Friday, August 5, 2011
Depth chart review: Offensive Line
By Peter Yoon
With UCLA preparing to open fall camp on August 8, we will break down the depth charts at each position in order to look at how the Bruins stack up heading into this season. We've previously looked at quarterbacks and defensive line. Now we move to the offensive line.
Current depth chart:
Sean Sheller (Sr., 6-5, 304)
Connor Bradford (Jr., 6-6, 275)
Jeff Baca (Jr., 6-4, 305)
Casey Griffiths (So., 6-4, 284)
Kai Maiava (Sr., 6-1, 318)
Greg Capella (So., 6-3, 292)
Kody Innes (Fr., 6-4, 291)
Chris Ward (So., 6-4, 330)
Wade Yandall (Fr., 6-4, 328)
Mike Harris (Sr., 6-5, 326)
Brett Downey (Jr., 6-7, 290)
If the defensive line is the source of the greatest optimism and hope for UCLA this season, then the offensive line is the yang to that ying as it's the cause of the most concern for this year's team.
It's not that the line is bad--the starting five on the depth chart are quite solid, in fact--it's just that this is a unit that has been plagued by injuries and other attrition during the Rick Neuheisel era and a lack of depth up front is the biggest reason for tempered expectations for this year's team.
Already the depth chart is moot because projected starting guard Jeff Baca--probably the team's top lineman--broke his leg the spring as is expected to miss the first month of the season. That makes the line even shallower, especially when you consider that Stan Hasiak, expected to be a major contributor, if not a starter, was academically disqualified from UCLA after the spring quarter.
Center Kai Maiava and tackles Mike Harris and Sean Sheller bring starting experience to the group with Harris entering his third season as a starter. Maiava, the heart and soul of the line, brings a toughness and leadership factor that the Bruins sorely missed last season when Maiava sat out with a broken ankle.
He missed much of spring camp after aggravating the injury, but is expected to be at full strength for fall camp. He's the key to success for the UCLA line this season not only because he's a solid player, but because he is the quarterback of the line responsible for calling blocking schemes.
Harris and Sheller are the muscle of the group and are the lone holdovers from last year's Filthy Five. They are excellent run blockers who can go toe to toe with any defensive line they face, but they give up a little in the quickness and agility department and thus they are average pass blockers.
Chris Ward got some playing time as a true freshman last season and appears to be headed for a good career. He's got the size and strength to man the trenches for the next several years and was a standout youth basketball player so he has athleticism. With experience he should develop into a formidable force up front.
With Baca out for the first few games, either Wade Yandall or Casey Griffiths will probably be forced into a starting role. Neither is an exciting option on paper because neither has appeared in a game for UCLA, though they both had solid spring. Yandall was getting first-team reps by the end of spring practice.
Griffiths was a standout at American River College, a junior college in Sacramento, so he does at least have some collegiate playing experience but he probably needs to add some more size and strength to succeed at the Division I level.
After that, the depth really tails off.
Greg Capella struggled all year last year with shotgun snapping--a big part of UCLA's offense--and that kept him off the field. He seemed to be improved during the spring, but still had some ups and downs. Brett Downey showed he had taken a step forward during spring drills. He's a hard worker and if he continues his progress, look for him to get some significant minutes on game days. Connor Bradford can't seem to develop the physical size needed to compete at the Pac-12 level.
With such a shallow pool of linemen, redshirt freshman Kody Innes as well as walk-ons Sam Saultz and Jay Barlow could be called upon for emergency duty. Albert Cid, a transfer from Citrus College, could also have an immediate impact. His game appears ready for the Pac-12, but he's still not officially enrolled in school because of paperwork delays.
Incoming freshmen offensive linemen almost always redshirt, but depth problems may force Neuheisel to use one or two of them this year. Size-wise, Will Oliver (6-8, 295), Torian White (6-6, 280) and Ben Wysocki (6-5, 280) appear to be the most suited to playing as freshmen.
Keep in mind that while the offensive line is not deep, there is a nice nucleus of experience coming back, especially when Baca returns, and offensive line coach Bob Palcic is among the best coaches at that position you can find anywhere. Last year's unit, a rag-tag bunch of mostly career backups, became a formidable run blocking unit in large part because of Palcic's coaching so there may indeed be some hope with this group.