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2011 UCLA Preview – Offense
UCLA WR Taylor Embree
UCLA WR Taylor Embree
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 3, 2011


CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - UCLA Bruin Offense


UCLA Bruins

Preview 2011 - Offense


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What you need to know: If Norm Chow couldn’t move the needle with this group, it doesn’t bode well for his successor, Mike Johnson. Now, Johnson has a distinguished coaching career, but most of it was spent with the NFL, and he’s inheriting an offense that’s been huffing and puffing for years. While UCLA has recruited well, all of the shiny parts have rarely resulted in a well-oiled finished product. Particularly feeble, the passing game will be hosting a quarterback race between juniors Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, and possibly rookie Brett Hundley. The Bruins are likely to leverage their talent in the backfield, a deep group led by all-star Johnathan Franklin that ranked a respectable 32nd nationally a year ago. As is often the case in Westwood, the attack will only go as far as the line permits it. Long an issue in these parts, UCLA is trying to piece together a combination of returning starters with linemen who missed all of 2010 due to injuries or academics.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Richard Brehaut
119-212, 1,296 yds, 6 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Johnathan Franklin
214 carries, 1,127 yds, 8 TDs
Receiving: Taylor Embree
32 catches, 409 yds, 0 TDs

Star of the offense: Junior RB Johnathan Franklin
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG Chris Ward
Best pro prospect: Franklin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Franklin, 2) Senior WR Taylor Embree, 3) Senior WR Nelson Rosario
Strength of the offense: Mobile quarterbacks, the running backs, run blocking
Weakness of the offense: The passing game, the receivers, pass blocking, third down conversions, red zone conversions

Quarterbacks

State of the Unit: No position encapsulates UCLA’s recent struggles more than quarterback, a perennial problem in Westwood. Although the Bruins have recruited well, player development and consistency have been major issues. The results, such as ranking 118th nationally in passing efficiency a year ago, are gnawing at Rick Neuheisel, who’ll be working closer with the group this fall. A starter has yet to be named, yet another warning sign as spring came to an end.

Injuries aside, the job would belong to 6-2, 230-pound junior Kevin Prince , the starter when last year began. However, he’s had a history of ailments, suffering a knee injury that shut him down last October. At the time, he’d gone 42-of-94 for 384 yards, three touchdowns and five picks, adding 110 yards and three scores on the ground. He has the best skill set among the contenders, including a strong arm, outstanding athleticism for a big man, and the leadership you want at the position. Think Jake Locker. However, he has to stay healthy and evolve as a more efficient passer.

When Prince returns in August, he’ll go toe-to-toe with 6-2, 225-pound junior Richard Brehaut , who took over last October and started the final six games. A heralded recruit from the 2009 class, he has the necessary skills for success, including a live arm and good mobility. However, the light didn’t quite go on in the spring or last fall, when he went only 119-of-212 for 1,296 yards, six touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He did rush for four scores, showing a knack for escaping pressure.

As coveted as Prince and Brehaut were coming out of high school, 6-4, 225-pound true freshman Brett Hundley was even more decorated. A big, strong-armed quarterback, he’s also a terrific all-around athlete, giving the Bruins a genuine dual-threat behind center. Sought by just about every major program on the West Coast, he has a star’s trajectory, but looked predictably raw in the spring and was listed at No. 3 at the conclusion of drills.

Watch Out For .... Hundley to wind up redshirting if Prince and Brehaut stay healthy. Yeah, Bruin fans want him to be the savior right out the gate, but that’s been a little unrealistic. Ideally, the two juniors can take the snaps and the rookie can spend his first year on campus working on his mechanics and getting a better feel for being a college quarterback.
Strength: Athleticism. All three of the primary Bruin quarterbacks can make something out of nothing and bolt from the pocket with positive results. Even better, Prince, Brehaut, and Hundley are all at least 225 pounds, possessing the size and power to break arm tackles and pick up extra yards.
Weakness: Inconsistency in the passing game. The problem continues for a Bruin team that has struggled for years to complete passes with consistency. The combination of Prince and Brehaut last season produced the Pac-10’s worst completion percentage, lowest number of touchdown passes, and second most picks. It doesn’t get much feebler than those results.
Outlook: Things have to get better for the UCLA quarterbacks, right? The frustrating part is that Neuheisel has recruited the position well enough to expect far better results. The key will be the durability of Prince, who still has a high ceiling if he stays upright for a full season. Ideally, he evolves, Brehaut becomes an experienced backup, and Hundley uses 2011 as a valuable apprenticeship.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

State of the Unit: Backfield depth doesn’t figure to be a major concern of the Bruins this season. Returning to Los Angeles are the top seven rushers, three players with at least 55 carries, two starters, and a reigning all-star. The biggest concern of the coaching staff will be keeping everyone well-fed and properly motivated in one of the more crowded corners of the depth chart.

