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UCLA football looks for winning combination along offensive line

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.

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