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Offensive line is no longer a concern at UCLA

Offensive line is no longer a concern at UCLA
UCLA quarterback Jerry Neuheisel, middle, runs off the field with offensive linemen during the first day of camp at Cal State San Bernardino on Aug. 10. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Center Jake Brendel and tackle Conor McDermott sat out nearly a week of practice while dealing with injuries. Tackle Simon Goines has yet to practice because of an undisclosed medical condition.

These types of setbacks used to cause more than a little consternation around UCLA's football program. But the Bruins offensive line situation has improved considerably since 2012.

That's when Coach Jim Mora was hired, and he brought in Adrian Klemm to run the offensive line. UCLA has been on a steady climb out of mediocrity ever since.

"It's the best I have ever been around," junior quarterback Jerry Neuheisel, who has spent the last 3 1/2 years in the program, said of the line. "We have had a lot of moving parts over the years. To have a corps of guys who have game experience, as a quarterback, that's very comforting."

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Said tackle Caleb Benenoch: "We've developed into a physical, physical, very talented group. Coach Klemm has helped us reach our potential. A lot guys go to college and they don't reach their potential."

Four years ago, the Bruins offensive line had the look of a cheap sweater. One snag and it all unraveled.

That was before Mora and Klemm started stockpiling. Depth along the line has improved so dramatically that three players brought in as offensive linemen have changed positions — Colby Cyburt, to tight end, and Carl Hulick and Najee Toran to nose tackle.

Klemm played freshmen and the payoff is now. The projected starting five have 90 starts among them.

"We've been through the fire," Klemm said. "They were asked to go in there as true freshmen. It's tough going in there and learning on the run. They stuck to it and now we're seeing the benefits of it."

The Bruins have had the Pac-12 Conference's leading rusher in two of the last three seasons. Paul Perkins, who gained 1,575 yards, returns this season.

UCLA gave up 40 sacks last season, but that problem dissipated when McDermott took over at left tackle. UCLA gave up 25 sacks in the first six games and 15 in seven games after McDermott was inserted into the lineup.

This season, Goines, who has started 19 games, could not report to training camp. Mora said Tuesday that the junior tackle's status was "uncertain."

Brendel who has started 39 games but has been nursing a leg muscle, and McDermott, who has an injured knee, returned to practice Tuesday and should be ready for the opener against Virginia on Sept. 5 at the Rose Bowl.

The biggest problem for the line is that UCLA has suspended Klemm for two games because of NCAA rules violations.

Turf wars

UCLA will spend the season practicing on artificial turf at the university's intramural fields while a football facility is being built. The Bruins play on grass for their home games at the Rose Bowl.

Not a problem, Mora said.

"They have done a nice job at Spaulding Field. They are going to be able to save about 60 yards of the grass field to use when we play on grass," Mora said. "It's most important for the kickers."

The plan is to have kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn work out in the Rose Bowl on Friday night's before home games.

Quick hits

Mora said the Bruins would begin preparations for Virginia on Wednesday.

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Running back Steven Manfro, who had minor surgery on his right knee two weeks ago, was back at practice Tuesday but was limited to individual drills. He is expected to be available for contact drills next week.

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Defensive end Takkarist McKinley, out nearly a week because of a concussion, was allowed to return to contact drills.

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Running back Craig Lee rejoined the Bruins Tuesday after finishing a summer class.

Follow Chris Foster on Twitter @cfosterlatimes

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