Offensive line looks strong, but depth is a question

Times Staff Writer

The time spent tuning the offense, the hours quarterback Ben Olson has spent in conference with offensive coordinator Jay Norvell and the weeks “installing” all the plays still require one basic thing: blocking.

The Bruins head into their opener at Stanford on Saturday with an offensive line that has some quality and some questions. There are four seniors and promising sophomore Micah Kia, yet depth remains a concern.

Center Chris Joseph (hip flexor) and guard Shannon Tevaga (shoulder, wrist) have nursed nagging injuries during training camp.


“I’m pleased with the overall performance of our front guys, but there is a lot of room for improvement,” offensive line coach Bob Connelly said. “We’ve got some experience there. I think we’ve got some depth there. We’re in pretty good shape barring a multitude of injuries.”

The Bruins have better numbers on the interior, with backup center Micah Reed and guard P.J. Irvine getting extended time with the first unit during camp. The fringe of the line, though, is another matter.

Kia has potential but is making his first college start. Senior Brian Abraham, who is responsible for Olson’s blindside at the other tackle, was a reserve last year after starting 11 games as a sophomore. Aleksey Lanis, who started 12 games last season, is the only backup with much experience.

“We have a little bit more depth at the inside position, but not as much at tackle,” Connelly said, still, “I played with less depth across the boards from day one to the end of the season.”

The Bruins’ depth chart for the Stanford game offered only a mild surprise, with the starting tailback listed as Chris Markey or Kahlil Bell. How often is a returning 1,000-yard rusher listed as an “or?”

Markey, who missed spring practice with a stress fracture in his right foot, started all 13 games last season, finishing with 1,107 yards rushing.

“It’s 1A and 1B,” Dorrell said. “Chris Markey is the starter and Kahlil Bell, because of what he did in the spring and fall camp, is going to be as valuable. He will probably not get every bit of the carries as Chris Markey, but he’s going to get a considerable amount.”

Markey was unconcerned about the listing. “I missed spring ball and Kahlil went out and was able to impress the coaches,” Markey said. “I have been playing catch-up this camp. It doesn’t matter. Both of us will get plenty of carries. We both have to find ways to help the team.”

McLeod Bethel-Thompson continues to be brought up to speed for his new role as backup quarterback, replacing the injured Patrick Cowan (hamstring).

“He looks good, he really does,” Dorrell said. “He hadn’t had many reps in camp until this injury happened with Pat. He’s not making the same mistake twice.”