Offensive line will be strength again for UCLA
LOS ANGELES -- During the 2012 season, the offensive line emerged as a surprising strength. With the loss of just one starter and two All-Americans returning this season, the OL is once again looking like a formidable aspect of the Bruins’ game.
Early last season, questions surrounded the players. Xavier Sua-Filo had been out of the game for two years serving a Mormon Mission and freshmen made up the majority of the line, most notably a new signal caller at center in redshirt freshman Jake Brendel. But both Sua-Filo and Brendle played well enough to earn All-America accolades and helped anchor a line that aided in running back Johnathan Franklin’s record-breaking season.
“I think the guys are more familiar, the guys know what it’s like to play next to each other,” Sua-Filo said. “With a new line and young guys, you have a hard time trusting the guy next to you to get the job done and that effects your play… I think as a group, we feel a lot more comfortable next to each other which allows us to relax.”
There was only one departure with Jeff Baca, a veteran leader, graduating. But Baca’s loss was a big one.
“Jeff Baca was a real important part of our offense,” Brendel said. “His leadership and his expertise was utilized every single play. It kind of puts a burden on us just to rebuild but I really like there’s guys that are coming in and also guys that we have right now that can fill that spot.”
UCLA will have five incoming offensive linemen with Lacy Westbrook already on campus and Brendel has already started taking over Baca’s role by being the key communicator on the line. But Brendel’s leadership is different than Baca’s and he is still adjusting to not having his former teammate’s presence.
“I’m definitely the communicator but at the same time, I try and not say too much,” Brendel said. “I want the guys around me to learn the calls also, I can’t make every call for every position. I want them to be self-sufficient and just rely on their keys and their sight because I can only see so much.”
Physically, the linemen have benefited from a full year of strength coach Sal Alosi’s program. Sua-Filo in particular, who lifted no weights for two years while on his mission and spent most of last season trying to regain that strength.
“I was back to maybe my freshmen year strength where as a lot of these guys have already been in the program,” Sua-Filo said. “There’s a lot of strong guys on our offensive line and they’ve noticed that I’ve gotten stronger so they’ve stopped giving me a hard time.”
The offensive line is showing tremendous promise. All that’s left to show is results on the field.
“We’re still young but we’ve been putting in a lot of work this offseason and these (spring) practices here. We’re getting more fluid with each other and more comfortable with each other,” Brendle said. “Really, it’s just going to come down to effort and who wants to beat the other person across.”