Five starting offensive linemen coming back intact is great for a starting quarterback. It’s a blessing for the running backs. But it’s a downright dream for an offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. UCLA’s offensive line is the starting point, with five starters returning, for everything that happens, good or bad, this season.
UCLA’s Offensive Line Is The Starting Point
More Of That Accountability Stuff
Juniors Sean Rhyan and Duke Clemens, redshirt junior Alec Anderson, along with senior Sam Marrazzo, and super senior Paul Grattan are going to be the foundation for any success the UCLA offense has. They have a season together under their collective belt. And Justin Frye, the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, went to the word we have heard so much during the off-season with this team. Accountability. “Accountability means ownership,” Frye said Tuesday. “With a veteran group, with guys that have played a lot, when they’ve played next to each other…the game will slow down. You’re not worrisome about everything that can happen. You’re just worried about what you’ve got to do. And then you get that done because you know the next one to you is going to do that.”
Frye, who is known to throw out lines about what is in a “player’s toolbox,” gets that even “accountability” is already nearing overuse. “A lot of cliché words and things get thrown out,” Frye said. “We diagnose. Like, what is accountability. It’s ownership, and you control that. Not the coaches, not the defensive scheme or the offensive scheme. You own your task at hand on that play. And if you keep it that simple, you’ll be able to function at a high level.”
The Center Of Attention
The role of Marrazzo is not to be underplayed. Any experienced starting center is key. He missed Spring camp with a leg injury. And while the Bruins have depth on the offensive line, it was clear during Spring that not just anyone can step into the center role and be effective. Frye talked about Marrazzo’s growth as a player and as the leader of the offensive line. “The guy was here when we got here. He was a young kid with an immature body and unsure about how to play. And he’s busted his butt,” he said. “Amongst anything else, I’m loving watching the guy out there that really earned it and worked for it and goes for it.”
Frye identified Marrazzo as the guy who is going to recognize certain defensive schemes and call them out to the rest of the offensive line. It’s the natural job of the center, and he said Marrazzo has grown into the role. “He gets it pretty quick,” Frye said. “Everybody learns differently, but with Sam, you could say it to him, see him process it, and then he will write the picture down or take the note, and then he digests things pretty quick.” Frye said when the staff first got the chance to work with the younger version of the center, it didn’t take a lot of repetition from the coaches for Marrazzo to pick it up. “He was a guy where he would hear it once, maybe twice, and he was pretty locked in with it.”
We pointed out earlier this week that in his absence during the Spring there was only sporadic success in the shotgun formation snaps, so his health over the course of the next four months will be a vital thing for UCLA fans to keep their eyes on.
In terms of having a determinant factor in games, Frye said he needs the offensive line, “To be felt.” In case that sounds a little too intangible for clarity’s sake, Frye breaks it down more. “Any great offensive line unit and the ones that you’re around, there is a presence there.” Need a deeper explanation? Try this one. “If it’s third and short…and we’re at the Rose Bowl, if you really have presence, then Zoe Rose Frye, my nine-year-old daughter, needs to be sitting up in her seat saying, ‘they’re going to run the ball right there.’ The same as the D coordinator on the other side and the same as everybody in the stadium. And we don’t care,” Frye said. “We just do it. We just get the job done.”
The only way to get to that point is through execution. “There is no magic potion,” he said. “If you do your job and you do it at a high level, this is what happens. There’s no drill for it. I wish there was. It’s not cosmic. It’s just what happens when you do your job and you do it at a high level.”
Keeping Everyone Moving Forward
The story has already been told about how starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has missed games for injury and Covid protocol reasons. He has yet to play an entire season. If he is to cross that threshold, UCLA is to maintain strong running game, and the Bruins are to have any shot at a successful season, the offensive line is going to have to find some of that presence.