National Signing Day 2010: UCLA Defense Rests, but Bruins Need WR and TE Help
According to UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel, the Bruins are where they need to be after two years under his watch.
By the end of his second season, Neuheisel stated that the goal was to finish above .500 (7-6), and to win a bowl game. When UCLA defeated an upstart Temple 30-21 in the Eaglebank Bowl back on Dec. 29, Bruin Nation was relieved to end the season on a positive note.
But with the end of a season comes the departure of the senior class, as well as the select underclassmen who possess the coveted tools to excel at the professional level.
While Bruin Athletic Director Dan Guerrero runs, for the most part, a successful football program with enough media exposure to attract solid recruits, UCLA is rarely confused with crosstown rival USC as an elite football program.
As Neuheisel is not only the coach but a Bruin alum, he has a personal stake in building up the football program.
One can see that he is determined to bolster the defense by recruiting enough talent from all over the nation to assemble the right mix of personnel to succeed in the increasingly competitive Pac-10.
Below is a position-by-position list of which notable upperclassmen have fulfilled their eligibility and are on their way out, followed by the incoming freshmen who are set to replace them on the roster.
Mind you, the incoming recruits are merely verbal commits, and nothing is official until National Signing Day concludes.
Gone: Terrence Austin (WR)
Incoming Recruit: Paul Richardson
Austin was one of the Bruins’ most effective weapons on both offense and special teams last season. As he ranked fifth in the Pac-10 in all-purpose yards (139.85) and fourth in kickoff return average (24.09), UCLA’s recruitment team will have to find an effective wideout and kick returner to replace his production. In the East-West Shrine Game, Austin grabbed two catches and amassed 40 return yards on special teams.
Richardson (Gardena, Calif.) has some of the most gifted hands of all California preps, and isn’t afraid to go over the middle to grab tough catches. His precise route running is another valuable tool in his arsenal, but Paul needs to improve his overall speed so he can gain separation from defenders.
Gone: Logan Paulsen (TE), Ryan Moya (TE)
Incoming Recruit: John Young
The embodiment of a student-athlete, Paulson was the recipient of the Jack R. Robinson for Highest Scholarship of a Senior Player, the N.N. Sugarman Award for Best Leadership, and an honorable mention for Pac-10 All-Academic honors.
His intangibles aside, he tied for fourth on the Bruins in receptions with 29, and started all 13 games last year for UCLA.
Although he played tight end for the duration of UCLA’s season, Moya caught a touchdown pass in the East-West Shrine game when he lined up as a halfback for the West.
He earned Offensive Award for the Kenneth S. Washington Award for Most Outstanding Senior, and finishes his college career ranked third all-time among Bruin tight ends with 78 catches.
While Young (Los Angeles) is blessed with soft hands and is a very good blocker, he lacks great overall speed and may be groomed into more of a blocking tight end as he continues to grow.
Regardless, he is considered a Top-25 prospect at this position by Scout.com, so he’ll be given every opportunity to improve.
Gone: Chane Moline (RB)
Incoming Recruits: Malcolm Jones, Jordon James
The fullback-turned-tailback led the Bruins with six touchdowns scored and won UCLA's Henry R. Red Sanders Award for Most Valuable Player. In the game against Washington State, he became the first Bruin since Maurice Drew to score three TDs in a single game.
Moline wrapped up the season by starting at tailback in the last two games against USC, as well as against Temple in the EagleBank Bowl.
At 6’1”, Jones (Westlake Village, Calif.) is rather tall for a back who runs so low to the ground. His downhill style of running is likely to wear down defenses, and Jones has the stamina and durability to be a featured back at the college level. A coup for the UCLA recruiters, Jones is one of the best running backs to come from a California prep school last year.
Jordon James (Corona, Calif.) is the most balanced tailback of any California tailback recruit this year. While James is extremely quick with great vision, he has the physical tools to truck linebackers and defensive backs as well.
Armed with breakaway jets, he can run for daylight should he get behind the defense. In other words, this guy is a legitimate playmaker.
