LOS ANGELES — Much of the talk during UCLA’s first week spring football practices has been centered around the offseason strides of quarterback Brett Hundley but one of the biggest reasons behind some of those strides is stability on the offensive line.
A carousel of lineman spent time blocking for Hundley last season and his blindside protection changed several times. He spoke often of having confidence in the line but also needing to deepen the level of trust.
Xavier Su’a-Filo has departed for the NFL and the offensive is still relatively young. But they’re a mature group, having had to grow up fast with injuries to key lineman last season and a few intriguing new additions will help pick up were the current guys left off last season.
"That’s the one thing that is unique about our group is that there are no older guys," said offensive line coach Adrian Klemm. "Every day they’re changing. They’re growing right in front of us so it’s a unique situation here."
Jake Brendel, who will be a redshirt junior and the grizzled veteran of the line this fall, will continue to anchor the line both as a vocal captain and as the center, along with sophomore guard Alex Redmond.
Caleb Benenoch will move over from right tackle to left while Kenny Lacy will move from left to right and compete with Poasi Moala, who has impressed in a short amount of time this spring.
Benenoch looks every bit the part. His offseason workout and nutrition regimen has him looking leaner, stronger and more energetic.
"My body has changed a lot," Benenoch said. "I gained a lot of weight, I lost a lot of body fat. I’m in way better shape and I can move better. I can go harder and longer. Practice isn’t as tedious and difficult now."
Benenoch is proud of the work that he’s put in and it shows on the field and in his confidence level.
"I put in a lot of extra work with Kenny Lacy and Myles Jack in the offseason and we were out working every single day," Benenoch said. "We came out here three or four days a week and worked on my pass rush and did different drills. We would go in the Wooden (Athletic Center) and get extra work in and it shows. It’s showing right now when we’re all on the field."
"He looks like a totally different person," Klemm said. "That’s really helped him out a lot and not just in terms of getting through practice but as practice goes on, he gets better and better as defenders get a little bit tired."
Junior tackle Simon Goines is still not practicing and Torian White is no longer with the team, but there are many others ready and able to step in.
Scott Quessenberry, who filled in for the injured Goines and Conor McDermott last season, is expected to see some snaps as well and McDermott has fully recovered from his shoulder injury he suffered in the Stanford game.
Freshman Najee Toran, an early enrollee that Klemm said was a "high-motor" guy and Malcolm Bunche, a graduate student transfer, are in the mix for what is expected to be the deepest offensive line in years.
It’s a luxury to have depth to the line this season after so many changes last, but the changes might not exactly end anytime soon. It’s a versatile line, which is just the way Klemm wants it.
"I like guys that can play different positions," Klemm said. "It’s very rare that you’ll see me recruit a true center or even a true tackle, even if it’s a special situation guy, I like to have guys that play guard or tackle. It gives you more options."