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‘We get the job done’: Offensive line sets tone for UCLA

UCLA players run out of the tunnel before a game against Stanford.
UCLA players run out of the tunnel before a game against Stanford on Dec. 19, 2020 at the Rose Bowl.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

Justin Frye won’t try to fool anyone. The UCLA offensive coordinator and offensive line coach doesn’t mind if everyone knows he wants to run the ball on third-and-short. He’s putting faith in his players to deliver anyway.

“If you really have presence, then Zoe Rose Frye, my 9-year-old daughter, needs to be sitting up in her seat saying, ‘They’re gonna run the ball right there,’ ” Frye said. “And we don’t care, we just do it. We get the job done.”

With a senior quarterback in his third year as the full-time starter, veteran receivers and tight ends and a deep group of running backs, the Bruins are primed to break out as one of the elite offenses in the Pac-12.

But the group that sets the tone is the offensive line. It returns every player who appeared in a game last season, and as the Bruins approach their season opener, the group of unsung heroes has a message that’s not flashy, just effective.

“It’s all about accountability,” senior Jon Gaines II said. “Doing your job, executing when your number’s called, just honestly, the way football’s played. It’s executing every play and I think that’s something we really want to set the standard for the offensive line.”

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Along with the five starters who finished the 2020 season, the Bruins return junior Duke Clemens, who started three games at right guard last year. Center Sam Marrazzo is still working back from an injury that kept him out of spring practice and Gaines has been taking starting center snaps during training camp periods with reporters present. Clemens slots back in at right guard.

The process involves finding nonconference games that will be pleasing to players and fans alike. The Bruins already have games set for 2030.

The depth to plug in different players without missing a beat was a nearly unimaginable luxury when coach Chip Kelly took over in 2018. Reeling from a string of recruiting misses under the previous coaching staff, the Bruins had 15 offensive linemen in Kelly’s first year. Just two had significant playing experience at UCLA.

Now they have 22 on their roster. Six players have starting experience with several more rotating in off the bench.

“We’ve tried to build it through the vision from the top down with Chip and bringing in the right kids and bringing in the right players,” Frye said. “Whatever we inherited, we take and we coach them really hard. The guys who want to be here and the guys that stayed, they buy in.”

The result is a room of players fully invested in each other and the coaching staff and a coaching staff that returns the sentiment.

“It’s almost kind of fun to go out there and run plays when you have a bond with the guy to the left and to the right,” left tackle Sean Rhyan said. “It’s a little bit fun because you know what to do and you just knock it off and you know it’s going to work. … There isn’t too much guessing going on between the players.”

With so many veteran players on offense, Kelly said the Bruins breezed through initial installs. Something that used to take five days took three this year. Remaining time was spent fine-tuning existing plays and strategically introducing more that don’t dilute the best qualities of the offense. Led by the more experienced players, the No. 1 offense runs the full playbook in practice while newer players start out more slowly on the second and third strings.

UCLA Bruins football preseason camp news, analysis, video and more updates.

The bolstered offensive line can keep up with three unique groups. Starters get short breaks to recover in time to make the most of each repetition. Young players have more opportunities to watch and learn before executing during their turns. There’s more tape to pour over.

The tape is critical. It helps develop the presence Frye wants to see from his offensive line. He’s not looking for stats or even loud, vocal leadership from his linemen. He just wants them to be “felt” on the field. The abstract-sounding goal shows up on film, even if it doesn’t appear in stat sheets.

“It’s not magical, it’s not cosmic,” Frye said, “it’s just that’s what happens when you do your job and you do it at a high level.”


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