UCLA post-spring position outlook: Offensive line

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 …

Offensive line

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. Continue reading

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Bruins could stick with three true freshmen on offensive line

Those three true freshmen on UCLA’s offensive line might stay there all season.

Assistant coach Adrian Klemm said Wednesday that if his current front five continues to perform, he could consider sticking with what is now his third starting lineup. Injuries have forced the fluidity: starting left tackle Simon Goines, who has a history of knee problems, is still limping with an injured right MCL; backup Conor McDermott (shoulder) is also sidelined.

“I want to have continuity, but at the same time, I don’t think a guy loses his position to injury,” Klemm said. “If we’re rolling and things are good, we have cohesiveness and we’re playing well, I don’t see any reason to shake it up. Continue reading

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VIDEO: Jim Mora talks UCLA’s offensive line


– UCLA coach Jim Mora played it coy Thursday when asked about his starting offensive line, hinting that left tackle Simon Goines (MCL) could still be available at Oregon on Saturday. The sophomore did not practice Thurday, nor did senior Y-receiver Darius Bell.

– Though Mora didn’t talk about the likelihood of starting three true freshmen on his line, he said that the position was “without a doubt” the most difficult for a first-year player. A less-than-stellar offensive line is difficult to hide schematically, and freshmen must also account for defenses that can shift right before a snap. Continue reading

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UCLA offensive line likely to start three true freshmen


With three days left until a visit from UCLA, No. 2 Oregon’s defense may already be salivating.

Two weeks ago, the No. 12 Bruins started two true freshmen on the offensive line for the first time in school history. This Wednesday, Bruins offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said true freshman Scott Quessenberry will likely join the mix at left guard.

Primarily a center, Quessenberry played some guard in fall camp, but was redshirting this season until the line’s recent rash of injuries. He has practiced there this week after the loss of left tackle Simon Goines, who injured his MCL in a 24-10 loss at Stanford. Protecting quarterback Brett Hundley’s blind side now falls to All-American Xavier Su’a-Filo, who shifts over from left guard. Continue reading

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Notes and quotes: UCLA 37, Cal 10

UCLA hardly looked unstoppable in its 37-10 win over Cal Saturday, but it did enough to earn its place as a top-10 team.

Some notes from the night:

– The defense held Cal to a season-low 320 offensive yards. The Bears’ 10 points were the lowest of Sonny Dykes’ (relatively short) head coaching career. If not for some untimely penalties, the Bruins might have kept Cal out of the end zone entirely.

The front seven continued its run as one of the conference’s best, sacking true freshman quarterback Jared Goff three times and coming up with clutch stops. Safety Randall Goforth had an interception, while cornerbacks Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau combined for three pass breakups. Continue reading

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Caleb Benenoch: O-line confident, mistakes fixable


True freshman Caleb Benenoch entered Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium last Thursday, thrown into his first significant action of his career after a season-ending ankle injury to tackle Torian White. After watching film of the 34-27 win, he seemed optimistic if not enthused.

“We can do a lot better,” Benenoch said. “We worked to clean up a lot of our mistakes this week. We had a lot of communication errors. Stuff that can get fixed. We’re confident going into the Berkeley game.” Continue reading

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Noel Mazzone references children’s lit in describing freshman linemen


A few days after offensive line coach Adrian Klemm referenced Pokemon cards to describe Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch’s youth, another UCLA assistant found a useful cultural marker.

“They’re still on the ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ book right now,” Noel Mazzone said Thursday. “Dr. Seuss reading. We haven’t progressed enough.”

The Bruins’ offensive coordinator also talked about the need to eliminate “self-imposed wounds” — i.e. penalties — and to build consistency.

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Torian White’s injury unsettles UCLA offensive line

Through its first three games, UCLA’s offensive line had looked every part a resurgent unit — plowing lanes for an effective ground attack and keeping quarterback Brett Hundley on his feet. For the first time in a decade, the Bruins had both NFL-caliber talent and quality depth.

Also crucial was the chemistry, something both coaches and players said had improved vastly since an injury-plagued 2012 campaign. Early on this fall, the Bruins staff had emphasized building a consistent starting five.

