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Spaulding Spring Football Preview: The Big Guys in the Trenches

While much of our attention is still fixed on the search for our men's basketball coach, spring football is coming soon, so let's turn our focus to the gridiron. As we get ready for the return to Spaulding Field on April 2, Bruins Nation previews spring practice, breaking the team down by individual position grouping. We continue our nine-part spring football preview with our sixth installment and focus on the offensive line

The O Line will need to be better at pass protection - like this - in 2013
The O Line will need to be better at pass protection - like this - in 2013

As April 2 and the start of spring football practice draws nearer, we continue our previews of the Bruin football roster. Bruins Nation has previously looked at the kickers/punters/long snappers, kick returners, defensive secondary, linebackers, and defensive line. Today, the offensive line steps up.

Remember when the O Line was a position of vulnerability and concern for the Bruins?

Nah, I don't remember those days anymore either. Or I've just shut it from my mind. Either way, writing the offensive line preview has gotten a lot harder. In past years, the line had little depth and little experience, and you could predict pretty easily which players would play which position. Well, Mora and company have really made my work a lot tougher. But I'm okay with it, because a wise Bruin once said (over and over), "Line wins games."

And last year that pretty much held true. I would suggest that Stanford II was the only game where the O line played very well and we still lost. Otherwise, when the line was stout and we had an effective running game and decent pass protection, the Bruins fared well. The few games where the line struggled to develop a consistent rushing attack or buy enough time for Brett Hundley, the team struggled. We started 2012 with the O Line as our biggest potential liability. Thanks to the efforts of Offensive Line Coach Adrian Klemm and the rest of the Bruins staff, the O Line was the best that the Bruins had seen in several years. #8Clap for Coach Klemm! Still, the O Line gave up too many sacks and got flagged too many times in 2012, so there is still much work to be done. The good news is, most of them have a very good start.

Last fall, the Bruins' starting five was Torian White and Simon Goines at the tackles, Xavier Su'a-Filo at and Jeff Baca at the guards, and Jake Brendel at center. Of those 5, only Baca will not be returning this season, which makes this the most experienced offensive line at each position that the Bruins have had in a very long time. You might think that experience means the right guard position is the only spot open. However, as we witnessed last season when opening day saw three freshman come out for the first snap (which was a cool 74 yard touchdown run, by the way), this staff is more than willing to play anyone on the roster if they think he will contribute.

Nevertheless, I have to provide some sort of depth chart, so I'll pencil in last year's starters with the caveat that Coach Mora says that he doesn't have a depth chart. And there the matter of an incoming freshman class that includes 7offensive linemen. If history is any example, we may see one or more of them lining up against Nevada. Until then, here is the projected spring offensive line depth chart based on a returning starter (Brendel), common sense (XSF), and a tweet yesterday from Bruin Sports Report's Edward Lewis giving away the other 3:

Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle

Simon Goines (So)

6-6, 320

Xavier Su'a-Filo (Jr)

6-3, 304

Jake Brendel (*So)

6-4, 276

Alberto Cid (*Sr)

6-2, 325

Torian White (*So)

6-5, 282

Will Oliver (*So)

6-7, 274

Ben Wysocki (*So)

6-4, 280

Kody Innes (*Jr)

6-3, 275

Greg Capella (*Sr)

6-3, 304

Kevin McReynolds (*So)

6-2, 292

Alex Ceacir (Jr)

6-5, 302

Conor McDermott (*Fr)

6-8, 260

Carl Hulick (*Fr)

6-2, 287

**Colby Cybert (*Fr)

6-3, 250

Lacy Westbrook (Fr)

6-4, 320

* denotes redshirt ** will miss spring practice (back surgery)

Ok, so I talked all about this strange concept called offensive line depth, and then I give you this graph. So right now you are probably wondering what is actually going through my mind, if anything. Well, there are two answers to that, so bruin with me for a second.

The first important point is that all the players in the chart are listed according to their official positions from the Bruins most recent roster. The roster lists only 3 tackles: White, Goines, and Oliver; two centers: Brendel and Innes; and two guards, Wysocki and Cid. All the rest are simply listed as OL, meaning that the coaching staff will be working many of them at multiple positions along the offensive line. So that while it looks as if we are five deep at both guard positions and have a no backup at one of the tackle positions, that's only an issue on paper. The coaches will be filling in depth on the field. For example, XSF ought to be our backup left tackle and someone else would move into his left guard position if he had to slide over a spot. Similarly, Greg Capella might be the true backup center, but may get more time rotating in at the guard position, allowing Brendel to manage all the important snaps in a game.

The second issue regarding depth has to do with the 4 freshmen in their first spring practice and the 7 freshman who are coming in this fall, all of whom will get a chance to compete for playing time. So in addition to the 4 new faces, imagine 7 other very big guys, with lots of height and lots of weight and lots of stars beside their names sprinkled in those empty boxes, or even sliding some of those names downward. Suddenly playing time looks much harder to come by. But as Lewis tweeted yesterday from Coach Mora's pre-spring press conference:

Mora and Klemm bypassed several upperclassmen last season to give the starting jobs to White, Brendel, and Goines, and those 3 held on to them. As a result, no one on the offensive line (okay, maybe XSF) should feel completely comfortable about his spot on the depth chart. We'll talk more about those incoming freshman when we preview the positions before pre-season camp in August. But keep in mind, reinforcements are coming. Big ones. Good ones. Alosi and Klemm are waiting.

Overall, the Bruins returning offensive linemen have a total of 98 starts among them. To put that in perspective, last season's starting 5 had 46 total starts, and 33 of those belonged to Baca. Add to that that there are just two seniors on the entire O Line unit, and you see that Mora and Klemm (and Sal Alosi) are developing an impressive group.

As for our returning crew, XSF is the unquestioned leader. X took 2 years off football after his freshman year for his LDS mission and didn't skip a beat when he returned last season. XSF will certainly be on the pre-season All-American and Rimington Award watch lists as one of the country's top linemen. Another award winner lining up next to Su'a-Filo is Jake Brendel. Brendel was a freshman All-American and honorable mention All-Conference player in 2012. Factor in White and Goines each having a season of experience, and Capella and Cid adding 21 starts between them at the right guard spot, and that's a good looking front 5 - the best we've had heading into spring. As I said, there is plenty of work to be done, but it's nice to be starting off from a position of strength rather than a well of desperation. Line wins games, and this unit should help the Bruins wins a bunch more this fall.