UCLA’s offensive line has given up 128 sacks over the last three seasons, but that doesn’t mean that the unit is hurting for confidence.
Just ask offensive tackle Caleb Benenoch, who said the line has made a 180-degree turn since the start of last season, when it gave up five sacks against Virginia. When the two teams kick off again this Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at the Rose Bowl, Benenoch will be lining up on the other side of left tackle Conor McDermott — who didn’t move into the starting lineup until halfway through last season.
Asked how he and McDermott stack up against other tackles, Benenoch didn’t hesitate: “How good are we? We’re the best in the country. It’s simple.”
Benenoch was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention as a sophomore. McDermott earn any postseason accolades, but is arguably the Bruins’ best offensive lineman.
Neither one was among Phil Steele’s preseason All-American selections, which go four teams deep. Fourth-year starting center Jake Brendel was UCLA’s lone offensive representative on the list.
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.”
» 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
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.