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It all Starts up Front: Preview of the Bruin O-Line

UCLA has an impressive tradition of producing quality offensive lines, and the 2006 version of UCLA's OL should not dissapoint. Although Coach Tom Cable has moved on to the NFL, new Bruin OL Coach Jim Colletto has retained the strong-side/ weakside OL scheme that Cable brought to UCLA.  The 2006 media guide indicates that the OL depth chart will stack up like this:

Strong Tackle
Noah Sutherland
Brian Abraham
Tony Lee

Strong Guard
Shannon Tevaga
Nick Ekbatani
PJ Irvin

Robert Chai
Nate Skaggs
Aaron Meyer

Weak Guard
Chris Joseph
Micah Reed

Weak Tackle
Aleksei Lanis
Scott Glicksberg
Chris Johnson
Justin Brown

However, as Nestor reported yesterday, Colletto has switched Sutherland from S Tackle to W Tackle, and moved Alexi Lanis from W Tackle to S Tackle. Sutherland apparently had a great off-season, earning praise for his work in the weight room, and by all indications, looks to be in the best condition of his career.

Both T positions will be critical in the progression of whichever QB emerges as the starter. The QB must be able to trust that he will not be broken in half from the blind side on those 5-step drops. Accordingly, look for Colletto to have a quick hook should any of the T's look like they are getting beat.

Regardless of who lines up at the Tackles, it's pretty obvious that this line starts and ends with JR Shannon Tevaga.  You can assume that when the Bruins are facing a critical 3rd and 2, that the play will be coming Mr. Tevaga's way. Tevaga is a monster run-blocker that plays with a mean streak and will eventually be playing on Sundays.  

There are some intriguing position battles to look forward to in the days leading up to the opener, but most intriguing will be the battle for the aforementioned S Tackle spot. Abraham was last season's Sutherland, coming out of the off season as one of the strongest OL on the team. However, the highly touted Lanis, is apparently impressing the coaches, as he is currently slotted as the starter. Both of these kids are huge and play with agression. Look for this to be a great competition for that starting spot.

The battle for the starting C job will also be interesting, as the experienced, battle-tested SR Robert Chai tries to stave off former wrestler/ OL/ DL SO Nate Skaggs for the position. Skaggs proved that he could play in spots last season, and looked solid against a terrible Northwestern team in the bowl game.

Don't be surprised if we see more position changes on the OL before the starting 11 for Utah is announced, for the simple reason that Colletto will want to have his best 5 OL on the field at the same time. Specifically, look for the runner-up in the competition for starting S-Tackle spot to be moved to Weak Guard, where the inexperienced JR Chris Joseph is currently projected as the starter.

Here's CFN's breakdown of UCLA's front wall:

The line was solid last year and saw several players shuffle in and out due to injuries as well as a good rotation. Even so, there are concerns with this year's front five needing guard Aleksey Lanis and tackle Nick Ekbatani to shine right away on the weakside. Brian Abraham must quickly develop into a star pass protector or there could be concerns for left-handed quarterback Ben Olson. The extra practices from the bowl game turned out to be a huge help developing Nathaniel Skaggs and Noah Sutherland into players worthy of battling for starting roles. This isn't a big line, but there's a lot of depth and athleticism .Expect the lineup and depth chart to change several times before opening day.

From Yahoo, via the Daily Bruin:

Offensive line

The O-line is one of the bigger question marks for the team this year. The Bruins lost mainstays Mike McCloskey and Ed Blanton from last year. Guard Shannon Tevaga, who started all of last season, is expected to step up and be the leader of the line in McCloskey's absence, but the Bruins will have to get significant contributions from inexperienced freshmen if they are to equal the success of last year. There is only one senior on the line, Robert Chai.

Aleksey Lanis is one of the most talented O-line recruits of the Dorrell era, but it remains to be seen whether he can handle the weakside tackle spot that will likely be his for the taking. Lanis redshirted last season as a freshman.

What to watch for in practice: Can Robert Chai handle the center duties over the entire season? Chai has spent most of his career bouncing around between guard and center, but had four starts at center last season when McCloskey went down. The center is the most important position on the line, so Chai will have to take a leadership role in teaching this young line.

Preview of the D-line coming soon.