Gone: Jerzy Siewerski (DT), Jess Ward (DT), Brian Price (DT)
Incoming Recruits: Julious Moore, Cassius Marsh, Wesley Flowers, Sealii Epenesa
The Jerzy boy started the first 10 games of his college career in 2009, and blocked a field goal that resulted in a touchdown in their first game against San Diego State. Siewerski was also the Defensive winner of UCLA's Kenneth S. Washington Award for Outstanding Senior.
Ward spent his UCLA career as a reserve, starting three games last season, and played in 37 games over his career. The Bruins will miss his size (6’4”, 296), as well as his experience.
As a junior, Price won the prestigious Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year award. Although he still has a year of eligibility left, Price is right to cash in on his elevated value, and make himself available for the NFL draft.
Price led the Bruins with 23.5 tackles for loss, and seven sacks in 2009. Draft experts expect him to be a first-day selection, so not only will his production be missed, but his departure will give UCLA recruiters yet another position to fill come National Signing Day (today).
Moore (Bellevue, Wash.) projects as ESPNU’s 16th-ranked defensive tackle, and has the tools to be a standout player what with his quick hands and ability to explode off the ball.
However, if Moore hopes to realize his full potential, he’ll need to pack on a few more pounds before he becomes a legitimate force at the college level.
Marsh (Westlake Village, Calif.) graduated from football factory Oaks Christian, and is a load at 290 pounds. In additional to his strength and size, Marsh’s sound mechanics enable him to stay low to the ground, as he rarely gets stood up by offensive lineman.
Not only does Marsh excel at stuffing the run, but his first quick step should result in at least a few sacks as a Bruin.
Flowers (Fresno, Calif.) has the quickness to flourish as a defensive end, but if he winds up playing the interior line, he’ll have to add mass to his 250-pound frame.
Furthermore, he has been criticized for not playing as intensely as his imposing 6’4" presence might indicate.
Sealii Epenesa (Honolulu, Hawaii) is the most recent prep star to verbally commit to UCLA. At a staggering 6’2", 300 lbs., Epenesa turned down five other schools pining for his services to don the blue and gold.
While Epenesa is very strong, very big, and extremely tough, he needs to work on his fundamentals and technique for his talent to translate at the NCAA level.
Gone: Reggie Carter (LB), Kyle Bosworth (LB)
Incoming Recruit: Eric Kendricks (MLB), Aramide Olaniyan (OLB). Anthony Barr (OLB)
One of four Bruins to participate in the East-West Shrine game, Carter led UCLA with 79 total tackles in 2009. Carter was also named first-team all-conference by Pac-10 coaches and Phil Steele, and finally, Carter was named Defensive winner of UCLA's N.N. Sugarman Award for Best Leadership.
Kyle Bosworth finished second on the Bruins with 77 tackles and gained Honorable mention all-conference selection by the Pac-10 coaches.
Furthermore, he was co-winner of UCLA's Jerry Long "Heart" Award when he started 12 of 13 games after missing all but two games of the 2008 season.
Kendricks (Fresno, Calif.) is an effective pass rusher and plays well in the face of blockers. His excellent tackling technique makes him an ideal inside linebacker, yet his mobility enables him to fly all over the field.
While his aggressiveness renders him an asset against the run, he needs to improve his ability to drop into pass coverage in order to round out his game.
UCLA landing Olaniyan (Woodberry Forest, Va.) is a victory for head coach Rick Neuheisel and his recruiting team. Although the four-star prospect was born and raised on the East Coast, and was heavily recruited by Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, and Michigan, he decided to head west to Westwood.
A physical specimen with a penchant for hard hits, Olaniyan’s body type is best suited to play outside linebacker.
Barr (Torrance, Calif.) ranks No. 102 on ESPNU’s top 150 and is considered a great all-around athlete who plays with very good speed, size, and athleticism.
Although he missed most of his senior year in high school with an ankle injury while playing running back, he is expected to line up exclusively on defense as a Bruin.
Gone: Korey Bosworth (DE)
Incoming Recruits: Marquis Jackson, Derrick Bryant, Rykeem Yates
Korey started in each of the Bruins’ 13 games last year, and played in 51 games over the course of his UCLA career. Named third-team all-conference by Phil Steele, he was also Defensive Co-Winner of UCLA's Jerry Long "Heart" Award.
