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’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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UCLA spring camp notes: Myles Jack moves to inside linebacker

UCLA started spring camp today, and while the starting quarterback race is still in its very early stages, but here are some other developments from this morning session.

— Myles Jack will be working a lot at inside linebacker this spring, although head coach Jim Mora said the junior will get reps outside as well. It’s a significant move for the UCLA defense, but not one that’s overly surprising given Jack’s skill set.

For all his talents, the 6-foot-1 linebacker has never been the most dangerous pass rusher. On the other hand, he matches up well in coverage even against some top receivers, and is so versatile moving sideline to sideline. The stats bear this out: he only has one sack in two season, but has 18 pass breakups in that same period.

No other Pac-12 linebacker can match that statistic in that same span. Second place goes to USC’s Hayes Pullard, who had 14.

“It gets him to the middle of the field where we can utilize his speed and things like that,” Mora said of Jack’s move. “If there was a disadvantage — some of the things he does on the outside puts him in man-to-man coverage situations. He’s a little less involved with that when he’s in the middle of the defense.”

Deon Hollins and Aaron Wallace are playing outside now, while sophomore Kenny Young is next to Jack.

Jack was also responsible for one of the session’s most notable plays. During one-on-one drills, he got tangled up with receiver Mossi Johnson on a contested ball. Both came down with at least one hand wrapped around the pass, and essentially wrestled each other for 15-20 seconds before Jack came up with it.

— Other position changes: offensive lineman Colby Cyburt is switching to tight end; offensive guard NaJee Toran is moving to the defensive line; linebacker Dwight Williams is moving to safety.

— Randall Goforth is back in a non-contact red jersey after undergoing surgeries on both shoulders. He’s getting a waiver for 2014 — a season that only saw him play two games — and will be a redshirt junior this upcoming season. Continue reading

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UCLA center Jake Brendel will return for senior season

UCLA center Jake Brendel has requested an NFL draft evaluation, but said Wednesday that he will definitely return to play his senior season.

Although the news isn’t surprising, the return of offensive line’s most veteran member stabilizes the unit just as the team prepares to introduce a new starting quarterback — a race that Brendel expects to come down to either current backup Jerry Neuheisel or incoming five-star freshman Josh Rosen.

If the Bruins keep the same starting offensive line heading into next season, they will have a senior, a redshirt junior, and three true juniors up front.

“We can take this offseason and really just hone in on our skills and work on just our simple techniques and work on just a lot of the simple things,” Brendel said. “Just break everything down, and really just progress as a unit. It’s always nice to have five selected guys that are going to be starting, and then once the new class comes in, we can just see who fits in where.”

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