Preseason position reviews: Offensive line

Offensive line is a solid position in the conference in 2012. Not a single team appears desperate and without hope.

Still, there are plenty of questions. No first-team All-Pac-12 lineman returns, and just two from the second-team -- USC center Khaled Holmes and Colorado guard David Bakhtiari -- are back.

The "We'll sees" here have potential to become pleasant surprises. And there's really a bit of "We'll see" with just about every team, even USC, which lacks depth after a strong first five.

Oh, and the Pac-12 blog is perfectly aware that reporters without game tape evaluating offensive lines is a bit of a crap shoot. At best.

Great shape

USC: The Trojans lose Matt Kalil -- only the best offensive lineman in the nation last year -- but welcome back four starters from a line that was good at run blocking and excellent in pass protection. Holmes is among the nation's best centers, and Kalil's replacement, Aundrey Walker, has the size and skills to one day follow him into the first round of the NFL draft.

Oregon: The Ducks must replace two starters -- we're assuming a healthy return from guard Carson York -- but they actually are upgrading athletically with Jake Fisher at left tackle and Ryan Clanton at right guard. Both are pretty experienced, too. There's also solid depth and plenty of young potential. And there's Steve Greatwood, who is just really, really good at coaching his offensive line in Chip Kelly's system.

California: The Bears welcome back four starters (all seniors) from a unit that was solid -- if inconsistent -- as both run and pass blockers. A second-year starter at quarterback and a good stable of running backs will make life easier, too.

Good shape

Stanford: Sure, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin are gone, and they were among the best at their positions in the nation last season. But three starters are back, led by guard David Yankey and tackle Cameron Fleming, two guys with All-Conference potential. Further, though we almost never use freshman to bolster a line ranking, the incoming class for the Cardinal is positively beastly -- the best in the nation by a wide margin.

Arizona: The good news is all five starters back from last season. The bad news is that group often struggled, particularly with run blocking. The good news is they were above average at pass blocking. The bad news is new coach Rich Rodriguez is a run-first coach. The good news is center Kyle Quinn was honorable mention All-Pac-12 last season, and tackle Fabbians Ebbele has an NFL body and athleticism. The bad news is Ebbele missed spring practices because of an off-field incident. The ultimate verdict is this should at least be a solid unit, the least of Rodriguez's worries (and he has a few).

UCLA: Three starters are back, and if tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo is back to form after a church mission, this line could be better than many expect, considering the Bruins woes at the position in recent years. The loss of projected starting guard Wade Yandall to medical retirement is a blow. A couple of spots are going to be young.

Utah: Coach Kyle Whittingham is happy with his three interior guys, but both tackles are going to be new, and there wasn't a lot of certainty exiting spring practices. It's also a bit of a dirty secret that the Utes gave up 33 sacks on just 334 pass attempts and only averaged 3.8 yards per rush in 2011. It would be a good thing for the Utes to figure things out on the edges in order to protect quarterback Jordan Wynn.

We'll see

Washington: Three starters are back, though injury issues left a lot of questions this spring, when the beleaguered defense was mostly in control. Will guard Colin Tanigawa, tackle Erik Kohler and center Drew Schaefer all come back healthy for preseason camp? Further, it's worth noting that the Huskies gave up 34 sacks last season, second most in the conference. And there's no Chris Polk to produce yards often on his own. There are plenty of grounds for hope and concern here.

Colorado: The Buffaloes didn't run well (3.5 yards per carry) or protect the quarterback (31 sacks yielded) in 2011, but three solid starters are back, led by Bakhtiari. The Buffs have plenty of questions. The offensive line, along with linebacker, probably have the fewest.

Oregon State: The Beavers welcome back three starters, and that doesn't include former starter Michael Philipp, who sat out last season because of injury. But the Beavers were terrible -- as in 118th in the nation horrible -- at run blocking last season. They were OK with pass blocking, though. There were only eight healthy linemen during the spring, so there will be plenty of mixing and matching and competing this preseason. Will touted incoming freshman Isaac Seumalo be ready to start?

Arizona State: Just two starters are back from a group that underachieved last season. The Sun Devils were mediocre running the ball in 2011, and mediocre protecting the quarterback. That said, new coach Todd Graham called the offensive line one of his most pleasant surprises after spring practices.

Washington State: The good news is there are three returning starters, including John Fullington, who was honorable mention All-Pac-12. The bad news is 3.3 yards per rush and 40 sacks surrendered in 2011, most in the conference. Of course, one of the trademarks of Mike Leach's pass-happy offense is that it gets rid of the ball quickly. That should be good news for the Cougs.

You can see previous previews here:


Running back


Tight end