Jackson (Santa Clarita, CA) is a junior college transfer who was a beast when he rushed the passer at College of the Canyons. His quick feet and raw speed make him difficult for offensive linemen to contain, but Jackson will need to spend some time in the weight room to add some more muscle to his small-ish 235-pound frame.
Bryant (Columbus, OH) is blessed with a huge wingspan, and runs an impressive 4.55 in the 40-yard dash. His quickness off the ball makes him difficult to keep out of the backfield, but similarly to Jackson, he will need to focus on building mass to succeed in getting past college linemen.
Yates joins Tevin McDonald and Wesley Flowers as three players to commit to UCLA from Edison High School in Fresno, CA. Not unlike the aforementioned Jackson and Bryant, he is a tad undersized, but has the speed, quickness, and explosive ability to provide a menacing pass rush.
Gone: Alterraun Verner (CB)
Incoming Recruits: Shaquille Richardson, Tevin McDonald
Verner’s five interceptions in 2009 led the Bruins and ranked him second in the Pac-10. Having started each of UCLA’s 25 games the last two years, Verner’s experience and playmaking ability (two touchdowns in ‘09) will be missed. Since his college playing career ended with the EagleBank Bowl game against Temple, Verner has racked up quite a few accolades, including Defensive winner of the Paul I. Wellman Memorial Award for All-Around Excellence, first-team All-America by Rivals.com, second-team All-Pac-10 All-Academic team, and third-team All-America by Associated Press and Phil Steele. Last but not least, Verner was a first-team All-Pac-10 conference selection.
While Richardson (Los Alamitos, CA) could stand to improve his tackling before he begins his college career, he seems to flourish when he is facing the line of scrimmage. His fluid hips make him adept at backpedaling and seamlessly changing direction on a dime.
McDonald (Fresno, CA) is ranked as a top-20 safety by both Scout.com as well as ESPNU. While he has great football instincts and has great mobility in the defensive backfield, McDonald’s size more closely resembles a cornerback than a safety. Also, Scout reports that he needs to improve his tackling to be as effective in college as he was in high school.
Gone: Micah Kia (G)
Incoming Recruits Chris Ward, Wade Yandall, Kody Innes (OT)
Primarily a guard in 2009, Kia was so versatile that he played every offensive line position except center over the course of his Bruin career. Equipped with exceptionally quick feet for a 313-pounder, Kia served as a valuable cog in UCLA’s line since 2006.
Ward (Santa Ana, CA) is ranked the No. 8 offensive guard by Scout.com and should improve the Bruin running game with his relentless drive-blocking. His quick feet make him an ideal guard that is able to respond to a fierce pass rush.
A 300-lb former volleyball player, Yandall has both the agility and flexibility to flourish as a guard for UCLA, his favorite school as a child. However, scouts have stated that Yandall needs to play with more of a "fire in his belly."
Kody Innes is considered to be a fine prospect at tackle with the ability to get downfield and block at the second level but needs to play lower and work on finishing his blocks. Also, he may need to add 20-30 pounds to be able to use his long arms to effectively keep defensive ends at bay in pass protection.
Kip Smith (K) – While Kai Forbath finishes his stellar Bruin career in 2010, Smith (Broomfield, CO) will take a backseat this season, and focus on becoming the UCLA starting placekicker in 2011. Although he could drill 60+ yard field goals in the thin air of Colorado back in high school, his expectations will have to come down to earth as he descends towards sea level in Los Angeles.
Who’s Still up in the Air that UCLA Has a Shot at Signing:
Seantrel Henderson – OT – Although landing Henderson seems more like a pipe dream than a reality, the mammoth offensive tackle would instantly improve the Bruins’ offensive line. USC, Miami are more realistic possibilities with Ohio State the current front-runner. UPDATE: Sorry, Bruin Nation. Henderson signed with USC.
Ricky Heimuli – OT – UCLA is reported to be a destination of “medium interest” to Heimuli. As a top-10 defensive tackle according to Scout.com, the acquisition of Heimuli would certainly be an eleventh-hour victory for Coach Neuheisel. UPDATE: Heimuli decided to duck UCLA for Oregon.
