Since the end of UCLA spring football in late April, the Bruins have endured as much attrition on their roster as any NCAA football program in the nation.
An offensive line already beleaguered by a lack of depth and overall talent suffered yet another loss when freshman left tackle Nik Abele was forced to announce his retirement in May due to recurring problems with his neck.
While Abele will retain his scholarship, which won't count against UCLA's limit, the organization was depending on Abele to be a key building block of the Bruins' O-line in 2010 and beyond.
Fortunately, center Kai Maiava, when recently asked about his injured left knee, responded, "It's all right...it'll be okay." Maiava suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament during the latter stages of spring ball. His extended absence from the Bruins’ starting lineup in 2010 would be calamitous.
Although UCLA may be short on linemen at the moment, they at least appear to have a glut of offensive playmakers. Two Bruins felt they were so buried on the 2010 depth chart that they needed to transfer out of the program and miss the upcoming season to hopefully get sufficient reps at another school in 2011.
Sophomore Milton Knox was listed behind starter Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman in the running back pecking order. When factoring in the addition of a pair of 2010 ESPNU150 freshman tailback recruits in Malcolm Jones and Jordon James, one can understand why Knox feels he needs to transfer.
The all-time leading rusher in Los Angeles City Section history (from Lake Balboa’s Birmingham High School) is still weighing his options and has yet to indicate where he is headed. As Knox wants to stay close to his family, he is likely seeking an opportunity that will keep him in California.
While UCLA appears to be stocked at running back headed into summer, their wide receiving unit has endured a similar type of attrition. Junior Antwon Moutra has also decided to transfer to an unknown destination after requesting a release from his scholarship.
Knox has three years of eligibility remaining, while Moutra still has two years left. Both must sit out the 2010 season and will carry their remaining eligibility to their new schools.
Upon their departure, neither Knox nor Moutra expressed any ill will towards UCLA. However, is it possible that perhaps these two student-athletes know something about the future of the Bruin program given its daunting 2010 schedule?
Quarterback Kevin Prince hasn’t exactly drawn comparisons to Troy Aikman (or any formidable Bruin quarterbacks of the past, for that matter), and after watching him in spring ball, my expectations for Prince in 2010 are tempered. This was before he lost Abele, his starting left tackle, to retirement.
Sean Sheller, a fifth-year senior who lost two years to separate knee injuries and is switching positions from defensive lineman, is currently slated to replace Abele.
If UCLA is going to sustain drives, move the chains, and score points, the talented cadre of running backs will probably have to shoulder the load. But if the embattled offensive line is unable to consistently open up holes for the ground game and the Revolver ends up only shooting blanks, then offensive coordinator Norm Chow will have to get creative to find ways to put points on the board.
The Bruins’ strength is their defensive unit. While the offense appears unbalanced, the defense, led by All-American safety Rahim Moore and talented defensive end Datone Jones, will have to carry the team on at least one occasion this fall if UCLA is to improve on the seven wins the program registered in 2009.
Much attention has already been cast upon their difficult 2010 schedule. While archrival USC pads its non-conference record against sub-.500 patsies like Virginia, Hawaii, and Minnesota, the Bruins are taking a much more difficult out-of-conference path in 2010 and matching up against Top-25 teams like Texas and the explosive University of Houston.
Although the Bruins’ scheduled stage is set for a season in the spotlight for Rick Neuheisel’s program, only time will tell whether UCLA has the horses to match up with some of the nation’s best teams in addition to the rest of the fiercely competitive Pac-10.