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2008 Offensive Line Outlook: Coping w Disaster

With less than a month left till opening of the fall camp, we thought this would be a good time to go through our team’s tentative depth chart, the coaches set following spring football. In the past years we went through this exercise at least a week after the beginning of fall camp. However, the situation around our football program is a little different this year with a brand new coaching staff. So we thought it would be good to see what the coaches are working with following five years of Karl Dorrell.

And we will start with the possibly the most vulnerable aspect of our football team – the offense – and zero in on the biggest question mark by zeroing on the offensive line.

Here is a look at the current depth chart heading into Fall Camp:

73 Micah Kia (6-6, 298, Jr.)(8)
77 Darius Savage  (6-4,  338, So.**) 58 Micah Reed (6-4, 316, Sr.**) (8 at OG) 66 Scott Glicksburg (6-4, 269, Sr.**)(1 at TE) 72 Sean Sheller,6-5, 282, So.**)
69 Brandon Bennett (6-4, 319, So.**) 55 Sonny Tevaga (6-3, 337, So.**) 57 Jake Dean (6-4, 286, So.**) 75 Nick Ekbatani (6-4, 290, Jr.**) 65 Mike Harris (6-5, 311, Fr.**)

50 Aaron Meyer (6-1, 296, Sr.**) 53 Adam Heater (6-6, 246, Jr.**) 61 Andy Keane (6-2, 284, So.**) 89 Nate Chandler (6-6, 273, Fr.**)+

() indicates number of games started in 07
** indicates utilized redshirt year
+ As noted by report in the Daily News

There is no way to sugar coat the situation above. To say that Neuheisel, Chow and Palcic will have a challenge in their hands based on the offensive live, would be the understatement of the year.

The first thing that stands out is the lack of experience. Among the current group of starters only Micah Kia has starting experience at the same position from last year. Reed started 8 games last year but that was as a guard. As for Glicksburg, again the number 269 next to him is not a typo. He is a converted TE and it will be interesting to see whether he was able to fill out his frame when he checks in during Fall camp.

We have all heard about Sean Sheller. The most devastating part of his injury was that coaches were counting on him to fill in for Aleksey Lanis. Lanis had to retire from the team during spring due to injury related issues ending a promising football career at UCLA. Then Sheller’s injury hit, effectively leaving us with Mike Harris, a freshman without any experience.

Consider the situation. Of all the places the already thin OL had to take a hit, it came on the right, the blind side of Ben Olson.

Perhaps for those who are looking for silver lining, might want to argue that the fact that this unit doesn’t have a lot of "experience" might not be such a bad thing given the woeful performance of the offensive unit this past two seasons. Let’s take a quick look at two key stats measuring the offensive line from the past season.

Last year, the Bruin OL was atrocious in terms of protecting QBs. We don’t need to repeat how our QBs kept going down. In terms of stats, UCLA allowed 36 sacks in 13 games, tying Oregon State as the 3rd worst team in the conference in that department. [See 2007-08 Pac-10 statistics]. Also the running game was just above average as the Bruins finished 6th in the Pac-10 conference averaging 151 yards per game (3.7 yards per carry). Bruins’ performance in both categories regressed from the 06-07 season, although that wasn’t a surprise to anyone here on BN, since we had raised the alarm bells re Bob Connelly.

So what to expect this year under a new OL coach Bob Palcic.  His recent record at Wisconsin was a bit mixed. Wisconsin Badgers were among the Big-10 leaders last two years in the rushing department (4th in 06-07 and 2nd in 07-08). However, at the same time they also gave up an alarming number of sacks (10th in 06-07 and 07-08). [See Big-10 stats from 06-07 and 07-08]. For the sake of Olson and others, we sure hope that trend doesn’t continue for Palcic in Westwood this coming season. The long time Bruin fans know what Palcic did during his last stint at UCLA with the OL anchored by Jonathan Ogden, Vaughn Parker back during 1993-94 season.

I am guessing this year with this offensive line we are going to see Bell, Ramirez and co. trying to run on the backs of Kia and Savage. In terms of experience as mentioned above Kia is the leader of this team. He has the tools to emerge as a great Pac-10 lineman, while Savage at 6-4 338 is an athletic specimen. Those two guys will be leading the OL charge.

We have huge questions at center and the right side of the line. At center hopefully Reed will emerge as a serviceable option. His starting experience came as a guard. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to his new position and develop his timing not just with Olson and other QBs (I will post my notes on them tomorrow BTW). Behind Reed there is not much depth at center. Unfortunately it sounds like Dean is hurting. Adam Heater I believe is another converted TE. YIKES.

Then there are the questions about the right side. I wrote about Glicksburg being a converted TE and Sheller's injury above. Right now let’s keep our fingers crossed that Donovan Edwards take cares of his academic goals this summer. So far reports indicate that he is on track to qualify (knocking on wood) this summer and that he will get a shot at RT. Palcic is also moving around folks around to bolster the right side. As Dohn noted this week already reds hirt freshman TE - Nate Chandler - who was listed at 6-6, 273 has been moved to OL with the expectation that he will be competing for a spot at RT. We will how that experiment goes. norcald503 expressed his concern about it:

For NC to go to Chandler rather than any of these other guy indicates to me that NC doesn’t think much of our OL depth and that we might be in a more dire situation that our depth chart would indicate.

I had hoped these guys would develop under Palcic and help us avoid major line issues down the line, but if NC isn’t sold on them and is turning to a converted TE, that makes me real worried about what happens when the current crop of starting linemen with experience (such as Kia and Reed) are gone.

I guess I am willing to be open minded about this. I saw this move as Chow being more excited about the option Chandler can possible present due to his athleticism than him not having confidence in other guys in the chart. Chandler is supposed to beast. If he emerges as a very athletic RT, who knows we can look out for that ole "tackle eligible"?  Anyway, I will also not be surprised to see more movement around OL this Fall to create competition with Harris, Chandler and Edwards. Let's see how this all plays out.

From my understanding of the situation the two incoming freshmen – Jeff Baca and Connor Bradford – might not be ready to contribute this coming season because they will need to bulk up. If anyone has information indicating that situation might have changed, please let us know in the comment section. Palcic will also have two additional options in Kai Maiva and Brett Downey. Maiva, the CU FB transfer was a highly recruited C out of high school and reportedly had regained his weight and back up to 300+ lbs. Brett Downey was reportedly a 6-7, 265 lb offensive tackle who may turn out to be a serviceable option.

After all is said and done Palcic might be able to put together a patchwork OL following a productive Fall Camp. However, we need to keep a realistic perspective given the kind of situation he inherited from the previous regime. Also don’t forget that Palcic will be the 4th offensive line coach for lot of these kids for the fourth consecutive season (which is layered upon the fact that they are also being led by 4th different OC in as many seasons). So now you know why were serving up all those doses of reality posts heading into this Fall Camp.

In any event, I think what I believe we can hope and expect from this staff is to put together a unit that will fight and scrap coming out of the gate. I am certainly not expecting miracles in next two years given the status of our OL depth chart. However, despite the challenges I think we are going to see a team that will play with a sense of purpose and determination that has been missing from the previous UCLA teams.