UCLA Football 2009: Relentlessly Positive (Part 1: Offense)
Critical Needs: Depth, Size, Speed, Athleticism, Strength, and Desire.
For followers of Bruin Nation, year two of the Neuheisel era begins with much anticipated fanfare...
The 2008 UCLA Football Campaign started out shaky, but promising after an unlikely win against Tennessee, then before too long, it tanked miserably. UCLA produced a record setting season and in all the wrong statistical areas unfortunately.
After a forgetful four wins and eight loss outing in 2008, there are signs of truer and bluer skies in Westwood and it started with a Top 10 2009 recruiting class. In terms of numbers and quality, the 2009 UCLA football class triumphed. UCLA recruited successfully with the preeminent teams in the nation. BCS Teams. BCS winning teams.
The rubber is on the verge of hitting road...
HEAD COACH: RICK NEUHEISEL
From the inception of his hiring, Coach Rick Neuheisel set about the task of targeting, identifying, and recruiting the best players in the nation in an attempt to resurrect a dormant football program.
The quality and depth of this class is a testament to Coach Neuheisel and the dedication of his staff--the class of 2009 was pivotal and should be deemed a recruiting miracle.
Keep in mind, despite whatever his detractors may say, Coach Rick Neuheisel knows football and how to win.
The most beautiful aspects of Neuheisel's return to coaching at UCLA is that (1) he knows the terrain of the southern California recruiting base, (2) he knows the caliber of athlete UCLA needs, and (3) he and he has the vision and the drive to compete vigorously against Pete Carroll and the USC juggernaut.
Rick Neuheisel is finally home--for good. The circle is now complete.
For UCLA, powder blue skies and golden rays of sunshine are on the horizon. Great things are abound.
Words to our adversaries: Something Wicked This Way Comes.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: NORM CHOW
Due to a string of calamities and miscues in 2008, the UCLA Bruin Offensive was downright offensive.
Norm Chow's Pro-Style Offense creates natural running lanes for backs and several passing options for young quarterbacks to quickly become familiarized with. Under Chow's tutelage, QBs have morphed into gunslingers. Needless to say, they have become part of collegiate and professional football lore. These QBs will forever constitute the lexicon of the sport. They need not be mentioned herein. We know who they are already. Enough said.
As coordinator, Chow makes note of defensive tendencies, explores probable match-ups, and then proceeds to capitalize on them. Defenses schemes are often forced to "gamble" and to tackle in open space...
Remember, mismatches are the preclude critical mistakes. Chow's philosophy is to utilize a lethal combination of speed and elusiveness at the corners (area of fewest defenders), and to relentlessly pound at the heart of the defense with precision blocking and power running.
Power running is the key that unleashes a devastating and potent passing game. While tenured at USC, we UCLA faithful remember his exploits. He bled us like a surgeon and cooked us like a chef. He who suffers remembers.
But, hey...we musk pose the question:
After the offense flatlined in nearly every statistical category imaginable in 2008, can it begin to show signs of a pulse in 2009?
KEY RETURNERS: Jeff Baca, Nick Ekbatani, Micah Kia, Sean Sheller
EMERGING PLAYERS: Kai Maiava, Jake Dean, Nate Chandler, Sonny Tevaga
INCOMING FRESHMAN & TRANSFERS: Ryan Taylor, Eddie Williams, Stan Hasiak, Greg Capella, Xavier Su'a-Filo
2009 marks the first time in four years that the Bruin Offensive Line has maintained the same position coach in Bob Palcic. Coaching inconsistencies have decimated its ranks and spelled its doom over the years.
Run and pass support? Nearly obsolete. Against blitzing and stunting defenses? Totally obsolete and ineffective. The offensive line for the most part has been afraid of its own shadow and the results were evident.
Defenders went over and around this rag-tag bunch of behemoths as if they weren't there. Finally, the number and frequency of offensive turnovers in 2008 can be attributed solely this unit.
If recent history is the gauge of performance, the UCLA Offensive Line has been the effective equivalent to the Maginot Line.
