Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Is Bigger Better?

When it comes to offensive lineman, the fans love to see size. Bigger guys mean a better line, right? Well, not necessarily. The position known for big, ugly, bearded fat guys has been getting a makeover around the NCAA. With the advent of spread offenses and lighter, quicker defenses, the offensive line on many teams is morphing into a leaner, meaner, and more athletic group. That doesn't mean that everyone is going small. Some teams still like to load up their line with the biggest, baddest guys they can find. So which way will Bob Palcic go with this latest group of Bruins? Let's check out the options.

With less than three weeks before the start of the season, Palcic is still experimenting with his starting five lineman. Compared to last years team, this group is smaller and lacking a lot of experience. Here's a look at the weights of the major players in the 2007 line and those projected to play (or be backups) in the 2008 offensive line:

UCLA Bruins 2007 Roster.

Kia: 299
Lanis: 319
Reed: 310
Irvin: 308
Joseph: 289
Sutherland: 296
Abraham: 315
Average: 305

UCLA Bruins 2008 Roster.

Kia: 299
Reed: 310
Savage: 333
Ekbatani: 281
Glicksberg: 257
Harris: 305
Chandler: 252
Average: 291

Because of injuries and lack of depth, the Bruins are forced to play some smaller guys this season. The number drops mainly because of Glicksberg and Chandler, both former tight ends, joining the squad. While this unit is younger and less experienced than the 2007 group, it is also much more athletic. I could see Palcic drawing on some of these more athletic players to form a smaller, but quicker squad.

The Big Line

The advantages of a big line is that the guys can ware down the defense. The offensive lineman always has the advantage over his defensive counterpart because of two facts: 1) he knows which way the playing is going and 2) he can give up ground. This means that the offensive lineman can force the defender to expend energy trying to move him, all the while directing him away from the ball carrier. The bigger the body, the more energy the defender has to exert. Over the course of four quarters, the defender tiers out and the offensive lineman can push him around easier.

If Palcic wants to go with the big bodies, he has a pretty sizable group. Reed (310), Kia (299) and Savage (333) are already pretty big. Especially Savage, who has a big frame and a powerful upper body. If he switches out Glicksberg (257) for backup Sonny Tevaga (338) and replaces Ekbatani (281) with Harris (305) then the average weight hits an impressive 315. Harris injured his ankle on Sunday but he could be back if the sprain heals well. Tevaga has been overweight and out of shape since he came to Westwood, but he has worked hard to improve in those areas and he should be close to being ready to play. These big boys don't have the most experience or athleticism, but they'll wear down an opposing defense with their sheer bulk.

The Athletic Line

The flip side of that massive group is a leaner, more nimble and athletic squad. This is especially true for tackles. Bruce Davis showed that a smaller defensive end, with more of a linebacker-like body, can wreck havoc in the backfield. A big slow tackle is an offensive line coach's nightmare mismatch against a quick defense. A smaller, quicker tackle actually matches up better and he can provide a better pass defense. That's especially true when the quarterback is a dual-threat athlete who can take off running up the middle.

Nate Chandler is still undersized this year, but nobody else on this line has more athleticism. If he can put on some more weight and a bit more and strength (to get closer to 280) then he might be just the right guy for the job. Glicksberg is also a leaner and quicker lineman, who could be a solid pulling guard. Put Lanis (299), Reed (310), Glicksberg (257), Ekbatani (280), and Chandler (252) in there and you have a very fast and agile squad barely tipping the scale at 280.

Is Bigger Better?

The right mix of guys depends on a lot of factors and we could see this unit rotating in different players if the starters don't produce. As a whole, this group does lack size and even if we go with the more athletic lineman, you would like to see them add more weight and strength. Chandler will be very good in a year or two and next season the Bruins get Kai Maiva (the Colorado transfer) who already weights around 300 lbs.

Palcic will likely have to work miracles to make the line productive this season and its scary how little depth there is in this squad. But the good news is that they are very young with Reed being the only senior. Bigger might not always be better, but experience is always better. After a year in Bob's hands, you know this line will be much, much better.

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