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: Bruins run shortest practice of the month

— UCLA ran its shortest practice of spring camp today, a 90-minute session without pads. The quarterback rotation continued with Jerry Neuheisel taking first-team reps in 11-on-11 and Asiantii Woulard taking the second team. Walk-on Jake Hall actually got a lot of seven-on-seven reps too, so it really doesn’t appear as if the Bruins are looking to cut down their list of starting candidates.

— The best play of the day went to linebacker Kenny Young, who broke through the line to tip Jerry Neuheisel’s pass, then snatched it for a pick six.

— Simon Goines returned to start at right tackle for team reps today after taking a bit of a break on Wednesday. UCLA did deploy a new look on its second-string offensive line. Continue reading

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UCLA spring camp notes: Kolton Miller takes first-string O-line reps

— Offensive lineman Simon Goines was present at today’s practice, but remained on the sideline when UCLA went into 11-on-11 drills, presumably giving him a day of rest given his long history of leg injuries. With Caleb Benenoch taking on a similar workload, first-string reps at right tackle went to redshirt freshman Kolton Miller.

The former four-star recruit had looked good as a backup left tackle through spring, and he continued to hold his own moving up to play with the starters. Former four-star recruit John Lopez, who hasn’t really been in the two-deep, took Miller’s place as the backup left tackle.

— After giving every quarterback a share of first-team reps on Saturday, UCLA has gone back into the two-by-two rotation. Today wasn’t the most enlightening session, as the Bruins mostly eschewed downfield plays for runs and goal-line work. 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: Nate Starks looks like No. 2 tailback

— One of UCLA’s biggest questions in the past two offseasons surrounded the running back position, which lost all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin after 2012.

Paul Perkins answered that in a big way as a redshirt sophomore, becoming the Pac-12’s leading rusher with 1,575 yards (121.15 per game). His presence, as well as that of an entirely intact offensive line, will certainly make it easier for whichever quarterback ends up replacing Brett Hundley this upcoming season.

But who’s looming behind him? After UCLA’s first spring practice in pads, Nate Starks looks like the clear-cut No. 2 running back. As a true freshman in 2014, the Colorado native was fourth on the team with 141 yards — behind Perkins, Hundley and senior Jordon James. He’s picked up where he left off and appears to be the team’s second-best runner now.

While head coach Jim Mora agreed that Starks currently has the inside track on the backup role, he insisted there is still “great competition there.” One player he said has “flashed” through three practices is Craig Lee, a speedy four-star recruit in 2013 who has yet to play a down for the Bruins. Continue reading

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