Dietrich Riley – S – Riley seems to be leaning towards USC, but given the fact that Southern Cal has already recruited defensive backs well, he may opt for a program like UCLA where he will encounter less competition for playing time. Since Riley is L.A-based, his decision could come down to these two Pac-10 rivals. UPDATE: Riley slips through USC's grasp, signs with UCLA.
Hayes Pullard – MLB – The much-ballyhooed MLB out of Crenshaw High in Los Angeles currently made official visits to five schools, and currently has seven schools courting his services, five of which are Pac-10 schools (ASU, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington – Nebraska and Notre Dame are the other two). UPDATE: Pullard just committed to USC.
Jordan Zumwalt – MLB – Although Zumwalt is said to have medium interest in UCLA, he reportedly gave a soft verbal commitment to Stanford. UPDATE: Zumwalt rescinded his soft verbal, and signed with UCLA!
Josh Shirley - OLB - Shirley is a speedy pass rusher with the physical toughness to play outside linebacker, but is fast enough to flourish as a defensive end. At a lithe 210 pounds, Shirley would have to add some muscle before he can successfully take on college linemen. Given that USC, Miami (Florida), Washington and Arizona are also hot for his services, UCLA stands a puncher's chance of getting Shirley to play his homegames in the Rose Bowl. UPDATE: Neuheisel does it again! Shirley signed with UCLA!
Owamagbe Odighizuwa – DE – The word is that Owa has whittled his schools of interest down to three: UCLA, Nebraska, and Oregon State. Bruin fans should keep their fingers crossed on this one. UPDATE: Owa will be a Bruin. UCLA's defense is starting to look a little scary...
Who got away:
Lache Seastrunk (Oregon)
Corey Nelson (Texas A&M)
George Uko (USC)
Giovanni Di Paola (USC)
Bret Nottingham (Stanford)
For the above-mentioned recruits, UCLA wasn’t much more than a fallback option. As the amenities of Southern California can be alluring, recruits like Uko and Di Paola chose the more storied football program in USC in spite of the coaching changes across town.
Seastrunk preferred Oregon’s spread offensive scheme and Chip Kelly’s sales pitch. UCLA did well in recruiting running backs, but they would have probably preferred if Seastrunk had matriculated outside the Pac-10.
Nelson and Nottingham opted to play closer to their respective homes (Texas and Northern California), so the moves to Texas A&M and Stanford make sense.
2010 will be remembered as an impressive haul for the Bruin football recruiting team. Not only did they bring in an impressive number of players, but for a second-tier program like UCLA to bring in four ESPNU Top 150 athletes is very encouraging both for the state of the program as well as for the storied reputation of Neuheisel as an effective “closer.”
The influx of new talent at linebacker will help to offset the departure of key defenders like Price and Bosworth, and the many athletic defensive linemen and ends that are coming to UCLA will plug gaps and give opposing quarterbacks and running backs fits.
The Bruin offensive line looks like it’s headed for improvement in 2010 and beyond. Although there weren’t many outgoing senior offensive linemen, the notion of UCLA taking a proactive approach at improving the team from the ground up bears watching.
Malcolm Jones and Jordon James could provide the electric spark that has been missing from the Bruin offense since Maurice Drew went to the NFL. With their dynamic playmaking ability, UCLA will look to return to the upper echelons of the Pac-10 and compete for a trip to the Rose Bowl.
The only question is whether the blue and gold have enough weapons in the passing game to keep up with the USCs and Oregons of the college football world.
As Kevin Prince continues to mature as UCLA’s starting quarterback, the recruitment staff would have been well served to land a couple more downfield threats to stretch defenses.
Paul Richardson is a nice find for Neuheisel and Co., but Bruin fans are secretly hoping they get another wideout and/or tight end by the time the day is over.
2010 will be Neuheisel’s third year coaching the Bruins. His first-year recruits will be juniors, and they should be able to preach Neuheisel’s philosophy and properly represent the culture he instills to the incoming recruits.
If we haven’t seen his master plan begin to take shape yet, we may see this program start to bear fruit this fall.
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