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Offensive Line Thoughts: No Rootcanal In 2009?

Baca (60), Dean (57) and rest of the OL looking to redeem in 2009. Photo Credit: <a href="" target="new">dabruins07 (flickr)</a>
Baca (60), Dean (57) and rest of the OL looking to redeem in 2009. Photo Credit: dabruins07 (flickr)

If you haven't done it yet I would highly recommend letting captainqtp know how much we have all appreciated his posts during this past few weeks going over every position with new starters in 2009. He has put up some great posts and all of us are even better informed and prepared for this upcoming football season because of his tremendous efforts. I wanted to build on captain's post from yesterday which wrapped up his look through UCLA's offensive line.

Again this is a topic we have discussed over and over all through this off-season. As Ted Miller noted earlier this summer UCLA's OL is the "biggest reason for concern" this coming season. We don't have to go over the gory stats concening number of sacks allowed and rushing avg. from this past year. We know them all too well. But here is one number that gives me a modicum of hope. I have written about it before and it is worth mentioning again. If you go back to our last season, when were all bracing for a disaster our OL featured only 16 starts. It was unreal and gave us a good reason to be gloomy about 2008 season (couple with the fact we were going in without our two top QBs). This year the situation is a little different. At the end of the spring, (if I have my math right) we have around 46 (not counting the 2 starts from Sonny Tevaga) starts in that roster. That is not as dire.

So with that let's get the over view from Chris Foster in the LA Times:

Kai Maiava, a transfer from Colorado, will start at center, giving line coach Bob Palcic a 6-foot-1, 309-pound rock to build around.

Stanley Hasiak and Xavier Su’a-Filo are the jewels of the freshmen class. One or both could earn a starting spot.

Eddie Williams, a transfer from Mt. San Antonio College, and Nik Abele, a freshman from Irvine, both cleared academic hurdles this summer and will be admitted.

Jeff Baca started eight games at left tackle as a freshman, but could get moved around.

"We’ll see where everyone fits," Palcic said.

Returners Nick Ekbatani, Darius Savage and Mike Harris are other returners who will get a long look.

Willams and Abele clearing the academic hurdles was a huge relief. Although I think coaches might end up moving Abele over to the defense. We are all waiting on pins and needles to see how Hasiak and XSF perform during this August camp. The guy I am most intrigued about (and I am sure I am not the only one) is Kai Maiava. More on him and the OL after the jump.

Baxter Holmes (new reporter?) from the LA Times did a wonderful story on Kai Maivava yesterday. The story tells us all about Kai's emergence as a freshman All American lineman in Colorado only to be asked to convert over to TE/FB. He decided to come back to Cali and home to UCLA.  What I really liked was this part of the story about coaches riding on our OL all off season:

The Bruins averaged only 82.75 rushing yards a game -- 2.62 yards a carry -- and gave up 35 sacks. The rankings indicate the worst: of 119 major-college teams, UCLA ranked 110th in allowing sacks, 111th in total offense and 116th in yards rushing per game.

The players seem to know these numbers by heart. In conversation, they recite them as if they are written on the inside of their helmets.

"The coaches are always reminding us, 'What was it, 116th in the country?' " says redshirt senior guard Nick Ekbatani, noting the rushing offense's ranking.

I like that. I know people are feeling good and our team might have some reasons for optimism. But I also like to hear directly from the players how they are well aware of what took place this past season was understandable given how the program was left by the previous regime, will never be acceptable at UCLA.

And Kai seems to have the kind of fiery leadership qualities that can get this much maligned OL going. From the same article (emphasis added):

"I don't like to be pushed around," Maiava says. "And I don't like negative plays."

He attributes his mean streak to having older brothers and also from a childhood that included eight years spent living in shipping containers while the family tried to get its finances in order so it could build a house.

There was no running water, no electricity.

"He had it tough growing up," his dad says.

This season, Maiava says he wants to pound the ball the first few games, run straight up the middle again and again so teams know last year was an aberration.

"Pound the rock," he says.

His desire is in line with the plans of Coach Rick Neuheisel, who at Pacific 10 Conference media day said, "We're going to be able to run the ball or die trying this year."

I think there is no quesiton that the kids this year have potential. I got that sense when I read and reread captain's posts on the changes at right tackle, center, left guard and left tackle [Nick Ekbatani started all the games at right guard so its a good bet he will be back there again]. However, the biggest question mark for me right now is the toughness of this group. How will they respond after the demoralizing season from this past year. From Dave Consolazio in the All Pac-10 blog:

With an extremely talented young core featuring guys like Jeff Baca, Kai Maiava, Mike Harris, and Sean Sheller (not to mention a few four-star 2009 OL recruits in Stanley Hasiak and Xavier Su’a Filo), there is no question that the future is bright for this offensive line.

That said, I think the future is probably still a year away. With so many young players on the line likely to go through the growing pains that young lineman often do and without a truly shut-down kind of veteran on the line, this will very likely be a unit that has some great games and some very bad games.

Last year’s experience should help the line be a bit better than it was last year, but I’m expecting this year’s step forward to be a small one, with a potentially huge one coming in 2010. Credit Neuheisal for getting so many good pieces in place so quickly, and remember that successful football programs aren’t built overnight; but the future looks promising.

I think that is right. I do believe we are at least an year away. However, I can tell you this much. When I go through our OL depth chart this season, I don't get the same feeling of preparing for a root canal like I was experiencing this past year.

More than anything I am excited to see how these kids respond to the challenge and humilation of this past season. And in Kia it seems like they have the right attitutude and leadership in place. For the first time in a while, I am excited to see how a UCLA OL will perform heading into pre-season. By no means I am expecting a smooth ride. However, I am expecting the same kind of roller coast fun ride we experienced via JF/AA in Howland's second season at UCLA.