Many football experts will tell you that your offense will only go as far as your o-line will take you. If your o-line cannot run block, an offense cannot set up its pass game, especially an offense like Dorrell's version of the WCO, whcih relies so heavily on the play action. If your o-line cannot contain an opponent's pass rush, it significantly limits what the offense can do. An effective combination of run block and pass blocking is absolutely essential to offensive success.
The first major change that took place from the o-line's perspective was the exit of Jim Colletto and the entry of Bob Connely. From the official website:
As of right now, the starting OL looks like this:
RT: Micah Kia
RG: Shannon Tevaga
C: Chris Joseph
LG: Noah Sutherland
LT: Brian Abraham
CFN.com's Pete Fiutak put together the following write up on our 2007 big uglies:
Joseph's vacated guard position will be filled by senior Noah Sutherland, who was a starting tackle throughout the 2006 season. A converted defensive lineman, he's a 6-5, 299-pound pile driver that'll be better utilized on the inside.
Sutherland will be joined by senior Shannon Tevaga, the team's best overall lineman and a strong candidate for post-season honors. At 6-3 and 316 pounds, he's big and powerful with the nasty streak to overwhelm opponents at times, particularly on running downs. A starter in 31 consecutive games, Tevaga is the undisputed leader of this unit.
There's a very interesting battle brewing at left tackle between sophomores Micah Kia and Aleksey Lanis. One of the program's signature recruits of 2006, Kia used March and April as a springboard to an unexpected spot atop the depth chart when fall camp begins in August. At 6-5 and 304 pounds, he's a budding star as a pass protector, and one of the pillars that the UCLA line will be built upon over the next three seasons.
On the right side, Ben Olson's blindside, will be senior Brian Abraham, who regains the starting job he had in 2005. A reserve for all but the bowl game last year, he's an adequate lineman with good size and ample experience at this level.
Watch Out For... Kia. He beat out Lanis in the spring for one simple reason--he's better in all phases of the position. This is Tevaga's line in 2007, but by 2008, Kia could be looked at as the headliner of the UCLA front wall.
Strength: Veteran depth. Not only do five players return with
You may be wondering what happened to Alexey Lanis, the mammoth Russian T from Crenshaw. Fiutak notes that he, along with a couple of other Bruins are just waiting for that opportunity:
At right tackle is another future fixture along the line, redshirt freshman Sean Sheller. Still growing into his 6-4 frame, he has great feet and athleticism, and projects as a top pass blocker once he adds a few more pounds and finds his way into the lineup.
The Bruins have plenty of depth at guard, led by senior P.J. Irvin, a two-time letterwinner that played in all 13 games in 2006. While he hasn't had the career many expected, he does bring veteran leadership and a physical style of play to the second unit.
I think this OL has the potential to be a dominating unit this season. The key will be run-blocking. With UCLA's lack of game-breaking speed at the RB position, it is essential that the OL get off the line and engage defenders quickly, sustain those blocks and play all the way to the whistle. If this unit can open some holes for Markey and Co., which in turn will open up the short passing game, we could be looking at a very special season. It all starts up front.
I am particularly intrigued by the potential of the right side of the line with Tevaga and Kia. Tevaga will almost certainly be playing on Sundays next season. Kia also has that type of potential. Colletto along with our friend Brian Dohn seem to think so:
As Kia readies for his first start at Stanford on Sept. 1, his talent shines during bits and pieces of practice, but one thing is missing.
"He's got a great deal of talent and ability. He's a God-given athlete," UCLA offensive line coach Bob Connelly said.
"He's got to understand the urgency and continue to grow in his belief of understanding and knowing what to do and trusting he can do it. We just have to continue to work on his confidence, and consistency."
Apparently, Kia has been going up against Bruce Davis in practice, whcih should prepare him well for some of the better pass-rushers in the PAC 10.
With solid play from this unit this season, the Bruin's offensive woes should come to an end. I expect to see this unit lead the UCLA offense all the way to a PAC 10 championship and BCS bowl berth.