Getting the most extensive action of his career, 5-10, 198-pound junior Johnathan Franklin blossomed into one of the best backs on the West Coast. A 10-game starter and second team All-Pac-10 selection, he turned 214 carries into 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns. Running with good speed and even better vision, he hits the hole quickly and is always surging forward. The fact that he did a better job of holding on to the ball greatly helped his standing with the coaching staff.

Providing quality veteran depth is 6-0, 233-pound senior Derrick Coleman , a letterwinner in each of the last three seasons. A year ago, he carried a career-high 82 times for 487 yards and five touchdowns. Thunder to Franklin’s lightning, he’s tough and physical, even leading UCLA in special teams tackles. The star of tomorrow in the running game is 6-0, 227-pound sophomore Malcolm Jones , one of the country’s premier high school backs of 2010. Boasting the power-speed blend of a future feature back, he debuted with 200 yards on 55 carries. From the same recruiting class, 5-11, 193-pound redshirt freshman Jordon James is an exciting speedster and last season’s Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year.

Watch Out For .... James to work his way into the rotation despite being No. 4 on the depth chart. Nicknamed “Joystick” for his video game-like cuts in the open field, he gives the Bruins an added dimension and a receiving threat on third downs. He won’t be too busy, but he won’t be overlooked either.
Strength: Flexibility. The Bruins have a neatly balanced backfield, with two power backs and two runners who can snap off the long ball. The combination of Franklin and James outside the tackles and Coleman and Jones between them gives the coaches a lot of depth and options in the running game.
Weakness: Ball security. While Franklin improved his grip on the ball, the Bruins as a whole still need to cut down on their fumbles. UCLA coughed it up 29 times in 2010, losing 15 to rank last in the Pac-10 and 108th in the country.
Outlook: UCLA came a long way on the ground in 2010, ranking 32nd in the country after finishing 97th and 116th in the prior two years. The positive trend ought to continue if the running backs have any say in the final outcome. The Bruins are as deep as they’ve been in years, featuring a returning all-star in Franklin and a very good supporting cast.
Rating: 7.5

Receivers

State of the Unit: Every Bruin who caught at least five balls a year ago is returning for another season with the program. While it’s always good to be bringing back experienced players, it’s not as if UCLA is flush with all-star playmakers. It’s been a pedestrian bunch, though it should be noted that the corps has gotten very little support from the quarterbacks.

The Bruins’ flanker will once again be 6-3, 205-pound senior Taylor Embree, who started 11 games and has finished first or second in catches in all three of his years. In 2010, he made 32 grabs for 409 yards, and now ranks No. 11 all-time in catches at the school. More steady than spectacular, he runs good routes, but needs to improve his hands. He’ll be backed up by 6-0, 209-pound senior Josh Smith or 5-11, 190-pound sophomore Ricky Marvray . Smith is the former Colorado burner, who had 11 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown in his Bruin debut. Marvray is a tough competitor, making 20 catches for 188 yards and two scores last year.

At split end, the staff is hoping for more consistency from 6-5, 218-pound senior Nelson Rosario . After breaking through as a sophomore, he regressed last year, pulling down just 29 balls for 309 yards and a touchdown. He has imposing length and leaping ability, but doesn’t always utilize them, frustrating the coaches. Looking to knock him down a peg are a couple of athletic juniors, 5-10, 186-pound Randall Carroll and 6-4, 213-pound Jerry Johnson . Carroll has some of the best jets on the team, a field-stretcher who caught 15 passes for 242 yards and two scores. Johnson is an entirely different threat, using both his size and quickness to gain an edge on opposing defensive backs.

The returning starter at tight end is 6-5, 273-pound senior Cory Harkey , a powerful run blocker, with improving hands in the passing game. Like having a third guard on running plays, he also caught 14 balls for 140 yards and is a load to bring down.

