UCLA offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Justin Frye referred to them as the, “Five big asses,” in front of the quarterback. He said if they do their job, as a unit, it makes life much easier for the rest of the offense. While UCLA has had to juggle some offensive line positions in Spring camp due to injury, it is clear that there is a lot expected in terms of the Bruins holding the line.
Bruins Holding The Line
UCLA returns every starter from the 2020 offensive line and the reserves as well. Experience is not an issue. Depth is not an issue. Meeting expectations is all that is left. And the expectations are very high.
For whatever a “normal” setting for camp would be, the five upfront would consist if Alec Anderson, Duke Clemens, Sean Rhyan, Sam Marrazzo, and Paul Grattan. Marrazzo, the starting center, has missed most of camp with an injury. He has been working on the side and with the trainers throughout Spring. That has produced more snaps for the likes of Jon Gaines, Atonio Mafi, and others with some position shifts.
When healthy, Marrazzo will be the starting the center. The others have been taking snaps all along the line. Head coach Chip Kelly said giving players experience at every position along the line helps add to the depth. A left tackle may need to move inside to guard. Or the right guard may need to move outside to tackle. The flexibility, Kelly says, is the reserves they can plug in to any of the positions, and thus add more depth than what UCLA has had in many years.
It means at camp, while there is a tendency to discuss who is working with, “the ones or the twos” in terms of positional lineups, it is more accurate to look at the offensive line as one big group. Kelly said this Spring that, “Continuity is huge, especially up front. It goes to communication as a group.” Kelly has that continuity this season. Particularly with the return of Grattan. In a term once mocked by Kelly, Grattan is now referred to as a Super Senior. He is in his sixth year of college football after coming west from Villanova as a grad transfer for the 2020 season. With the NCAA not charging players a year of eligibility last year due to COVID, Grattan took the freebie and came back for another season.
Frye called Grattan, “A grizzly old vet.” Even on this line, going into his sixth season, Grattan puts the experience into the experienced line. Frye says this deep into his college playing career, Grattan has seen a little bit of everything. “He’s able to have some maturity, and some vision, and some voice that way.”
Grattan said having a full Spring camp this year has been helpful, even for someone with as many years as he has under his belt. Last year, there were three formal Spring practices before COVID shut the campus down. He said full training camp has helped him get, “More adept at the playbook.”
The Returning Four
He is one of four grad transfers who made their way to UCLA for the 2020 season, and all decided to take the free NCAA year and return for a sixth season. Grattan says he talked with running back Brittain Brown, defensive backs Obi Eboh and Qwuantrezz Knight almost immediately after the 2020 season ended. “We were in the locker room, and it was just kind of, ‘Hey what are you guys doing?’” Grattan said they realized the NCAA calendar was not going to stop for them. “Nobody actually thought about it until after the season actually happened,” Grattan said. He added that once they did confer with each other there was an immediate unified sense about wanting to come back. “It’s awesome that we were able to return everybody, and everyone came back for one more year.”
The sixth year also gave him more time to adapt to the metaphor, simile, and analogy machine that is Frye. There is, “banking more things,” “making sure the gears work right,” “putting tools in the toolbox,” among a litany of Frye-isms.
The list brings a smile to Grattan’s face. “The amount of times I hear tools and tool box is ridiculous in a day,” he said. “He always has a metaphor for something. He’s showing you different ways how things work. With Coach Frye, what you see is what you get.”
Rhyan’s Game Rises
A lot is also expected out of Grattan’s line mate, Rhyan. Due to injuries, he stepped into the starting lineup as a freshman in early 2019. His play has kept him there every game since.
He said the depth on the offensive line is making everyone be more efficient with their time on the field, knowing there are a lot of players getting a lot of snaps. “Next year, (2021), is just going to be seamless, almost,” Ryhan said. “Because we are just focusing on what we have to do and if something doesn’t go our way, we don’t focus on it. We just kind of get ready for the next play.”
Fun was a big theme in Frye’s plans for the offense, along with all of his analogies. Rhyan is all in on that. “I’m more adept at the playbook now. We’ve got everybody returning. The O-line is grooving, man,” Rhyan said. He called everyone on the line stronger and quicker than last season.
Rhyan concurs with Grattan’s take on Frye. “He’s no smoke. He just tells you how it is,” he said. “He doesn’t try to sugar coat anything. If you do something good, he’ll tell you. If you do something wrong, you’ll know.”
The Guys Behind The Line
Both also acknowledge the athleticism of their starting quarterback, Dorian Thompson-Robinson. “Whenever you have a playmaker like DTR under center, as long as you do your job, do things correctly, and make sure all the schemes are blocked right, good things are going to happen,” Grattan said.
There is also the stable of running backs with Brown and newcomer Zach Charbonnet, who has had an eye opening camp. “It’s easy to block for good running backs,” said Grattan.
Where’s The Cheesesteak?
There is a leadership role for Rhyan here…off the field. With LA County in a COVID lockdown last year, Grattan, a Pennsylvania native, never really had a chance to experience his new Southern California surroundings. Rhyan is showing his offensive line teammate the way now. Rhyan says they have gone to the beach and to the golf range. Yes, even at 6-5, 325 pounds, Rhyan has an affection for golf. Grattan is still learning. “It’s an ugly swing, but we’re fixing it,” Rhyan says.
One thing has escaped Grattan in his transition to the West Coast. Not even native So Cal guy Rhyan has been able to help. “I haven’t found any good Philly cheesesteak and I haven’t found any good pizza yet. Southern California hasn’t been treating me well in the food department at least,” Grattan concluded.
Maybe adapting to LA’s excellence in tacos would be make life easier for Grattan.