UCLA Football: Grading the offensive line against the Aggies

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 03: Theo Howard /

After last season a lot of what the media and fans thought what ailed the UCLA Football offense was poor offensive line play. So how did the Bruin line do against the Aggies this time around?

Looking back at 2016, we should have easily been able to say that the UCLA Football offensive line wasn’t good after one game. Granted that game was against a very talented A&M defensive line that saw multiple players drafted including the first overall pick, Myles Garrett.

As the season wore on however it was plain to see the scheme did not fit the personnel and the UCLA Football coaches continued to try and put round pieces into square holes. As a result the run game ranked essentially near the bottom of all FBS schools and the pass protection wasn’t much better. It was so poor that QB Josh Rosen was lost for the season in game six.

Of course that means that all anyone cared about this offseason was how would this problem be fixed.

Related Story: UCLA Football: The ever shuffling offensive line

It all started off with the firing of former OL coach, Adrian Klemm. When Jim Mora became the UCLA Football head coach, Klemm was one of his first hires based on Klemm’s recruiting prowess and his ability to develop talent at SMU. That ability however was short lived in his time with the Bruins with the last few years the offensive line play and depth falling off.

Then came the news of Kemm’s suspension. That combined with the very poor play of the OL in 2016 had the writing on the wall and UCLA parted ways with him in the offseason.

It was announced Hank Fraley would take over as OL coach after spending 2016 as the assistant OL coach with the Minnesota Vikings. A believer in technique, Fraley got the rare chance to show immediately what he could do against 2016’s first opponent in the 2017 opener. He didn’t disappoint. His guys were up and down but showed flashes of what they could be at some point this season. Below are their grades and analysis from the game.

Kolton Miller struggled with Aggie DE Jarret Johnson much like Connor McDermott struggled with Myles Garrett in 2016. Johnson didn’t just beat Miller once or twice, he beat him on multiple occasions. There were a few where he did it with speed but he also worked Miller over mentally by setting him up with outside moves then using an inside counter when technical pass set turned into more of race to the outside. Miller didn’t grade out well for me I’d have to give him a D.

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Left guard Najee Toran is listed at six-foot-two and 305 pounds. I’d believe he’s a little closer to six-foot-one and 295 pounds. That didn’t see to deter him much on Sunday. Toran looked good pulling as a lead blocker and looked capable in most of his pass sets. He wasn’t perfect on the day but none of the starting five were. He gave up a few quick inside pressures and in the run game. He did however show some flashes against an above average DL like the one here. I’m giving him a C+/B-.

I’ve done my share of finger pointing at center Scott Quessenberry in the past and I’ll admit I thought he struggled and was a weak point in 2016. I didn’t find him suited for the scheme, but none of the players were, and I thought him a better option at guard where he could be covered up to a degree. Quess had me eating some crow pie after Sunday. He looked stronger physically, two years fully removed from shoulder surgery will do that, and he helped create some really nice running lanes. He whiffed badly on Jalen Starks’ touchdown but those seemed like a multiple times a game thing in 2016 and Sunday that was the only one I really docked him on. He gets a C+.

Here’s the guy I was most impressed with against A&M. RG Michael Alves, a Rs-Fr. for the UCLA Football team, had his first start on Sunday and did not look overwhelmed. When it looked like Alves was going to start I had my questions. I thought the strength of his game was his power run blocking which left me worried for Rosen’s health. Those worries were quickly put to rest. Yes he missed a few assignments but for the most part was powerful in the run game, was able to get to the second level multiple times and demonstrated good feet in pass protection. His most impressive quality was the ability he showed in passing off defenders on stunts and his hand punch. He staggered defenders with his strike over and over. He gets a B.

The last guy to grade is RT Andre James. Earlier in camp when James was still playing LG I believed the strength of the OL would be to the left. James is a mauler in the run game and his positioning at guard covered up some of his foot speed. I definitely believe that James is a better guard than he is a tackle. Yes he’s very talented but is not an exceptional athlete and it showed on Sunday with him having some trouble with speed off the edge. I suspect Fraley will continue to continue to work with him and improve his technique to deal with these issues. He gets a C from me.

Next: UCLA Football: Rosen to Wilson is a necessary connection for 2017

Like I said at the beginning of this piece, we could tell the UCLA Football OL was not good after one game in 2016. We can’t really be sure how good the line will be in 2017 but one thing is for sure, there’s a lot more hope after one game this season.