Pac-10 Preview: UCLA Looks to Share the Socal Spotlight
2009 will prove to be the second full season under head coach Rick Neuheisel. Although the record may not show it, his first season provided the Bruins with a great foundation to build on for the future.
The offense will be fortunate to have an entire off season of Norm Chow's system under their belts. Couple that with a quarterback minded head coach, and the production should only improve.
But if the Bruins plan on having any success, it will rely on their defensive unit.
UCLA is rich with tradition but like a few other programs in its conference, it has taken a step back in recent memory.
Do not expect that to last for long.
Here is a look at the 2009 UCLA Bruins.
If there ever was a position that will have the most support and experience on this team, it is the quarterback position.
The talent seems to be there, but getting those at the position to grasp the offense may be a different story.
Following spring ball, Kevin Prince emerged as the apparent signal caller. This of course contrasts what many UCLA fans saw on the field last year, as Kevin Craft started 12 games for the team.
Unfortunately for the Bruin faithful, Craft threw a record 20 interceptions, with more then a quarter of them being returned for touchdowns.
Prince is a redshirt freshman, so there may be some growing pains along the way. But there should be no question of his athletic ability as he seems to possess the strongest and most consistent arm.
Either way, this position may not be officially set until the season gets under way.
There is no question that UCLA has a stable of running backs, but the experience leaves plenty of room for concern.
Amongst the various options at back, they all combine for a single start between them.
Derrick Coleman has the most depth at running back, rushing for 284 yards last fall. That was good enough for second on the team.
Christian Ramirez will also battle for playing time. The redshirt junior will look to bounce back from a season that left him ineligible due to academics.
Redshirt freshmen Milton Knox and Jonathan Franklin will rely on talent to trump their lack of experience when it comes to carrying the ball on the big stage.
The receiving corps. will provide the most depth on the offensive side of the ball in 2009.
True senior Terrence Austin and true sophomore Taylor Embree combined for nearly 100 receptions (93) last season.
Austin has proven to be a threat any time he touches the ball. Expect Prince and Austin to connect a few big plays this season.
Embree provides great size (6'3" 205) and should be a comforting target across the middle for this offense.
Taylor led the team with 531 yards, and received second team freshman All-American honors for his services.
A player to keep an eye on will be incoming freshman Randall Carroll. Carroll was an All-American during high and was the state champion in California for the 100m and 200m sprints.
Tight ends Ryan Moya and Logan Paulsen round out the receivers and should free up coverage along the outside.
Much of the offensive line saw significant playing time last season.
Six of the linemen started at least five games last year, so experience will be critical in the protection of the passing game and the ground attack.
Nick Ekbatani will anchor the line as the senior started all twelve games for the Bruins last year.
Six starters will return in 2009 for a defense that already saw great success this past season.
The Bruins finished the season ranked eighth in the country in pass defense, allowing only 167 passing yards a game.
Two of the six returning starters will be anchoring the front line.
Brian Price, regarded as one of the conferences best, returns to defensive tackle. Price was a first team All Pac-10 player, recording 4.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
Flanking Price at the end spot will be senior Korey Bosworth.
Korey led the team in sacks (7.5) and should prove to be a disadvantage off the end with his small frame and great quickness.
Competition for the remaining two spots on the defensive line will continue throughout the entire season, as depth will not be a concern for UCLA.
Several linebackers have had starting experience, either from last year or years in the past.
Reggie Carter is by far the leader of the group. The senior led the team with 83 tackles last season, all while playing outside linebacker to fill in for injuries.
Kyle Bosworth was the man that was replaced at outside linebacker last season due to injury, but he will regain his starting spot in 2009.
Bosworth will provide added athleticism off the edge for this Bruin defense.
The final linebacking spot will be played by either one of two redshirt sophomores.
Steve Sloan started nine games last year for UCLA at the position but Akeem Ayers athletic ability may trump the starting experience and allow for more variety in coverages and blitz packages.
Possible All-American Alterraun Verner is clearly the leader of the secondary and one of the top lock down corners in the country.
Twice he has been named to the Pac-10 first team defense. Last season he was second on the team in tackles and he led the nation is passes defensed.
Aaron Hester looks to handle the other starting spot at corner. The redshirt freshman has great size for the position but it will remain to be seen if experience will be an issue.
Returning to free safety in 2009 will be sophomore Rahim Moore. Moore was third on the team in tackles and first in interceptions.
Moore showed his staying power by not missing a start as a true freshman last year.
Glenn Love looks to get the nod at the strong safety spot, although he has mostly been a special teams standout early in his career.
Kai Forbath returns as kicker for the Bruins and possibly one of the top legs in the country.
During his two years as starting kicker, Forbath has been almost automatic, making nearly 85 percent of his kicks. He has made all six of his attempts over 50 yards, earning him third team All-American kicker.
Jeff Locke will be responsible for punting duties. This will be his first year at the position.
Terrence Austin will take his big play capabilities and return both punts and kicks for the Bruins once again.
Austin set school records last season for all purpose yards with 1,878.
With several key starters returning on defense, expect the pressure to be on the offense to produce for the Bruins this fall.
Fortunately they will have another year of Norm Chow's offense under their belt.
Games against Tennessee and Kansas State should prove to be great measuring sticks for how the season will go for UCLA this year.
Oregon and California, two big games, will be played at home. With that in mind, it is not unrealistic for Rick Neuheisel and the Bruins to reach a bowl game this season and win seven games.
Once again though, the key will be the two non conference games to kick things off.
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