Packing on the pounds during the pandemic actually was a positive for UCLA linemen
Four extra months of mom’s home cooking can fill an offensive lineman’s soul, not to mention his belly.
Maybe that’s the best explanation for the added circumference of so many players who were already the largest on UCLA’s roster.
Redshirt freshman Luke Young packed on 39 pounds since last season, according to the team’s official roster, making the 297-pounder the player who gained the most weight during the early portion of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Redshirt freshman Beau Taylor added the equivalent of a toddler, going from 270 pounds to 296. Redshirt sophomore Baraka Beckett, who went from 286 pounds to 310, swelled in all the right places.
“He got a lot weight on his thighs and his butt,” redshirt junior center Sam Marrazzo, who gained a dozen pounds himself, said Tuesday after the Bruins completed their first training camp session in full pads. “He’s looking pretty good.”
Making the tight ends a priority seemed logical in Chip Kelly’s first two seasons, but the Bruins enter 2020 with largely unknowns at the position.
The 11 offensive linemen returning from last season gained an average of 15 pounds, and that was after some shed pandemic weight. Sophomore left tackle Sean Rhyan said he had dropped eight pounds and was down to 330, well above the 323 pounds he weighed last season.
“Lost a little bit of that home-cooked meal fat and getting back into football shape,” Rhyan said with a smile.
Some of the weight gain came as a result of reduced activities. Rhyan said he wasn’t running as much in the spring because the practice fields were off limits as part of local health restrictions.
“A couple weeks in, we figured out that the beaches weren’t closed,” Rhyan said, “so me and my dad headed up, going down to the beach in the mornings, going to run on the sand and doing my speed work in the sand.”
Not everyone on the offensive line reported to training camp heavier. Converted defensive linemen Siale Liku and Atonio Mafi both jettisoned some weight, the 318-pound Liku having dropped 19 pounds.
But Mafi, at 355 pounds, retained his title as the team’s heaviest lineman and most lively practice presence, shimmying to music during warmup stretching.
“He’s got a big body, he’s got a lot of hip power and a lot of good drive with his knees,” Marrazzo said. “Plus he’s just good energy to have around, a fun guy who really livens up the [meeting] rooms.”
Each of the Bruins’ offensive linemen can agree on one number that needs to drastically decline: the number of sacks the team gave up last season. UCLA surrendered 37 sacks in 2019, ranking No. 120 among 130 major college teams.
It appeared as if the line might return nearly intact, losing only center Boss Tagaloa to graduation, before guard Christaphany Murray transferred to Oklahoma and right tackle Jake Burton bolted for Baylor when it initially appeared that the Pac-12 Conference wouldn’t hold a season this fall.
Marrazzo said the Bruins didn’t need to rebuild their line so much as plug in players with considerable experience. Alec Anderson, a leading candidate to replace Burton, appeared in 10 games last season and made three starts. Marrazzo, who could assume Tagaloa’s spot, played eight games in 2019. Graduate transfer Paul Grattan Jr., who might take over for Murray, was a three-year starter at Villanova.
Plenty of new players will be expected to play a big role in UCLA’s linebacker corps this season. Are they up to the challenge?
“We have a lot of guys who have played a lot last year, a lot of rotating in and getting snaps, so I don’t think it’s so much of guys leaving and it’s like a brand-new slate,” Marrazzo said. “It’s a lot of building off what we have.”
A nosy bunch
The Bruins have commenced daily testing but not rapid testing for COVID-19, with tests starting at 6:45 a.m. and results known in the evenings.
“All negative,” Rhyan said proudly.
Between the daily antigen tests and three-times-a-week PCR tests, players have elongated swabs stuck up their noses 10 times a week.
“Getting used to it,” Ryan said. “Getting better.”
Players are expected to start receiving the rapid tests in a few days.
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