UCLA spring camp position review: Offensive line

UCLA's offensive line during spring football practice at Spaulding Field on April 23, 2015. (Andy Holzman/Staff)

UCLA’s offensive line during spring football practice at Spaulding Field on April 23, 2015. (Andy Holzman/Staff)

The improvement of UCLA’s offensive line has been a recurring storyline for more than a year, so you’re allowed some skepticism as you read this: Despite allowing 128 sacks over the last three seasons, this could be one of the team’s strengths.

As usual, the caveat is that the line will need to stay healthy. But unlike the last few years, the unit has the sort of depth that can sustain a certain amount of attrition. Two starters are crucial: left tackle Conor McDermott, and center Jake Brendel. The former has had shoulder problems in the past, but was a game-changing left tackle through the second half of last season. He looked healthy and capable all of spring. Brendel is still the only full-time center UCLA has had in the Jim Mora era, and the one game he missed wasn’t pretty.

Injuries to either one could throw the line completely out of whack. But the other spots? Losing someone for a few games wouldn’t be a death sentence.

This isn’t the downplay the value of Simon Goines or Alex Redmond or Caleb Benenoch or Scott Quessenberry. Those four players have 82 combined games of starting experience, and there’s only room for three of them on the first string. Kenny Lacy also started at guard for all of spring, and could very well stay there for the season opener.

The really interesting battles in fall camp will happen on the right side of the line. Goines started at right tackle this spring, but he was held out here and there for precautionary reasons. He has a long history of knee and leg injuries, so I’m not especially confident on him being 100 percent for the entire season. Caleb Benenoch was limited this spring recovering from a leg surgery, but started all of last fall. If he doesn’t beat out Goines, might he move inside to guard?

That there’s legitimate competition on the edge is a dramatic change from the state of the offensive line the last seasons, when UCLA had much more depth at guard. Throw in redshirt freshman Kolton Miller, who had a strong spring performance, and there are three legitimate options besides McDermott.

If Benenoch doesn’t move back to guard, the position for which he was originally recruited, then Redmond and Lacy are likely set to start there. The depth chart is a little less firm here. Poasi Moala was a staple backup this spring, but UCLA usually used a walk-on at the opposite guard spot, mixed in with a few reps from John Lopez. Zach Bateman could be a factor there too, although the JUCO transfer didn’t look completely comfortable there transitioning from tackle.

Quessenberry has started 18 games at guard and just one at center, but he could be due for a move to the latter once he’s healthy. The junior didn’t dress at all this spring after undergoing offseason shoulder surgeries, and might not be ready for the start of camp in San Bernardino. If the rest of the line doesn’t get hurt, Quessenberry could be due for a redshirt year before taking over for Brendel in 2016.

Projected two-deep
Left tackle: Conor McDermott, Kolton Miller
Left guard: Alex Redmond, Poasi Moala
Center: Jake Brendel, Scott Quessenberry
Right guard: Kenny Lacy, Zach Bateman
Right tackle: Caleb Benenoch/Simon Goines, Zach Bateman

  • MPPBruin

    It didn’t seem like we had injuries piling up left and right like we had in previous spring practices. Were there any changes made to the way practices were conducted this year compared to previous years?

    • Jack Wang

      Mora said he didn’t go as hard on the team as he did in prior springs — particularly his first one in 2013 —because the players have a better handle on what they’re supposed to do. Gotta chalk some of that up to good fortune too, though.

      • Intimidator Bruin

        How long until you put out a review on our DB position?

        • Jack Wang

          Upcoming order is QB, DL, LB, DB, ST, so probably this weekend or so.

      • Intimidator Bruin

        Jack, Does Kolton Miller really look good at the LT position?

        • Jack Wang

          He did in spring. Firmly in the two-deep.

  • Laker Rod

    Projected two deep looks good.

  • Andrew

    It will be interesting to see if any of the incoming freshmen break into the two deep rotation during Fall camp.

    • ProbationU

      It’s always nice to have the luxury of some depth to get the freshmen into the weight room to develop. It’s the one area where most freshmen usually are not strong enough to play unless there is an absolute freak of nature. It’s time to reap the rewards of some OL depth.

  • Intimidator Bruin

    Jack, Does Kolton Miller really look good at the LT position?

  • GoBruins!

    I am really rooting for Zach Bateman to get some significant playing time this year. I hope this Juco transfer finds his niche and has a productive career with UCLA!