UCLA football coach Chip Kelly and offensive line coach Tim Drevno are tasked with putting together the best combination to protect UCLA’s top two offensive playmakers, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet, for the season opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 3.
The offensive line unit did have some key departures, including position coach Justin Frye, during the offseason, but there’s enough returning experience to help keep up with last year’s production.
The line’s interior will feature center Sam Marrazzo and a combination of Jon Gaines II, Duke Clemens and Atonio Mafi at two guard spots.
There’s still a sense of competition for the two tackle spots that could carry on throughout the final week of camp. Last year’s starter were Alec Anderson and Sean Rhyan, who decided to forgo their remaining eligibility to pursue careers in the NFL.
Rhyan was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the third round with the 92nd overall pick, after starting at left tackle for all 31 games during his three years with the Bruins. Anderson started 20 games during his four years with the program before signing with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent.
Raiqwon O’Neal, a redshirt junior transfer from Rutgers, appears to be the solution for the void left by Rhyan on the left side of the line.
“While losing Sean and Alec who had a lot of experience, it’s great to have another guy come in with the same amount of experience,” Mafi said. “Most of us have played a lot before, so just having another guy that has the experience, even though it was in the Big Ten (Conference), is good for us.”
O’Neal has already left an early impression on members of the program, following his arrival in late June.
“He has really good football acumen,” coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s a smart kid when it comes to football. … We’re impressed with his retention and his athleticism.”
O’Neal was the starter at left tackle for 21 of the 32 games he played at Rutgers.
The Bruins’ veteran offensive linemen are able to use their experience to help O’Neal and Jaylan Jeffers, a transfer from Oregon, with the terminology that is different from their previous programs.
True freshman Sam Yoon (Loyola High) has also received high praise from the veterans ahead of him.
“He’s coming in and picked up on stuff really fast,” Marrazzo said about Yoon. “He’s really mature and takes all of his notes and I couldn’t be happier with where we are all going.”
Marrazzo said he’s back at full strength throughout training camp, after overcoming leg injuries in each of the past two seasons. His absence created a need for the other Bruins to be versatile and play at other positions along the line.
“Versatility is always big on this offensive line so everybody’s getting reps everywhere,” Gaines said. “Everyone’s competing really hard and that’s just going to make the best five rise.”
Kelly and Drevno continue to work through the rest of the training camp to find the answer at right tackle, which is one of the remaining position battles.
Redshirt freshman Garrett DiGiorgio and redshirt senior Tyler Manoa are among the potential candidates for the job.
DiGiorgio received praise for how quickly he was coming along as a true freshman last season but saw limited action, playing in the season opener against Hawaii and one start at right tackle against Utah.
Manoa played in 41 games as a defensive lineman or as a special teams player over the last four years but is now on the offensive line in search of a new opportunity.
Manoa became the fourth defensive lineman in as many years to make the switch over to offense.