Since the offensive line poses the biggest questions for 2009 and is the most important aspect of offensive productivity, we'll have to begin our dissection here. Bright spot? The offensive line returns six players from the 2008 season who started a minimum of five games. The following three of which can play Tackle, Guard, and Center. These three are the most valuable components on the line for 2008.
The line of scrimmage is where the victors and the vanquished are determined. UCLA has the ingredients of a great offensive line, however experience and development will determine its fate.
They may taste the same, but a tostada is still a misshapened and unmanageable taco. Pure and simple.
Redshirt junior Sean Sheller, 6'5 300, returns after an off-season knee injury and surgery sidelined him last year. Sheller brings versatility to the offensive front and appears to be the starter at left tackle. During spring practice he eliminated any doubts as to whether he could be game-speed effective after a long rehabilitation period. Good thing too, because at left tackle, his main responsibilty will be to protect the QB's blind side. His progress will be tested by his teammates, Korey Bosworth and Datone Jones--two very good and aggressive defensive ends.
Jeff Baca is a sophomore guard who already has a combined eight starts at tackle and guard during the 2008 season. Another multi-purpose lineman, Baca is 6'4" 305 pounds from Mission Viejo High School. His play spoke for itself as he made the Rivals All Pac-10 Freshman team as a freshman. Solid and consistent, despite just one year of college football experience, Baca will give a sound performance in 2009.
Kai Maiava figures to be the starting center after transferring from Colorado. After sitting out one year, he performed very well during spring practices and looks to unseat Jake Dean at the position. At a stout 6'1 325, Maiava, a sophomore, is practically an immovable object. Strength and conditioning have paid off substantially as he plans to anchor an offensive line that will be much improved.
After a long period of vacillating on whether to commit to UCLA, Stan Hasiak finally made the choice to become a Bruin. Out of Kapolei High School in Hawaii, he was one of the most sought after high-school offensive guards in the country, and is a stellar 6'6 320. He should make a push to start as a true freshman as he brings size and youth to a unit that is being rebuilt entirely.
Xavier Su'a-Filo comes from Provo, Utah's Timpview High. He was a highly-recruited tackle that chose UCLA because he felt that it was the right move and that UCLA was a team on the rise. Su'a-Filo should compete for a starting tackle spot, possibly by mid-season. As an area reporter once said, Xavier Su'a-Filo passes the eyeball test.
Junior college transfers Eddie Williams and freshman Greg Capella, should be involved in the fray when fall practice begins also.
In order for the 2009 season to bear fruit and become bowl eligible, UCLA offensive line coach Bob Palcic must sort out which of his 22+ lineman will develop to become one cohesive unit.
“The line is a major area of concern for us,” Neuheisel said. “We did not play well as a unit a year ago, but the good news is we have a lot of guys who gained valuable experience as starters and that should help us as we move forward. We will identify our best unit in Spring Practice and refine it in the Fall when our injured players and newcomers are available to compete."
KEY RETURNERS: Kevin Craft, Kevin Prince
KEY FRESHMAN & TRANSFERS: Richard Brehaut
UCLA has not enjoyed consistent quarterback play since Drew Olson departed four years ago. From that time forward, UCLA quarterbacks have been oft maligned due to offensive miscues and a myriad of injuries. Mayhem, injuries, and misfortune have spelled disaster and spotty play for UCLA in recent years. Ben Olson, Pat Cowan (most consistent QB since Drew Olson), and Kevin Craft have all been jinxed it seems.
Ben Olson? Mediocre and always hurt.
Pat Cowan? Somewhat consistent, but oft-injured.
Kevin Craft? Terrible, but vigilant and always healthy.
After a record-setting season whereby senior-to-be Kevin Craft through for 20 interceptions (many unforced), coaches Neuheisel and Chow decided to re-open and to re-examine the quarterback competition during spring practices. The competition among them was somewhat unheralded, however, there are glimmers of hope if the redshirt freshman Kevin Prince remains healthy and keeps a level headed perspective about himself.
Although Prince is the starter, expect highly-touted true freshman and Los Osos High standout, Richard Brehaut to challenge him going into fall practice. Brehaut has the requisite size, outstanding foot speed, and arm-strength--the only question is:
How fast can young Brehaut absorb the playbook?
