2020 UCLA Football Season Preview: Holes on right side of offensive line will bring new starters to the mix
Sophomore offensive lineman Sean Rhyan started all 12 contests in his first year for UCLA football and should start at left tackle for the Bruins. (Amy Dixon/Daily Bruin senior staff)
By Jack Perez
Oct. 21, 2020 6:00 p.m.
UCLA football finally has a schedule for its 2020 season, so Sports editor Jack Perez and senior staff writer Sam Connon will be taking a look at the Bruins’ outlook at each position. From award favorites to comeback stories, Daily Bruin Sports will analyze each position’s depth chart and make predictions for how their seasons could unfold. Next up – offensive linemen.
The transfer bug hit the UCLA offensive line hard over the summer.
First, starting right guard Christaphany Murray announced his intentions to transfer to Oklahoma in April. Shortly after, starting right tackle Jake Burton followed Murray to the Big 12, heading to Baylor when the Pac-12 originally shut down football in August. The two started all 12 games last season on the right side.
Plugging in two holes on the Bruin line could be challenging. However, during a recent press conference, redshirt sophomore Alec Anderson revealed the team had been practicing with – from left to right – offensive linemen sophomore Sean Rhyan, redshirt sophomore Jon Gaines II, redshirt junior Sam Marrazzo, sophomore Duke Clemens and Anderson.
While this is not ideal for junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, there is a bit of experience in front of him. Rhyan started every game in his freshman year at left tackle and was selected to four Freshman All-American teams, while Clemens started in the final eight contests.
However, the other three projected starters have just four starts between them. They all played under coach Chip Kelly last season, so they should at least be familiar with his scheme.
A potential wild card may come in the form of graduate transfer offensive lineman Paul Grattan. He started in 33 games over the past three seasons for Villanova, so he may rotate in for the Bruins.
Kelly has employed a run-heavy offense in his two seasons in charge, so the offensive line has been expected to be mobile and push forward to create gaps for the running backs.
The Bruins will still have a lot of rushing attempts, but with the departure of running back Joshua Kelley and another year of experience for Thompson-Robinson, there might be a more even split between the ground and air games.
Another big change is redshirt senior running back Demetric Felton’s being the primary rusher. Operating more as a receiving back reliant on speed rather than power, the offensive line will have to operate differently than when Kelley led the line.
One stat the line can improve on no matter who is behind them is sacks allowed. UCLA finished 118th in the country in sacks allowed as a unit, giving up an average of three per game.
The linemen said they bulked up during the quarantine period with home cooking, so they may be better suited to block for Thompson-Robinson and prevent costly sacks.
The first few games with a new rotation on the offensive line are usually rough. Chemistry plays a big part in run and pass protection, and adding three new regular starters to the line means the team will need a couple of games to get everyone on the same page.
Expect a struggle in the first few weeks for the Bruins. If the starters stay healthy, they will gain chemistry as the year goes on.
Watch closely the differences from the first few weeks to the last matchups. Barring a major shift, the offensive line should be solid in the run game and protecting the quarterback.
There’s not much room to regress from last year, but expect the Bruins to allow fewer than two sacks per game. That would have put the team around 61st in the nation last year, and keeping Thompson-Robinson upright more often can only help UCLA.