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2019 UCLA Football Spring Training Preview: Offensive Line Looks to Continue Growth

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The line returns four of five starters from last year, but depth could be an issue.

The offensive line works on a blocking drill during Spring Practice last year while offensive line coach Justin Frye looks on.
Joe Piechowski

Last year, the offensive line went from a clear point of weakness prior to the season to the biggest surprise on the team. There were many reasons for this including: the arrival of of Justin Frye as offensive line coach, the position shift of Boss Tagaloa from defensive to offensive line, the arrival of plug-and-play true freshman Christaphany Murray, and an offensive system change to one that favored the run game. It’s hard to pinpoint one of these reasons as being the most impactful, but they all combined to create a world where UCLA’s offensive line wasn’t the weak-point many assumed it would be.

But that was last year, and the Spring Training has brought about a new set of challenges. So, let’s break down how the UCLA Bruins are looking on the offensive line.

Who’s Gone?

  • Andre James
  • Justin Murphy
  • Josh Wariboko-Alali

Those three names are big hits for different reasons. James is clearly the biggest hit of all, as he was the starting left tackle for the Bruins and a three-year starter. It’s especially disappointing when considering how the pre-draft process has gone for James, including an absolutely brutal scouting report on NFL.com which finishes with the line “He could find himself in camp as a free agent, but his lack of consistency in both his pass and run blocking makes a roster spot a long shot.” Word is that James’ decision was for personal reasons, but this is a rough loss for the Bruins.

For Murphy, the loss hurts both from a depth standpoint and a resources standpoint. On the depth front, Murphy was a spot starter last season after grad transferring in from Texas Tech. He missed a number of games, but was a solid contributor when healthy and would have factored into the offensive line plans had he returned. On the resources standpoint, UCLA worked with Murphy to help him get a 6th year of eligibility due to medical issues that sidelined him for a good amount of this past season, only to see Murphy turn around and transfer out of the program. Overall, not a great departure for the Bruins.

Finally, we have Wariboko-Alali, who is grad transferring from the program. This loss hurts mostly from a depth standpoint (which you’ll see why in a moment), but having an older player like Wariboko-Alali around never hurts.

Who’s Back?

  • Boss Tagaloa
  • Christaphany Murray
  • Michael Alves
  • Jake Burton
  • Alec Anderson
  • Jon Gaines
  • Baraka Beckett
  • Sam Marrazzo

Here’s the good news: Four of last year’s starters along the line are back, so there’s a good amount of continuity. The bad news? The depth behind them is almost non-existent.

Tagaloa has cemented his spot as the line’s starting center and general leader, and Murray and Alves proved to be very capable guards last year, so the interior of the line should be a team strength this year. At right tackle, Burton took over from Murphy went down with injury, and had a strong showing, to the point that he kept the job for the rest of the season.

The spotlight this spring will be at the left tackle spot, where Anderson will have the benefit of a prolonged audition this spring. With the departure of James and with reinforcements like Sean Rhyan not arriving until the fall, Anderson will take the bulk of the left tackle snaps, which gives him the inside track on nailing down the starting spot this fall.

Finally, the spring will also give us a look at Jon Gaines and Baraka Beckett, which should give us an idea of how they are progressing. Both Gaines and Beckett were brought in with the expectation that they would be multi-year projects, but the lack of depth at the position means that an unlucky injury or two could press these guys into service.

Depth Chart

Left Tackle

  • Alec Anderson

Left Guard

  • Michael Alves
  • Baraka Beckett OR Jon Gaines

Center

  • Boss Tagaloa
  • Sam Marrazzo

Right Guard

  • Christaphany Murray
  • Baraka Beckett OR Jon Gaines

Right Tackle

  • Jake Burton

And now we come to the main issue this spring: depth. Or rather, the clear lack of it. Sam Marrazzo is the only walk-on listed in part because we actually saw him play (and play well) last season, but the simple fact is that more than a few walk-ons will probably be counted on to provide some depth this spring, especially at the tackle spots, while Beckett and Gaines are going to have to prove some level of growth as the backup guards. It also outlines how big this spring is for Alec Anderson and UCLA. He has no one on scholarship behind him at the moment, so he needs to prove he can play at the level required from a D1 left tackle for UCLA to keep up the positive momentum on the line.

It is a bit disappointing that UCLA doesn’t have any early enrollees on the offensive line, as they really could have used them this spring. For the people who doubted whether Sean Rhyan (or even Duke Clemens) would make an impact this year, just look at how thin that depth chart is. The lack of bodies means that UCLA absolutely has to hit on their recruiting and developing at the moment; as the saying goes around here, “Line wins games”, so UCLA needs to prove last year was not a blip.


Go Bruins!