Unfortunately, last year's starter and redshirt senior Kevin Craft, is relegated to third string--or to sweeten things a bit--second string to either Prince or Brehaut (given one of the two is injured).
Depth Chart Attrition: Osaar Rashaan will undergo shoulder surgery and receive a medical retirement.
Chris Forcier (transferred to Furman)
KEY RETURNERS: Christian Ramirez
EMERGING PLAYERS: Derrick Coleman, Johnathan Franklin, Milton Knox
INCOMING FRESHMAN & TRANSFERS: Dalton Hilliard, Damien Thigpen
The tailback position is solidified by 6'2" 220 redshirt senior Christian Ramirez who has battled back from injury in 2008. The coaching staff seems to admire Christian Ramirez's size, physicality, and blocking ability. Christian Ramirez is a converted safety who seems to have found his stride as both a runner and receiver--requisites for Norm Chow's "pro-style" offense.
The offense should offer versatility and present different looks to opposing defenses in 2009. The remaining stable of tailbacks are primarily freshman or sophomores with at least a year in Chow's system.
Sophomore Derrick Coleman is 6'0 230 and saw limited action last year. Coleman is the biggest and most imposing of UCLA's backs and practiced well during spring practice. Coleman is from Fullerton's Troy High School (CA) and will play a vital role in the offense this year.
Johnathan Franklin is a hungry 6'0 200 redshirt freshman that impressed the staff with his ability to make plays during spring practice. A bit undersized, Franklin has room for greater growth. Franklin is from Los Angeles' Dorsey High and has a style of play uniquely his own. He has a particular combination of both strength and speed for his size and is not shy about hitting the designated holes without hesitation, Coach Wayne Moses noted.
With a stocky frame and low-center-of-gravity Milton Knox reminds UCLA hopeful of former running back, Maurice Jones-Drew or former Dallas Cowboy Robert Newhouse. At 5'8" 200 Knox hails from Lake Balboa's (CA) Birmingham High, and although he lacks the true speed of Jones-Drew, many on the staff foresee his role within the offense blossoming in the days and the years to come.
Depth Chart Attrition: Raymond Carter (transferred to Colorado State), Aundre Dean (transferred to Texas Christian)
KEY RETURNERS: Chane Moline, Trevor Theriot
EMERGING PLAYERS: Tobi Umodu
INCOMING FRESHMAN & TRANSFERS: Jayson Allmond
In Norm Chow's offense the fullback is vital in both run and pass support roles. Seniors Chane Moline and Trevor Theriot have been plagued by injury over the past couple of years, but they look to be healthy for the upcoming season. Both possess similar size at 6'0 240, and moderate speed--Theriot the better run blocker; Moline the better pass blocker. At 5'11 230, redshirt junior Tobi Umodu will add depth and skill as his acumen for the position continues to develop.
All three upperclassmen should be pushed by incoming true freshman, Jayson Allmond who was originally destined for USC. Jayson Allmond plays both linebacker and fullback positions, but was recruited as a fullback by running backs' coach Wayne Moses. Allmond brings power and outstanding size, not to mention added depth
The kid is a purported 6'1" 265! Allmond's run and pass blocking abilities will be rigorously tested this summer--however, due to the level of competition he was exposed to in high school, he should perform admirably.
KEY RETURNERS: Logan Paulsen, Ryan Moya
INCOMING FRESHMAN & TRANSFERS: Morrell Presley
NFL first round draft prospect, Logan Paulsen gears up for what should be a spectacular senior season. Logan is a tough-nosed, reliable tight end that can run, catch, and most importantly, block. At 6'5" 270 with a nasty disposition, he was granted an additional year of eligibility after fracturing his foot in the first game of the 2008 season versus Tennessee. Logan Paulsen was also a Mackey Award Finalist last year before being injured--however, it appears as though 2009 will reap nothing but good fortune for the West Hills Chaminade High School product.
