KEY RETURNERS: Jeff Baca, Nick Ekbatani, Micah Kia, Sean Sheller
EMERGING PLAYERS: Kai Maiava, Jake Dean, Nate Chandler, Sonny Tevaga
INCOMING FRESHMAN & TRANSFERS: Ryan Taylor, Eddie Williams, Stan Hasiak, Greg Capella, Xavier Su'a-Filo
2009 marks the first time in four years that the Bruin Offensive Line has maintained the same position coach in Bob Palcic. Coaching inconsistencies have decimated its ranks and spelled its doom over the years.
Run and pass support? Nearly obsolete. Against blitzing and stunting defenses? Totally obsolete and ineffective. The offensive line for the most part has been afraid of its own shadow and the results were evident.
Defenders went over and around this rag-tag bunch of behemoths as if they weren't there. Finally, the number and frequency of offensive turnovers in 2008 can be attributed solely this unit.
If recent history is the gauge of performance, the UCLA Offensive Line has been the effective equivalent to the Maginot Line.
Since the offensive line poses the biggest questions for 2009 and is the most important aspect of offensive productivity, we'll have to begin our dissection here. Bright spot? The offensive line returns six players from the 2008 season who started a minimum of five games. The following three of which can play Tackle, Guard, and Center. These three are the most valuable components on the line for 2008.
The line of scrimmage is where the victors and the vanquished are determined. UCLA has the ingredients of a great offensive line, however experience and development will determine its fate.
They may taste the same, but a tostada is still a misshapened and unmanageable taco. Pure and simple.
Redshirt junior Sean Sheller, 6'5 300, returns after an off-season knee injury and surgery sidelined him last year. Sheller brings versatility to the offensive front and appears to be the starter at left tackle. During spring practice he eliminated any doubts as to whether he could be game-speed effective after a long rehabilitation period. Good thing too, because at left tackle, his main responsibilty will be to protect the QB's blind side. His progress will be tested by his teammates, Korey Bosworth and Datone Jones--two very good and aggressive defensive ends.
Jeff Baca is a sophomore guard who already has a combined eight starts at tackle and guard during the 2008 season. Another multi-purpose lineman, Baca is 6'4" 305 pounds from Mission Viejo High School. His play spoke for itself as he made the Rivals All Pac-10 Freshman team as a freshman. Solid and consistent, despite just one year of college football experience, Baca will give a sound performance in 2009.
Kai Maiava figures to be the starting center after transferring from Colorado. After sitting out one year, he performed very well during spring practices and looks to unseat Jake Dean at the position. At a stout 6'1 325, Maiava, a sophomore, is practically an immovable object. Strength and conditioning have paid off substantially as he plans to anchor an offensive line that will be much improved.
After a long period of vacillating on whether to commit to UCLA, Stan Hasiak finally made the choice to become a Bruin. Out of Kapolei High School in Hawaii, he was one of the most sought after high-school offensive guards in the country, and is a stellar 6'6 320. He should make a push to start as a true freshman as he brings size and youth to a unit that is being rebuilt entirely.
Xavier Su'a-Filo comes from Provo, Utah's Timpview High. He was a highly-recruited tackle that chose UCLA because he felt that it was the right move and that UCLA was a team on the rise. Su'a-Filo should compete for a starting tackle spot, possibly by mid-season. As an area reporter once said, Xavier Su'a-Filo passes the eyeball test.
Junior college transfers Eddie Williams and freshman Greg Capella, should be involved in the fray when fall practice begins also.
In order for the 2009 season to bear fruit and become bowl eligible, UCLA offensive line coach Bob Palcic must sort out which of his 22+ lineman will develop to become one cohesive unit.
“The line is a major area of concern for us,” Neuheisel said. “We did not play well as a unit a year ago, but the good news is we have a lot of guys who gained valuable experience as starters and that should help us as we move forward. We will identify our best unit in Spring Practice and refine it in the Fall when our injured players and newcomers are available to compete."