Thursday night complicated those plans. In the second quarter of a 34-27 win at Utah, left tackle Torian White broke his right ankle. (UPDATE: White is officially out for the season with a break and slight ligament tear.) Continue reading

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Redshirt decisions a ‘delicate deal’ for Jim Mora

SAN BERNARDINO — Kenny Orjioke is 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. Through the first five camp days in San Bernardino, he has looked like a potential star, a heavy-hitting blur who could top of UCLA’s already impressive pass rush.

As a 17-year-old true freshman, the linebacker played mostly on special teams. He finished with two tackles in five games. Should he have redshirted instead?

“It’s kind of a delicate deal,” head coach Jim Mora said. “You’re always trying to win right now. If you see a guy who can help you, my instinct is to use him.

“But I think you have to be sensitive to the kid. If you’re not going to use him to the extent where you’re really getting something out of him and he’s really getting something out of the experience — you hate to waste that year just to get a few plays.”

Mora wasn’t talking about Orjioke, but it’s a perennial conversation for any college football program: Use a promising youngster immediately and let him learn through experience, or stash him for future dividends? (Orjioke said in spring that not redshirting made him value his remaining seasons more, pushing him to work harder.)

The freshmen who prompted the discussion late Monday morning were Jalen Ortiz and Darren Andrews, two receivers who stand at about 5-foot-9. The pair made their share of plays over the middle Tuesday, with Andrews impressively holding on to a ball as he bounced off defensive back Anthony Jefferson’s tackle attempt.

Both could add speed to special teams, or be saved on the sidelines as they watch and learn.

Another example in this year’s class is 17-year-old defensive tackle Kenneth Clark, a player who could easily fit in the rotation. The question is whether a limited number of plays as the No. 3 nose tackle will benefit more than a redshirt season.

Asked if he’s handling redshirts differently than last year, Mora said no: “I felt like all the freshmen that played (last year) got something out of it.

“I guess if you look back and say, ‘Is there any player that didn’t redshirt, that played, that it was a waste for?’ — I don’t get the feeling that there was.”

BENENOCH CLOSE TO STARTING

UCLA’s starting offensive line isn’t set in stone, but the order is at least wet concrete. Freshman Caleb Benenoch has run almost exclusively with the first-team offense for most of the camp’s first five days. So far, he’s handled the task with aplomb — easily setting himself out as the best of the seven-man freshman haul. Continue reading

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Freshman Sean Covington takes first practice punts


SAN BERNARDINO — Early in Friday’s afternoon practice, Sean Covington launched his first punts wearing a UCLA jersey.

There was one that arced high and back, landing some 60 yards away. Another swung short and hooked left. He’s still a freshman, after all.

Ranked one of the top punters in the country, the St. Petersburg, Fla., native was the first member of the 2013 class to fax in his signed letter of intent on Feb. 6. He has the unenviable task of following Jeff Locke, one of the best punters in UCLA history and a recent fifth-round draft pick.

Locke may be the most difficult player to replace for the Bruins, who are trying to better a 9-5 record amidst higher expectations and a tougher schedule. That Covington worked with Locke earlier this summer is a good start. The freshman said the two, roughly 90-minute sessions at UCLA were very productive. For one, they share a dominant foot.

“You don’t see many lefties,” Covington said. “That was a lot, just seeing his form and his steps and just how he drops. You can critique what you do and what you’re not doing, what you need to work on.”

Covington acknowledged the pressure in following a two-time Ray Guy semifinalist and fifth-round draft pick, but said it won’t faze him. Still, there’s a long way for him to go before he can fill Locke’s shoes.

“I think the key with Sean is his operation time,” head coach Jim Mora said. “When you go from Jeff (Locke) and Kevin McDermott, the snapper, they were so efficient from snap to kick. … With Sean, it’s just that operation. That’s so critical. But he has an excellent leg.”

“I don’t know if he’ll be the Jeff Locke that we saw that could pin teams down inside the 10-yard line on a pretty consistent basis. That’s kind of an art.”

» Priest Willis has played cornerback so far in San Bernardino, backing up his status as a top-100 recruit. During his recruitment, however, some thought the 6-foot-2 Arizona native would be better off at safety.

Asked if he was glad Willis fit at corner, Mora began dropping his own credentials.

“I’ve coached defensive backs my whole career,” he said. “I’ve been lucky to been around some — Rod Woodson, he’s a pretty good corner. All-Century player. So I would think that people would trust my judgment when it comes to defensive backs. Continue reading

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