Senior Ryan Moya became the featured tight end last year after Paulsen's injury. Moya had an outstanding game-winning performance against Tennessee and went on to record a Second Team All Pac-10 Performer leading the league among tight ends with 38 receptions in 2008. Moya can also play the H-Back position because of his agility and measures in at 6'3 220. Look for sure-handed Moya to have an exceptional year in 2009.
Morell Presley hails from Los Angeles' Carson High School and at 6'4" 215, he is a dual threat at wide receiver and at the H-back spot. Presley is the other highly touted tight end/wide receiver who was initially destined for USC, but just like his freshman counterpart Randall Carroll, he opted to become a UCLA Bruin with the added prospect of contributing early.
He runs a 4.5 second 40 yard dash and his frame will allow much more room for growth and muscle development--good thing too-- because his position will demand it.
"I am excited about our tight ends,” said Neuheisel. “This is the deepest position on our offensive unit. Ryan and Logan are both proven performers and Cory and Jeff also did a nice job for us a year ago. Morrell is a great addition to our team and it will be fun creating mismatches
KEY RETURNERS: Terrence Austin, Taylor Embree, Nelson Rosario, Gavin Ketchum, Antwon Moutra, Jerry Johnson
INCOMING FRESHMAN & TRANSFERS: Randall Carroll, Ricky Marvray
The receiving unit is led by senior Terrence Austin. Gavin Ketchum, Nelson Rosario, and Taylor Embree, and the rest of the UCLA receiving corps will be a bona fide threat this year in terms of size and break-away speed. On paper, this group has the ability to create numerous mismatches for defensive personnel.
Terrence Austin is one of two senior returners for the Bruin offense. Not only is Terrence Austin a gifted receiver, he is also one of the nation's top return men--eclipsing the 1000 yard mark in returns last year for the first time in school history. Look for Austin to be a special teams contributor an outstanding season in Chow's offense this year.
At 6'3" 200, true sophomore Taylor Embree is quite possibly the best possession receiver and most disciplined route-runner on the squad.
How is that statement qualified?
For training purposes, his father used to shoot tennis balls at him while running pass routes to improve his concentration. Almost fully recovered from spring shoulder surgery, Embree has a unique ability to separate from defenders and a knack for making clutch receptions--He knows how to instinctively use his body as a shield between ball and defender. Embree is the added insurance policy developing quarterbacks need--hands like glue, deceptive speed, and a fearlessness about nabbing passes in the death zone--that area among and between vicious linebackers and hard-hitting secondaries.
Nelson Rosario has a combination of height and leaping ability and is an NFL type specimen. He's just a sophomore too. At 6'5 220, he is gifted with both size and hops. Rosario qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Long Jump Finals recently and will prove to be a viable option for the Bruin Offense in 2009. Although he was used sparingly in 2008, the off season has enabled him to improve his stock and it will pay dividends for the upcoming year.
Senior Gavin Ketchum is 6'5 210 is the team's other senior receiver who is a skilled and vicious blocker also. Like Taylor Embree, Ketchum is recovering from some nagging injuries, but it appears he will have an impactful senior season.
Sophomore Antwon Moutra is a speedster and has yet to maximize his true potential. A product from Los Angeles' Culver City High, Moutra is 6'3" 200. It is safe to predict that he will be in the mix--especially since he already has a valuable year of play experience and made requisite visits to the gym in order to get bigger and stronger during the past few months.
Randall Carroll is arguably the fastest player in the entire 2009 college football recruiting class for his position. Out of Los Angeles' Cathedral High School, Carroll spurned USC's recruiting efforts to become a Bruin instead. Randall Carroll should be a favorite to contribute immediately as a true freshman.
True freshmen Ricky Marvray and Jerry Johnson will most certainly add depth and speed to a UCLA program that is in desperate need of added depth at this position. Marvray and Johnson are are extremely elusive and are adept at gaining yards after the catch.
Although unproven, look for this freshman class to contribute and to gain notoriety very soon.
Depth Chart Attrition: Dominique Johnson (transferred to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo).
“This group has a nice combination of experienced talent and youthful potential,” said Coach Neuheisel. “Terrence, Taylor, and Gavin all played well last season and I am anxious to watch our other young receivers continue their development.”