Despite maybe not being one of the most glorifying positions on the team, offensive lineman are the center of any good offense. It’s hard to operate without a well-rounded offensive line and though 2017 may not have been UCLA’s best year they still had a relatively strong O-line with two departing players looking towards potentially glamorous careers in the NFL. That being said, Chip Kelly will be inheriting a sub-par O-line in 2018, and here’s why.
Senior center Scott Quessenberry has graduated and is eligible for this year’s NFL Draft. With decent athleticism and good size, Walter Football ranks Quessenberry as the sixth best center in this year’s draft. Some people project Quessenberry going as high as early round three. He has the potential to be a solid NFL starter.
The only departing junior is 6’9’’ Left Tackle Kolton Miller. Miller has extraordinary length and size and is a strong protector of the QB. Miller may have to move to Right Tackle in the NFL to dodge smaller, faster edge rushers. Ranked by Walter Football as the fourth best offensive tackle in the draft and is projected to go in the second round.
We are also seeing the departure of senior guards Najee Toran and Kenny Lacy. Lacy was injured for all of 2017 and will not return next season. Backup tackle Poasi Moala will also be leaving. Moala saw action in six games last season.
Graduate transfer Sunny Odogwu has used up his eligibility as well and won’t be back after playing just six games last season. Reserve lineman Gyo Shojima has also completed his eligibility as well.
And, last but not least, the final departure, quite literally, was Hank Fraley who left the Bruins after National Signing Day without accomplishing much recruiting-wise.
Only two of the five starters on the offensive line are returning. Sophomore guard Michael Alves is coming back after a freshman season which saw him start in all thirteen games due to the injury to Kenny Lacy. We should assume that Alves will be the starter. Alves had an average freshman season. He has good size and strength but proved a little raw over the course of the season.
Redshirt junior tackle Andre James is only twenty years old but he has already started twenty-three games for the Bruins. James was the fifteenth highest rated recruit out of high school and has exceeded expectations so far at UCLA. James will certainly have a spot in the starting lineup.
Redshirt junior center Joshua Wariboko-Alali was named the top recruit from the state of Oklahoma in 2014. He has spent his career so far behind Quessenberry, but without any other true center he will almost certainly be the team’s new center in 2018. Though he’s not a starter, Josh has already seen action in ten games and will be one of the more experienced players on the line.
Redshirt sophomore tackle Jake Burton has had an interesting path to UCLA. He played tight end in high school but entered UCLA playing on the defensive line. He switched to the Offensive Line in 2017 and served as a back-up, seeing action in five games. At 6’5’’ and 270 pounds, Burton is smaller than most of lineman, he instead relies on his speed and technical hands. He could be a good matchup against edge rushers.
It doesn’t look like any of the offensive line recruits will be participating in Spring Practice as none of them are on campus as of yet. This means that the only new member of the unit is new offensive line coach Justin Frye, whose hiring was just announced earlier this week.
The offensive line situation at UCLA is pretty messy. The most experienced players are leaving this year and what we are left with is a line made up of inexperienced talent.
The fact is that the offensive line has been one of the biggest areas of concern for the Bruins in recent years and is likely to continue to one. That’s why the addition of Justin Frye seems so promising.
Because of the large numbers of departures, the inexperience among the guys coming back, the fact that the 2018 recruits won’t be around until Fall Camp and the coaching change, no one can really tell whose going to be starting on the offensive line when the Bruins open the season on September 1st.
For that reason, it’s just too hard to project a potential Spring depth chart for this unit, except to say that it will continue to be an area of concern for Bruin fans. It will be interesting to watch how the offensive line looks as Spring plays out.
Right now, though, it will suffice to say that Justin Frye has a lot of work to do with these guys.