So much and yet so little has been written, discussed, posted, and debated about the need for UCLA's offensive line to be better this campaign versus last year.
I myself have replied to several different posts on our amazing site regarding this very topic as well as on other less Bruin friendly boards and chat rooms.
The common and repetitive theme I read is "The Offensive Line Needs To Improve!". This has been regurgitated over and over again by success starved Bruin supporters, local sports writers, and well respected contributors to this site.
Coaches on the Bruin staff are obviously aware of the need for improvement and seem to limit their responses on the matter to vanilla sound bites alluding that the team is working hard, focusing on basics, and really coming along!
Coach speak, I get it.
In all fairness those typical coaching responses are to be expected from staff who are guarded about what is actually taking place from a tactical and scheme perspective.
Coaches get a pass.
I've read quality posts on Bruins Nation listing potential offensive line depth charts, individual player experience, player heights and weights, and other player measurable's lending to the hope that the unit in question will step up allowing all to be right in Westwood this season.
Everyone does agree that for success this year to be realized the O line needs to perform better, muuuuuch better!
Allow me to break down the "How".
Let me rephrase that by asking you to allow me to scratch the surface on "How".
We must first understand and then admit that actual improvement in O line play is going to be marginal at best.
Sorry, yes marginal at best.
O line improvement is 'glacial like' especially when graduation and injury saps quality leaders and talented behemoths from the castles forward guard.
Teaching new techniques, different approaches, new terminology, while changing the overall blocking schemes makes progress a massive undertaking.
Progress by players from a learning perspective and by the coaches who have to teach it comes at a very slow return on the investment into new staff.
After the teaching and learning phases are complete the execution and muscle memory phases need to occur and that takes many games to achieve. Sometimes an entire season is required to fully grasp and execute the new approach.
Line progress, due to losing and adding players as well as injuries, is very slow even when the continuity of a staff is maintained and the playbook remains consistent from one season to next!
The benefit from playbook and scheme continuity season to season allows for greater and quicker gains while also allowing for the ability of small increments of playbook additions as well as subtle tweaks to be implemented during the course of the season, usually designed to compliment personnel and keep opposing defenses off balance week to week.
When a new playbook is implemented, as it has been this season for the third straight campaign, the command center of the offense (the O line) is effected. The tip of the spear is dulled. The engine room of the battle ship is thrown into initial disarray!
Okay, enough wartime analogies!
I think I have pain stakenly established that progress is slow from one year to the next. Especially in years where staff has been replaced.
This is the case with every unit but especially with the O line!
Allow me to apologize for stating what may be the obvious to those of you who have played football at a any level, played offensive line, coached offensive line, or have had family member(s) in the proverbial trenches.
This perspective I share may be clear to you but I have to assume that their is a percentage of site members who have not played, coached, or have had any affiliation with the sport other than intimately cheering on their Bruin team year in and year out.
It is for those loyal fans who I share my experiences, beliefs, and observations regarding the O line's improvement
Below are numerous approaches that we can look for during the course of games that should help improve O line productivity.
Spreading the defense:
If the new O.C. can spread his offense out with new formations, empty backfields, implementing more slot receivers, backs out of the backfield, and motion prior to the snap of the ball this will force the opposing defense to read more at said snap.
This freezes the line backers and safeties for a second and tends to cause slight confusion on their initial reads. Confusion causes break downs in defensive coverages and assignments allowing for big offensive plays whether it's run or pass.
Defenses are also less inclined to commit additional pass rushers and and blitz packages for fear of being out of position or in the wrong lane while having to monitor the spread out offense.
This approach would help take pressure off the O line as defenses will have more to read and ultimately be a little less aggressive.
As I have mentioned in prior posts I am a huge proponent of "Passing in order to run" versus the opposite. I'm not saying during the course of the game that is the only approach or mind set an offense should have. By no means should the Bruin offense be one dimensional (More on balance later).
