Spring football is done, and over three months still stand between us and the start of UCLA’s third season under Jim Mora — one that comes with national title aspirations and accompanying media glare. Over the next week, this blog will cover each of the Bruins’ position groups. Next up …
UCLA is facing life without left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, set to become the school’s highest-drafted offensive lineman since Kris Farris went to the Pittsburgh Steelers as a third-round pick in 1999. And yet, the Bruins aren’t in bad shape without the man they voted their offensive MVP, one who earned the conference’s Morris Trophy as well as All-American nods.
No returning lineman is as versatile or mobile as Su’a-Filo, and not having a dynamic pulling guard will likely impact the Bruins’ running game. What should balance out his absence is a unit that is deeper and more experienced that it was a year ago — a continuing reclamation project sparked by 2013′s stud signing class.
Helped by assistant coach Adrian Klemm’s impressive recruiting, the program signed seven offensive linemen in 2013. Three of the contributed almost immediately: as injuries racked up, Alex Redmond, Caleb Benenoch and Scott Quessenberry started nearly the entire second half of UCLA’s 10-win season.
Their youth resulted in some up-and-down performances, but also laid a solid foundation in the trenches — even with would-be junior Torian White dismissed after a still-pending sexual assault investigation.
This offseason, Benenoch transformed his body and became the team’s starting left tackle. He performed well throughout the spring, especially considering that he entered UCLA as a guard and was played right tackle most of last season. Redmond is recovering from hand surgery, but was already a Freshman All-American who should only get better in reprising his spot at right guard. Quessenberry played left guard for half of last season; as the team’s successor to center Jake Brendel, he could move to more of a reserve role if the group is fully healthy.
Several newcomers will make an impact as well. Graduate transfer Malcolm Bunche looks imposing at 6-foot-7 and well over 300 pounds, but its still unclear whether he will be most useful as a guard or a tackle. Redshirt freshman Poasi Moala is athletic but still raw, and got some first-team reps at right tackle to start the spring. True freshman NaJee Toran enrolled early and started when Redmond wasn’t available, playing with a mean streak that impressed Klemm.
Redshirt freshman Kenny Lacy and redshirt sophomore Conor McDermott are also poised to contribute as tackles. The former moved to the right side and also drew praise from coaches for his strong winter workouts. The latter was limited in spring after having shoulder surgery last November, but has flashed promising moments to go with his 6-foot-8 frame.
The biggest concern is the health of tackle Simon Goines. The junior has 20 starts under his belt, but has struggled with knee and leg injuries throughout his career. Klemm said he doesn’t want to rush Goines back, which leaves open the possibility of a redshirt year if the 6-foot-7 lineman isn’t ready by the start of the season. His status could mean the difference between an exceptional line and a merely serviceable one.
Level of concern: 5/10
*With 10 being the highest cause for concern this upcoming season, the scale is based mainly on the unit’s top talent as well as its depth. The latter might be weighed more or less depending on the position group; it would be more important to have multiple running backs than multiple quarterbacks, for example.