Ah, yes. We’re back to talking about the offensive line. Last year’s line did not have a ton of promise, but what played out on the field was somewhat of a nightmare. The run game was abysmal and our star quarterback wound up sidelined with an injury for most of the season. Throw in a new offensive scheme and you get our 4-8 season. This unit just didn’t get the job done in 2016.
The only loss on the line is left tackle Conor McDermott. He was a starter in all 12 games and was named to the second team All Pac-12 Conference. His technique needed work right up until the end, but his athleticism and dedication to the team was instrumental.
The good news is that we have a new coach to look forward to in Hank Fraley. After spending 11 years in the NFL, Fraley will be bringing his talents to UCLA. Fraley may be the biggest “recruit” in this year’s class, as it was so apparent that bad coaching was resulting in one of the worst performances by an offensive line that UCLA had seen in recent years. But all of the bad stuff in the past and we look forward to the impact that Fraley and the new recruits will have on the upcoming season.
The biggest Kolton Miller is healing nicely and should return to action this year after missing the final seven games of the season with an injury. Andre James started in his absence, but we never really got to see Miller reach his potential last season. Miller was part of the line that allowed Paul Perkins to rack up a ton of yards in 2015. He’ll be solid this Fall if he makes the appropriate progress this spring.
Scott Quessenberry started in every game last season at center and was named to the 2016 Pac 12 All-Conference squad, so his experience and leadership will be huge next year with a number of new coaches on the offensive side of the ball. He never fully filled Jake Brendel’s shoes, so progress in the offseason is going to be essential if he is going to be the true anchor of this line.
Kenny Lacy is back, but where he plays could be a question. He could be back at guard or he could be good on the edge as a tackle because his athletic ability and size will hopefully allow him to stop opponents on those end-arounds. Additionally, Zach Bateman may finally have an impact on the program as he was one of the top JUCO offensive lineman in 2014., but Josh Wariboko-Alali, Poasi Moala, and Najee Toran will also be competing for the final spot at guard. There are also a number of redshirts and current freshman that may come into play including Michael Alves, Paco Perez, and Alex Akingbulu. All of them have been working on getting bigger and improving their technique so hopefully the talent well is filling up this year after going a bit dry in 2016.
My crystal ball has given me these predictions for a depth chart:
Left tackle: ?
Left guard: ?
Right guard: ?
Right Tackle: ?
That’s right. Because we are coming back from a season where the offensive line performed so poorly and because Jim Mora has rightfully brought in a new position coach, the only thing that’s certain about the offensive line is that things will need to change from last year to make this year any better.
So, while I could put together a projected depth chart, it’s probably best to wait and see how this plays out in the spring.