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UCLA Football 2014 Pre-Season Preview: Offensive Line

With UCLA's pre-season football camp in San Bernardino on the horizon, Bruins Nation will preview the 2014-15 roster with a look of each positional group and offer some thoughts about the Bruins' projected depth chart. Today we will look at our Offensive Line.

All-world tweeter Caleb Benenoch may add All Pac-12 tackle to his resume this year.
All-world tweeter Caleb Benenoch may add All Pac-12 tackle to his resume this year.
Harry How

In the final regular game of the 2013 season, U.C.L.A. rolled out a starting offensive line with 3 freshmen, one sophomore, and one junior, and promptly dominated one of the best defensive lines in the conference to the tune of a 35-14 win over hated Southern Cal.

The junior on that offensive line will be starting in the NFL this year.  The other four, and a bunch of their compatriots, are coming back to Westwood, and that should make Brett Hundley, and every Bruin fan, very happy.

This preview is getting better and better to write every year.  That's because what used to be an exercise in looking for bright spots has become a exercise in stability and consistency and strength.   This is the second season in a row that the Bruins return 4 starters from the previous year's offensive line.  The tough part of this preview used to be guessing which surviving seniors would fill out the starting line.  Now the tough part is deciding which of the kids will be filling out the second and third teams.

It's a very welcome change.

The development and improvement in the Bruins' offensive line has paralleled their return to prominence in the conference and national talk of playing in the college football Final 4.  Credit Offensive Line Coach Adrian Klemm, who was a major off-season recruiting win for the Bruins, and Head Coach Jim Mora for starting from scratch when they focused a good deal of their first recruiting classes on rebuilding the offensive line. They then took the next critical step of letting that young talent learn get dirty on Saturdays.  It wasn't always pretty, and last year's struggle against Will Sutton and the ASU Sun Devils's great defensive line demonstrated that the young line had plenty of growing to do.  There is still plenty more to go, too, but in letting those players learn things in the line of fire, this season the Bruins will return their most experienced, talented, and deep offensive line in years, and that unit that will be tasked with keeping Heisman candidate Hundley and his array of playmakers moving in U.C.L.A.'s drive to the post season this year.

Tackle Caleb Benenoch, and guards Alex Redmond and Scott Quessenberry return in 2014 as sophomores, and the OL QB at Center (and preseason Rimington candidate) Jake Brendel is only a redshirt junior.  Add in the return of the now-junior Tackle Simon Goines who missed the later half of 2014 with an injury, and U.C.L.A. returns 66 career starts to its offensive line this season.  With the exception of one graduate transfer, there is not a single senior in the group.  That's many happy returns in Westwood.

The Bruins' main loss along the line was a big one.  Xavier Su'a-Filo was the best Bruins' lineman in over a decade and that was backed up when he was the first pick of the second round at the NFL Draft.  We should see X opening holes for the Houston Texans for a long time. In many ways, Su'a-Filo symbolized the path of the Bruins' OL over the last few years.  XSF started every game he played in, missed 2 whole seasons (at least it was an LDS mission instead of injury or suspension), returned to play multiple positions along the OL, and became a dominant force in the conference. To show just how weak the Bruins' OL was during the painful decade of the 2000's, when Jeff Baca was drafted in 2013 and XSF this spring, it marked the first time since in 14 years that the Bruins had linemen taken in consecutive NFL drafts (Chad Overhauser 1998, Kris Farris 1999).

The Bruins also return without Torian White, their starting left tackle for the last 2 years.  White was injured against Utah last October, and was then arrested on suspicion of sexual assault in November.  He was immediately suspended from the team at that time, and in April he was dismissed from the team and the University for two charges of sexual misconduct.  The criminal investigation and charges are still pending.

One thing we have learned from Mora's first couple years in Westwood is that he will play anyone anywhere if he thinks it makes the team better.  With that in mind, the four returning linemen have nothing guaranteed in terms of a starting spot.  When Benenoch went down in the finale at Southern Cal, RS sophomore Ben Wysocki stepped right in at tackle and played a fantastic game.  He'll be competing for a starting spot this fall.  RS Freshman Conor McDermott was the backup left tackle and was the first one in when that spot opened, only to be injured himself on the next play.  He'll be back and healthy and looking to regain his playing time.  Other young stars like Poasi Moala and John Lopez have a year under their belts and they know that the coaches don't care about youth.  Early enrollee Najee Toran looked great during spring ball and fellow 2014 freshman classmate Kolton Miller will join the team in San Bernardino, and what would our OL be without a true freshman?  And there is another huge, literally, addition in Miami graduate transfer Malcolm Bunche, who most people believe will get the nod at left guard.

The offensive line did have its troubles last year in protecting Hundley, allowing 35 sacks, though many of those were on Brett and his frequent efforts to make a play when throwing the ball away earlier would have been the smart move and saved a hit.  But those 35 sacks were an improvement over the preceding year, and you'd have to think Brett will continue to understand the importance of avoiding the hits this year himself, so we should expect that number to drop.  The running game suffered an expected drop off from Johnathan Franklin's incredible 1,700 yard record season in 2012 to last year's underwhelming attack when our most explosive runner was a linebacker, but another year for the running backs and the addition of some young talent should result in a big step up.

So, knowing that depth charts are as meaningful to Mora and staff as questions about Southern Cal, and knowing that each season has had a surprise or two on opening day, here's my prediction for the Bruins OL depth chart for pre-season camp.

Brendel seems the easiest pick on the unit at center.  Redmond started every game at right guard and should be a monster this season.  Benenoch proved his value as both a tackle and an all-world twitter user last year, and if Goines can return to health, I think he'll get his starting role back, though Moala is coming fast for that spot, too.  That leaves left guard as the biggest question.  Quessenberry did an admirable job filling in at left guard when XSF moved out to tackle midway through the season.   Despite that, Q who is a true center, will probably lose a starting spot in favor of Bunche at left guard, and will back up Brendel and Bunche.

Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle

Caleb Benenoch

Soph 6-5 310

Malcolm Bunche

Sr* 6-7 327

Jake Brendel

Jr* 6-4 285

Alex Redmond

Soph 6-5 300

Simon Goines

Jr  6-7 330

Conor McDermott

Soph* 6-9 285

Najee Toran

Fr 6-3 263

Scott Quessenberry

Soph 6-4 282

Ben Wysocki

Jr* 6-4 292

Poasi Moala

Fr* 6-4 278

John Lopez

Fr* 6-5 315

Kevin McReynolds

Jr* 6-2 303

Carl Hulick

So* 6-2 275

Sam Tai

Jr* 6-3 290

Kenny Lacy

Fr* 6-4 280

Colby Cybert

So* 6-3 260

Kolton Miller

Fr 6-8 290

* denotes redshirt

We'll keep a close eye on how the offensive line progresses though preseason camp at CSUSB and then back to Westwood as we get ready for another football season.  This unit was good last year, but injuries and youth kept it from being good enough and consistent enough to get past a great ASU D line and both the Pac-12 North powers Oregon and Stanford.  That's where the difference was last season.  If the offensive line can take the next step in its growth and start controlling defenses like the Ducks and the Cardinal, and I think we have the guys in the trenches to do that, those games become wins.  And if that happens, then anything is possible for the 2014 Bruins.

Line wins games.  GO BRUINS!!