We've taken a look at three positions so far. There was the quarterbacks, the receivers/tight ends and the running backs, but now it's time for the most interesting of the units by far. The offensive line was the worst unit last year, probably has the biggest upgrade in talent this year and is just as inexperienced as the rest of the offense. That inexperienced is then magnified ten fold because experience is paramount on the offensive line. I still believe though that it's always talent over experience, although I wouldn't mind both.
Our hopes, our dreams, our nightmares. All three three can adequately describe a UCLA fan's thoughts about this offensive line. One thing I will guarantee you is that the line will be much improved. The other thing I can guarantee you is that there is little depth so praying to whatever god, inanimate object or reality TV star you choose wouldn't be the worst idea. I've begun to sense a common theme with this UCLA team and it is never more present than with the offensive line. There is inexperience to go around. Let's consider our starters. At left tackle, we have Xavuer Su'a-Filo, a true freshman. At left guard we have Stanley Hasiak, another true freshman. At least there's some experience at center with Kai Maiva, who's a redshirt sophomore. Uh oh. If redshirt sophomore is experience is experience then we're in trouble. It's okay though because at right guard we have a junior. Sure, it's Eddie Williams, a JC transfer who has never played a down of D-1 football, but this is 2009 UCLA football where we take any "experience" we can get. Plus, next to him we have Jeff Baca who is a sophomore, but did get significant playing time last year.
The best part about this offensive line is that there are really low expectations. I mean, it would take true talent to be worse than last year's offensive line and just in training camp you can already tell that this offensive line is better. I'm not even going to get into physical talent, maturity or potential to get into this offensive line's improvement. This offense line has an attitude that surpasses anything the Bruins had last year. Going against a good defensive line and a monster in Brian Price each day in practice is a solid excuse to struggle, but struggling was not acceptable for this group of offensive linemen. They expected to put a hat on hat and push the defensive line back. They expected Kevin Prince to have a nice pocket each and every time he stepped back to throw. When that didn't happen, there was never an excuse, but rather anger at themselves. This offensive line expects excellence and they expect it this year, even if it virtually unattainable. The fact is that this offensive line is built for the future, but they believe the future is now and that is as good of an attitude as they can have. They're mean, they're tough and they're going to knock you around. Well, maybe not, but they sure believe so.
Now getting into the physical tools and you're amazed at what you see on the left side of the line. Su'a-Filo is an absolute monster of a man, but moves gracefully. He has such quick feet that he isn't even beaten off the edge by blitzing linebackers much. his technique and balance needs to get better as he was beaten by spin moves and twists at times, but that will come with reps. The tools are there in spades and you can see the smile on offensive line coach Bob Palcic's face when he puts it together for a play. He knows he's got something special in Su'a-Filo. For all his skills though, he may not be better than the man next to him, Hasiak. Hasiak is a more astute run blocker who gets good drive and can deal defensive tackles pretty well. His use of leverage is superior to any offensive lineman that UCLA has recruited in at least five years. He also struggled with twists and blitz pick ups, but it will come with reps, just like Su'a-Filo.
Williams is far more developed than either freshman. His JC coaches taught him well and while he had some issues dealing with the speed of a D-1 defense, he did better dealing with it as camp went on. For a guy with his type of feet I expected better pass blocking, but he was adequate. He did well run blocking though and was exceptional when asked to pull or get his hat on a linebacker. To his right will be the uber-versatile Baca who has played all over the line despite having not even begun his sophomore year yet. Baca was arguably the sole bright spot on the offensive line last year and he has put on some muscle since his freshman campaign. He has quick feet and does well dealing with ends trying to come off the end, but is not yet as strong as he needs to be so power moves give him trouble, as does getting any drive in the running game.
The Bruins have little depth on the offensive line. Losing Micah Kia for the year is a real killer, not just from a playing perspective, but he has established himself as an emotional leader for the unit. Mike Harris will have to show the ability to play multiple positions to deal with the lack of depth, as will Nick Ekbatani when he gets healthy. While it would be best if Nick Abele could redshirt, the freshman who caught Palcic's eye early on could be forced into action with an early season injury.
Grade: C- There is a serious chance that this unit could be average this year, which would be a remarkable step forward. It's closer to a D+ then it is a C, but I always lean towards talent over experience. The putridity of last year's offensive line cannot be overstated, but the same could be said for the potential of this year's offensive line. The line has serious depth problems though and is ripe with inexperience, but that's the state of UCLA football in 2009. Inexperience reigns so at least we're consistent.