Thu Jun 04 11:48am EDT
Thanks to the Wall Street Journal's crack analysis, there's been a little noise this offseason about returning starts, specifically on the offensive line, and that only deepens with Phil Steele's extreme emphasis on experience hitting the stands this week. If you want a solid rebuttal of the cult of experience -- and a testament to the underrated ravages of injury -- look no further than UCLA.
By any measure, the Bruins return a "veteran" offensive line: Seven of the nine linemen who started multiple games on L.A.'s front five last year are back; between Micah Kia, Jeff Baca, Jake Dean, Nick Ekbatani, Darius Savage, Sonny Tevaga and Mike Harris, there are 58 career starts -- a good (though definitely not great) number -- representing every position on the line.
By any measure, it was also an atrocious offensive line: The Bruins finished next-to-last nationally at 2.6 yards per carry, dead last in the Pac-10 at 82.6 rushing yards per game and next-to-last in the conference in sacks allowed. Of the six returnees who started at least five games last year, preseason depth charts consistently list at least four of them -- Kia (the most experienced by far, with 15 starts the last two years), Dean, Savage and Harris -- as likely back-ups this fall, behind either players who were injured last year (Sean Sheller), transfers (Kai Maiava, a freshman All-American at Colorado in 2007, and JUCO signee Eddie Williams) or touted incoming freshmen (Xavier Su'a-Filo and Stan Hasiak). The starting right tackle in the spring, Nate Chandler, is a converted tight end. The returnees who seem most likely to stay in the lineup, Baca and Ekbatani, will probably be forced to move from their familiar spots if they remain in the starting five at all.
This is sort of a theme across the Bruins' offense: Starting quarterback Kevin Craft, hounded via the makeshift front into an incredible 20 interceptions, is giving way to redshirt freshman Kevin Prince; leading returning rusher Derrick Coleman is listed behind '08 academic casualty Christian Ramirez; starting tight end Cory Harkey is ceding the job to '08 injury casualty Logan Paulsen (and if not Paulsen, then another injury casualty, Ryan Moya, or incoming freshman Morrell Presley); another newcomer, Randall Carroll, is likely to push holdovers Domonique Johnson and Taylor Embree from their tenuous holds at receiver. It will be a completely new offense.
And what does the veteran-loving Steele think of all that turnover? He some sees fit to rank them No. 24 in the country, forming his own counterargument that, sometimes, change is really a very good thing.