VIDEO: Caleb Benenoch talks about state of UCLA offensive line

Junior Caleb Benenoch offered some interesting thoughts yesterday on the UCLA offensive line, including how he and his teammates might actually benefit from having a less mobile quarterback to protect.

A few other points from his media session:

— “Paul Perkins, in my opinion, is the best running back in the country. He does everything perfectly. There’s no gray area with him. It’s black and white. He just goes, every play.”

— Benenoch said he didn’t have a preference in the quarterback race, and that Jerry Neuheisel and “J-Chosen” are both making good plays in practice.

— Benenoch was mostly sidelined in spring camp recovering from a leg surgery, while offensive line coach Adrian Klemm was suspended until from March to June due to allegations of NCAA rules violations.

“It was kind of tough on both of us,” Benenoch said, “I’m happy he’s back. He’s our mentor. He’s like our big brother. He’s not that much older than we are. We have a lot of fun with him, he has a lot of fun with us. He pushes us to be the best that we can be, so I love having him back.”

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UCLA camp notes: Running back Soso Jamabo takes Wildcat snaps

» UCLA has a clear-cut No. 1 option in Paul Perkins, who said his goals this season are to be the nation’s top tailback and to win a national championship. That’s allowing the Bruins to give even first-team reps with some of the newer players.

Two days into camp, the main beneficiary has been five-star running back Soso Jamabo. On Tuesday, he not only got a healthy share of time on the first and second string, but even took five or six snaps out of Wildcat.

Perkins generously compared Jamabo’s running style to that of Eric Dickerson on Monday, and offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch followed with some praise of his own: “Soso is just unbelievably talented. … I’m eager to see what he does in pads.”

Jamabo honestly hasn’t quite matched his recruiting hype on the field, but it’s still fairly early in camp and UCLA doesn’t need instant production from him. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him become more of a pass-catcher than a workhorse runner, but offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said he doesn’t foresee any position changes for the 6-foot-3, 210-pound back.

» Chris Clark remains sidelined with mononucleosis, but Mazzone said that won’t affect UCLA’s implementation of a new tight end package. Nate Iese, Thomas Duarte, Colby Cyburt, Tyler Scott are the options there for now, which sounds similar to the rotation UCLA used at Y-receiver.

“We’re kind of going back to the old Joe Fauria days, when we had that big joker,” Mazzone said. “We’re going to be able to put some things in that we haven’t been able to run the last couple of years, because of the lack of a guy at that position.”

Freshman Aaron Sharp also got some first-team reps at Y-receiver. Continue reading

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UCLA plans to redshirt offensive lineman Scott Quessenberry

UCLA is planning to redshirt offensive lineman Scott Quessenberry, who underwent surgeries on both shoulders this offseason.

Quessenberry had started 19 games through his freshman and sophomore seasons, playing guard in all but one of those appearances. Head coach Jim Mora said he was unsure whether or not the former three-star recruit will switch to center when he returns in 2016. Quessenberry started the 2014 season opener against Virginia at center in place of Jake Brendel, who is now a redshirt senior.

Even without Quessenberry, the Bruins return plenty of game experience in the trenches, including Brendel and his 39 career starts. Five other linemen have combined for 73 starts.

Offensive tackles Caleb Benenoch and Simon Goines were also limited by injuries in spring, but project to be ready for at least part of preseason camp at Cal State San Bernardino. Linebacker Kenny Orjioke and running back Steve Manfro are also on track to be healthy this season.

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Four UCLA players highlight Lombardi Award watch list

As preseason watch lists continue to drown each other out, the Lombardi Award is trying a new way to distinguish itself: including as many names as it can find.

If such lists are intended as a guideline for award voters heading into the season, this committee won’t get much help from the bloated 145-man roster — a number that more than doubles the size of many other watch lists.

So the fact that four UCLA players are on the radar for the Lombardi Award — given to the top offensive or defensive lineman, or linebacker — is not overly surprising. Linebacker Myles Jack (who also made the Butkus Award watch list today) and defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes are the Bruin defense’s most valuable players. Each of them will finish the season with at least an all-conference nod.

The one UCLA name on the list that could raise an eyebrow is offensive tackle Caleb Benenoch. While the junior has started 22 games at right tackle, he is not as irreplaceable on the line as center Jake Brendel or left tackle Conor McDermott.

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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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