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UCLA Football Spring Preview: Offensive Line and Defensive Line

U.C.L.A. Football returns to the field next week and Bruins Nation is taking a look at each position going into spring camp. Today we'll look at the big guys in the trenches, the offensive and defensive lines.

Rimington Award Candidate Jake Brendel leads the Bruins offensive line
Rimington Award Candidate Jake Brendel leads the Bruins offensive line
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Are you ready for some football?!

The U.C.L.A. Bruins will return to Spaulding Field next Tuesday to begin Spring Camp and it will be the first time that Jim Mora and staff will take the field without Brett Hundley at quarterback. So while the Bruins break in a new leader in the backfield, they will rely more than ever on the big guys on both sides of the trenches to control the game. We'll begin our spring previews by looking at those guys on the offensive and defensive lines.

Offensive Line

For the last couple years I've been doing the O Line previews with a good deal of optimism (this is Bruins Nation after all) and predicting that the returning talent and experience will mean a better offensive line and lead to a better offensive performance than the previous year.

Fool me once, or three times...It hasn't played out as expected, and last year was a perfect example.

In 2014, the Bruins were returning their most experienced O Line in terms of starts and games together, and it seemed reasonable to predict that the O Line play would be a big step up from 2013. Sadly, there was no great leap forward, and it was debatable if the unit was any better from the previous year at all. The O Line did have some good performances and the success of Paul Perkins and the run game can be attributed to that. But the 10 sack disaster against Utah and the anemic offensive performance against Stanford showed the O Line was not the consistent or dominant group it needed to be to make the Bruins a championship caliber team.

So once again the OL returns 4 starters, loses only senior (grad student) Malcolm Bunche and transfer Ben Wysocki, gets a former starting tackle back after a year of recovery from injury, and adds in another year of talented underclassman and one very big JuCo transfer. Prior year's injuries demonstrate again the importance of quality depth, and with a new QB under center that won't have the escapability of Brett Hundley, reliable pass protection will be more important than ever. Will this year finally give us a dominant offensive line? We haven't seen it yet, so all eyes are focused on OL Coach Adrian Klemm.

Oh yeah. Adrian Klemm.

It is unclear if the O Line will have its position coach available when the team hits the field on Tuesday. Klemm was suspended with pay recently when U.C.L.A. self reported suspected recruiting violations. Personally, if he was suspended, there is fire to the smoke. Since it was a suspension with pay, it doesn't sound like the fire is very big. But either way, there has been no sign of impending resolution to this issue, so the status of the highly paid Klemm and the Bruins remains up in the air. And even if/when the Bruins do get Klemm back, there have been legitimate concerns about his ability to fully develop his players on the OL.

So it's unclear who will be calling the shots and spots for the OL through spring and beyond. The good news is that the roster looks very good. The Bruins will return 2014 starters Conor McDermott (left tackle), Alex Redmond (guard), Jake Brendel (center), and Caleb Benenoch (right tackle). Scott Quessenberry looks to be the heir to Brendel's center spot in 2016 and Quiz saw lots of time at guard last year but will likely be unavailable for spring ball after recent surgery.

The Bruins will also gladly welcome a couple tackles, most notably, 2013 starting right tackle Simon Goines. He redshirted 2014 while recovering from injury and surgeries and will look to move back to his right tackle spot, which could allow Benenoch to move to his more natural guard position. The Bruins will also welcome JuCo transfer Zach Bateman on the field, and he will look to challenge McDermott for the all important left tackle position.

Najee Toran got the season opening start at right guard for the Bruins in 2014 but his promotion was clearly premature. There has been talk of Toran moving to defensive line so it will be interesting to see what color jersey he wears for spring ball, but for now, we're considering him an offensive lineman.

The Bruins have a number of very promising prospects on the O Line including Poasi Moala, John Lopez, Kenny Lacy, and Kolton Miller, among others. Knowing Coach Mora's disdain for depth charts, here is my partially educated guess on how the depth chart looks going in to spring practice.

Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle

Conor McDermott

Jr 6-9 285

Alex Redmond

Jr 6-5 297

Jake Brendel

Sr* 6-4 290

Kenny Lacy

So* 6-4 285

Caleb Benenoch

Jr 6-5 305

Zach Bateman

Jr 6-7 320

Najee Toran

So 6-3 275

Scott Quessenberry

Jr 6-4 282

Colby Cyburt

Jr* 6-3 265

Simon Goines

Jr* 6-7 325

Kolton Miller

So 6-8 300

John Lopez

So* 6-5 315

Carl Hulick

Jr* 6-2 288

Sam Tai

Sr* 6-3 280

Poasi Moala

So* 6-4 275

John Dewig

So 6-3 310

Cristian Garcia

So 6-4 315

Giovani Gentosi

So 6-2 240

* denotes redshirt

The talent and experience are there. Will the development and system finally live up to expectations? The new quarterback is counting on it.

Line wins games.



Defensive Line

Unlike the inconsistency on the offensive line, the defensive line was a consistent strength for the Bruins in 2104. Eddie Vanderdoes, Kenneth Clark, and Owamagbe Odighizuwa were a formidable unit both in stopping the run and in keeping the linebackers clean to make plays. All three of them were dominant at times during the 2014 season.

Owa will be off to play on Sundays, and it seemed a no-brainer that big Ellis McCarthy would finally step into the starting role alongside Clark and EVD. But to many people's surprise, McCarthy left early for the NFL, and left the Bruins with an empty spot on the D line.

Luckily, D Line coach Angus McClure has done a great job stocking talent in recent years (the incoming 2015 class being the exception in terms of numbers), so he has the enviable chore of having to pick a new starter from a talented crew. McClure is starting off in a great place as Clark and Vanderdoes have proven to be excellent players and can expected to be even better in their upcoming junior years. So much so that there is already concern looking ahead that one or both may have the opportunity to head to the NFL following a successful 2015 season. While that scenario would mean good things on the field this fall, it would also create a major urgency on the recruiting trails this fall as the D Line would be pretty thin if neither stay for their senior years.

But back to the present. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Eli Ankou, and Matt Dickerson will be competing for the empty spot on the defensive line, and while each shows a lot of promise, it's too much to expect that any of them can replace Owa's production and effectiveness. Those three are natural defensive linemen, but McClure also may take a close look at Takkarist McKinley. He is the best pass rusher of the group, and probably on the team behind outside linebacker Deon Hollins, and for that reason he may end up playing outside linebacker himself instead of D End. We should get a good idea of new defensive coordinator Tom Bradley's plans for McKinley this spring. Ainuu Taua will also bring some experience and depth to the unit. That's a pretty impressive group of 7 and considering the way McClure rotates players throughout a game, everyone on the two deep will see meaningful snaps during the season. Also, don't be surprised to see offensive lineman Najee Toran taking reps with the D linemen in the spring.

The defense will miss Owa, but the anticipated growth of Clark and EVD may make the D Line an even better unit in 2015 and it could be one of the best starting defensive lines in the country. If this group can keep the opposing O line from winning games, the Bruins will be in very good shape this year.

Also, considering these are all defensive linemen, expect a few touchdown receptions from this group as well.

Here's our projected depth chart for the spring.

Defensive End Defensive Tackle Defensive End

Eddie Vanderdoes

Jr 6-3 305

Kenneth Clark

Jr 6-3 308

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

Fr* 6-2 262

Takkarist McKinley

Jr 6-4 230

Eli Ankou

Jr* 6-3 295

Matt Dickerson

So 6-4 270

Ainuu Taua

5-11 296

Kevin McReynolds

Sr* 6-2 300

Zach Vinci

Sr* 6-2 245

Jake Jones

Jr* 6-4 345

Thomas Schwab

So* 6-3 250

Taylor Prenovost

6-3 215

Justin Ritman

6-2 240

* denotes redshirt

Stay tuned to BN for further position previews over the coming days as we gear up for the start of Spring Football next week.