaller, quicker, more athletic offensive linemen and their ability to run the ball was dependent on the athleticism of those linemen. The fact that Alex Potasi has been moved from tackle to guard might be another indication that the new staff believes it needs to upgrade the quickness at tackle and that Potasi, with his strength and bulk, but lack of quickness, is better suited for guard.
Here's how the two deep looks for next year, with Tevaga and Abraham tentatively penciled in (since they are only verbal commitments), and guessing where they would plug in:
RG Paul Mociler (SR)
Alex Potasi (SO)
RT Ed Blanton (JR)
Robert Cleary (JR)
Tevaga and Abraham are two good pick-ups, with Tevaga projecting as an
offensive guard and Abraham as an offensive tackle. Among the two, Tevaga
would be perhaps more ready to play - being more filled out and stronger at this
point. But, most of the time, playing a true freshman offensive lineman
should be only a last resort. Abraham would project as a player that would
need probably a couple of years -- to get bigger and stronger - in order
Cleary would be the #1 backup option at either tackle position, and despite his continued development, there are some questions of whether he'd be up for the task. It's also questionable of whether Cleary would be prepared to take over the one starting tackle position when Vieira graduates after next season.
In other words, UCLA needs some tackles. It needs some tackles that the coaches would be confident could play as redshirt freshmen, or JC offensive tackles that could play immediately, or at least by the 2005 season.
On the interior, Potasi will be the #1 backup guard next season. While he's practicing at full speed and the coaches have said he's 100%, there could be a lingering question of just how well he could play following his serious knee injury from a year ago. Irvin came to UCLA in better shape than he was as a high school senior and has done better than expected so far. He still, though, wouldn't be considered a big impact player at guard. Chai, obviously, proved himself a very worthy player this week against Washington. He very well could end up beating out McCloskey as the starting center. Whoever starts next year, the other, though, would probably be utilized as a backup center and backup guard.
In other words, the line is in some serious need of guards, too.
It only really leaves eight offensive linemen - Vieira, Efseaff, Blanton, Chai, McCloskey, Mociler, Cleary and Potasi - that would be playable next season. And as laid out above, a few on that list are possibly questionable. Generally it's thought that you need ten offensive linemen that are capable of playing. And then the year following next, the drop off of playable players is considerable when you lose Vieira, Efseaff and Mociler.
It's known that UCLA recognizes this and is starting to look seriously into the possibility of getting immediate help from the JC ranks. UCLA, in recent years, has very rarely recruited the JCs, generally believing that a JC player wouldn't have the academic standards he needed to get into UCLA. But, given the dire situation on the offensive line as it projects over the next few years, UCLA now must look thoroughly into the JCs for offensive linemen.
It would be ideal if UCLA could bring in two JC linemen, one that would project as a tackle and the other as a guard. With high school recruits Tevaga and Abraham in the fold, it would then leave open the possibility of UCLA bringing in one or two more high school offensive line prospects, to total either 5 or 6. Now, of course, this would be an ideal situation, one that necessarily isn't going to come to fruition. UCLA very well could end up with one JC OL, or possibly none, and have to fill in their two-deep for the next two years with high school prospects exclusively.
Given the situation, though, here are some of the top priority prospects that we feel UCLA could be targeting. These are the prospects that UCLA has a realistic chance of getting, that also would be the best solutions for the holes in the offensive line two-deep for the next few years. There are others, and others could possibly jump into this list later on, but for now, these are some of the most intriguing OL prospects given UCLA's needs:
Thomas Herring, 6-6, 285, Los Angeles (Calif.) Fremont. He'd be the Holy Grail at tackle. Regrettably USC is supposed to have a tight grasp on him at this point. But if UCLA can continue to look good this season and USC turns in a mediocre year, Herring could see the programs being equal and the opportunity for more immediate playing time at UCLA. He is good enough that he could possibly contribute as a true freshman, and definitely as a redshirt freshman.
Tyrone Byrd, 6-6, 265, Sugar Land (Tex.) Hightower. He's a huge recruit for UCLA, because he's considered a very athletic tackle prospect and also has UCLA high on his list. It's hard to estimate, but he probably would be able to contribute as at least a backup by his redshirt freshman year.
Nick Longshore, 6-5, 295, Canyon Country (Calif.) College of the Canyons. We just can't leave the Longshore family alone. Nick is quarterback Nate's older brother, who returned from his Mormon mission. He's 23 years old, and played for Northridge before his mission. UCLA hasn't offered yet, but the report on him is that he's very agile. Having three years to play two, if he's solid, Longshore could be a nice answer at tackle for the next few years. A recruiting update is on its way for Longshore.
Chilo Rachal, 6-5, 300, Compton (Calif.) Dominguez. He's verbally committed to USC but a longtime Bruin fan that is considering his options. He's very quick for his size, running a sub 5.0 shuttle at the Nike Camp, which is good for a big man. He plays guard on his high school team, because they run a Wing T, but he gets out and runs on just about every play and could project as a tackle in college. The chance at early playing time at UCLA could be an attraction for him. He could be one that might contribute by his redshirt freshman year.
Mike Tepper, 6-5, 290, Garden Grove (Calif.) Pacifica. Physically he needs to tighten up a bit, but he's amazingly quick for his size. On defense this season his explosiveness has been impressive. Grades are the issue that could keep him from getting seriously recruited.
Marc Villafuerte, 6-4, 300, Santa Ana (Calif.) College. We've just recently heard that UCLA is recruiting Villafuerte, but it's uncertain if the Bruins have offered him. He's supposedly considered a very good prospect and one that could possibly be an option for playing time at guard in the next couple of years. He reportedly likes UCLA.
Aaron Meyer, 6-3, 270, River Ridge (Louisiana) John Curtis Christian. UCLA noticed Meyer early on because of his athleticism. He'd be a very good get as a guard prospect.
Leo Talavou, 6-4, 325, Fountain Valley (Calif.) High. One of the best in the west, Talavou has very good quickness for his size, good enough that some think he could actually play tackle, too. But he'd be the ideal guard - quick, mean and aggressive. He's a lifetime UCLA fan; it's just a matter of whether he can get past UCLA's academic committee. ASU and USC will be the competition, but if UCLA can take him academically, they'd be in the driver's seat.
Jeff Byers, 6-3, 280, Loveland (Col.) High. The #1-ranked player in the nation, Byers still has UCLA on his list. It would probably take a big season by UCLA this year and a great recruiting visit for the Bruins to have a chance with him.
Allen Smith, 6-5, 310, Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol. He's really the perfect UCLA recruit - not only the type of OL UCLA needs but a great student. He's probably more suited for guard, but he'd also be an upgrade in quickness at tackle for UCLA. UCLA is on the lower half of his top five or six and might not get an official visit.