Watch Out For .... Rosario’s development. The senior has worked to improve his overall game in the offseason, but will it show up on the field in the fall? Although he has tantalizing size and catch-radius, his inconsistency can be maddening for the Bruin coaches and quarterbacks.
Strength: Length. UCLA has a number of long and lean options to throw at other teams, like 6-3 Embree, 6-4 Johnson, and 6-5 Rosario. When all else fails, especially near the end zone, the Bruin quarterbacks can always put some air under the ball and hope one of the rangy targets comes down with it.
Weakness: Inconsistency. The Bruin receivers look great coming off the bus, but not so much on film. For the past few seasons, this has been an inconsistent cast of pass-catchers that doesn’t always run tight routes or secure catchable balls within their reach.
Outlook: In a microcosm for the rest of the offense, the receivers have been unable to live up to their potential or high school rankings. They’ll have their moments on occasion, but too few to be a threat on a consistent basis. Of course, everyone’s life gets a lot easier if the quarterbacks can deliver the ball with a higher degree of accuracy and precision.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: One of these years, the Bruins are going to get this blocking thing down to a science. Or maybe not. A perennial nightmare in Westwood, the offensive line has been no better than average for too many years. Prone to injuries, this latest edition up front will be a hodge-podge of linemen, some of whom missed the entire season and will be looking to shed a layer of rust.

The Bruins are excited to be getting back 6-1, 318-pound C Kai Maiava , who missed all of 2010 with an ankle injury. Tough and hard-nosed, the former Colorado transfer started a dozen games two years ago. A former rugby player and Hawaiian boxing champion, he has good footwork and the quick hands to keep opposing linemen from getting penetration.

On the inside, the most experienced of the guards is 6-5, 315-pound senior Sean Sheller , who actually started 10 games at left tackle a year ago. A durability concern throughout his career, who missed 2006 and 2008 with knee problems, he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. On the opposite side will be 6-4, 325-pound sophomore Chris Ward , who appeared in three games in his debut out of high school. A key recruit from a year ago and budding drive blocker, he’ll be an asset to the running game once he gets more reps. After missing all of last year due to academics and part of 2009 for personal reasons, 6-5, 301-pound sophomore Stan Hasiak is looking to recapture his high school form and provide depth behind Sheller.

Senior tackle Mike Harris has started 28 games during his career, getting gradually better each season. A powerful 6-5, 334-pounder, he can bully opposing players, but needs to improve his footwork and get out of his stance quicker on passing plays. The favorite to form a bookend with Harris is 6-4, 304-pound junior Jeff Baca . Yet another Bruin blocker who missed all of 2010 because of academics, he started 21 games in 2008 and 2009. One of the most versatile and talented blockers, he’s proven in the past that he can play just about any position up front, even center. The staff is diligently looking to develop more depth at tackle, a concern that’ll almost certainly bleed into the beginning of the season.

Watch Out For .... Baca’s recovery from a broken ankle suffered in the spring. Out indefinitely, UCLA desperately needs its projected starter to get healthy and be ready for the start of the season. If he’s unavailable, it chips away at the team’s minimal depth and reconfirms the notion that this group is cursed.
Strength: Run blocking. No area of the Bruins improved more than here in 2010. After ranking 116th nationally on the ground, UCLA improved to No. 32 overall, averaging more than 175 yards a game. It’s a physical, north-south unit that averages well over 300 pounds and can win the battles at the point of attack.
Weakness: Pass protection. The Bruins are rugged in the trenches, but not particularly nimble, making them vulnerable to speed rushers. After finishing 81st nationally in sacks allowed, UCLA will attempt to fill the tackle openings with a lumbering 334-pounder, a junior who missed all of 2010 and is recovering from a broken ankle, and very limited depth.
Outlook: The line has a shot to raise the bar up front, but only if there are no more casualties to injuries or academics. Recent history says the odds are against it. At best, UCLA will strive to be average, getting the most out of the returns of Maiava, Hasiak, and Baca. Assistant coach Bob Palcic will have an extremely busy offseason trying to mold this group into a cohesive unit.
Rating: 6.5

- 2011 UCLA Preview | 2011 UCLA Offense
- 2011 UCLA Defense | 2011 UCLA Depth Chart
- UCLA Previews 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006