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. Continue reading

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UCLA spring camp notes: Marcus Rios improving at cornerback

— UCLA held its fifth spring practice this morning at Spaulding Field, and Marcus Rios made a strong case for the day’s best play. During 11-on-11 scrimmages, the cornerback tipped Jerry Neuheisel’s pass into the air, and contorted himself to secure the interception.

It was the latest moment in what has been a solid camp so far for the redshirt sophomore — made even more impressive by the fact that he fought off a life-threatening fungal infection less than two years ago. He wasn’t 100 percent even last season, when he came up with a game-saving interception in a win at Cal.

Another offseason should give him even more time to improve his conditioning and hone his skills. He’s already a firm part of the two-deep right now, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him eventually push for a starting spot at cornerback.

— The Bruins continue to structure practices by giving two quarterbacks team reps each day. Today, the rotation gave way to Neuheisel on the first-string offense and Asiantii Woulard behind him. Neither has changed significantly through the course of spring camp, with Neuheisel’s lack of arm strength looking like a factor that could severely hamper him in the race to become starter. Continue reading

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UCLA’s Simon Goines eager for game action after leg injuries

The last time Simon Goines took the field for UCLA, he was part of an offensive line that included three true freshmen. Fast forward 16 months, and that picture has changed dramatically.

While the redshirt junior sat out all of the 2014 season recovering from leg injuries, the Bruins grew up in the trenches. Now practicing next to Goines on the first-string offensive line are a senior at center (Jake Brendel), a redshirt junior at left tackle (Conor McDermott), as well as a junior (Alex Redmond) and redshirt sophomore (Kenny Lacy) at left and right guard.

As a unit, the five have combined to start 89 games. That doesn’t even include two more starters from last season, Caleb Benenoch and Scott Quessenberry, who are recovering from offseason surgeries.

“It feels a lot different,” Goines said. “I don’t really have to say anything anymore. … I don’t have to make calls for everybody. It feels good.” Continue reading

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Lineman Caleb Benenoch reflects on freshman growing pains

Caleb Benenoch didn’t get a chance to ease into his freshman season.

Originally in line to start at right guard, he lost the competition to fellow first-year Alex Redmond shortly before UCLA’s 2013 season opener. Four games in, however, he got his chance — albeit at a separate position.

Starting tackle Torian White broke a bone in his lower leg in an Oct. 3 win at Utah, opening a spot in the staring lineup for the 6-foot-5 Benenoch. The toughest part of his adjustment, Benenoch said this week, was keeping up with the speed of the game and refining his technique. He needed another four games or so to get comfortable with the pace. Continue reading

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