An offense can easily adjust to a 'Run to Pass' mentality depending on the situation ie the need to drain clock, playing with the lead, being backed up deep, or just closing out a game.
But with a 'pass to run' approach first, you soften up the defense who is forced to read pass first then come forward in run support.
If an opposing defense is constantly on their heels and forced to read 'Pass First' it allows the offense to more easily hit the run for bigger plays allowing the O line to open up lanes with a tactical edge.
Short passing game:
Quick higher percentage short
passes, especially early in the game, will take a bit of the starch off the D lines push toward the QB allowing the O line to better protect.
This will also open up the deeper routes in later possessions something we desperately lacked last season.
First and five after an offsides call is such a luxury to an O line and O.C. as it opens up the playbook and takes pressure off of having to always be ultra productive on the most important down of a teams offensive possession, which is first down.
With Rosen under center working the lost art of the hard count the Bruins, ala during the Cade Mcnown era, can put themselves in a better position by playing with a shorter field to secure first downs.
This also slows the D line down on their 'get off' as they start to become mentally frustrated. D linemen love long developing plays and seven yard drops that give them a chance to break through the O line and tally a sack or at minimum a 'QB pressure or hurry'.
Rolling The Pocket:
When an O line is being overwhelmed or unable to block a pass rush it always helps to "Roll" or at least "Waggle" the pocket left or right to eliminate penetration from at least one side of the field while max blocking on the 'play side or roll side'.
With Rosen's strong arm this doesn't disallow for throwing back to the 'far side' or 'back side' of the field. In fact defensive backs on said back sides tend to flow towards the 'Roll Side' taking themselves out of position thus opening up bigger lanes down field for receivers to exploit.
Screens and Draws:
Left, right, middle, and jail break screens also take pressure off of the O lines pass blocking assignments once again causing D linemen to take slight pause in their rush during the course of the game.
Those big D lineman hate pushing through the O line into the backfield only to have to stop and reverse their field to support on said screens.
Also timely draws on obvious passing downs are a staple of balanced football and are low risk high gain plays which cause D lineman to once again slow their attack thus enabling the O line to more easily execute their blocking assignments.
Wide reverses outside the tackles or even quick inside miss direction within the offensive tackles will also aid an O line that is learning a new system or struggling to to handle the pass rush or run support of a strong D line.
This action can also open up passing lanes by causing confusion with line backers and and defensive backs who are forced to read said misdirection ultimately forcing assignment break downs or at minimum create slower pursuit.
First Down Passing:
I touched earlier on passing on early downs. Allow me to be more specific.
Passing on first down catches the defense off guard as traditional offenses run roughly 65-70% of the time on an average.
If you have a dominant O line and can grind out an average of 4 to 4.5 yards per first down then throwing on first down becomes less of a need.
If your 126th, or what ever the Bruins were last season, on the run you might want to pass on first down 50-55% of the time. This alone will keep linebackers and run support safeties on their heels enough to open up run lanes.
Well executed first down pass plays allow for second down and 'short yardage' scenarios which once again make an offensive lines job easier in the long term.
Balanced Play Calling:
Last but surely not least is the O.C's play calling. This is hugely important to the O lines success.
Last year KP was horribly unprepared while lacking any sense of rhythm or imagination with his play calling.
By keeping the defense guessing with balanced play calling and mixing pass and run during the course of the game it can sway the advantage to the O line or at least even the playing field to a great extent.
Last season KP and Mora thought they were simply going to come out and smash defenses in the mouth. This rushed and naive switch from a spread type offense under Mazonne to said power game fooled KP into believing he did not have to implement any of the above subtle tactics and offensive approaches to aid in O line productivity. Shame on Mora and KP.
But I digress.
It's a new Offensive era, a new approach, a new scheme, a huge new playbook, and that should give everyone in Bruin Nation reason for pause as well as hope for a positive change.
Just keep in mind change of this nature and magnitude takes time. So be patient.
This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.