2012 UCLA Preview – Offense
UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - UCLA Bruin Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What you need to know: With the arrival of head coach Jim Mora, UCLA is making a seismic shift from the run-first "pistol" to a far more passer-friendly pro-style attack. Long-term, the move makes sense. Short-term, there are justifiable concerns whether this program houses the necessary personnel to pull it off. The Bruins have had all kinds of problems through the air lately, unable to achieve any degree of sustained excellence. So, deciding on a starting quarterback is going to be a seminal moment for the staff. Stay tuned. Mora wanted to anoint someone at the end of spring, but will wait until summer to decide between veterans Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, and unofficial savior Brett Hundley. UCLA wants to throw more often in the direction of the tight end, which makes sense since 6-8 Joseph Fauria is one of the best at his position in the Pac-12, and the wide receivers still have plenty to prove. The team, though, will certainly not abandon the run. The Bruins have a nice ensemble of runners, beginning with mainstay Johnathan Franklin, but also including talented kids, such as Malcolm Jones and Steven Manfro. As is often the case in Westwood, fingers will be crossed regarding the line. While there's experience on the inside, tackles Xavier Su'a-Filo and Torian White will hold the fortune of the group. Both are immense talents, but Su'a-Filo has recently returned from his Mormon mission, and White is a redshirt freshman.
Star of the offense: Senior RB Johnathan Franklin
Passing: Kevin Prince
126-224, 1,828 yds, 12 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Johnathan Franklin
166 carries, 976 yds, 5 TDs
Receiving: Joseph Fauria
39 catches, 481 yds, 6 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Kevin Prince, senior Richard Brehaut or redshirt freshman Brett Hundley
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LT Xavier Su'a-Filo
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Joseph Fauria
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Fauria, 2) Franklin, 3) Su'a-Filo
Strength of the offense: Athletic quarterbacks, the ground game, tight end
Weakness of the offense: Inconsistency of the passing game, proven wide receivers, pass blocking, third down conversions
If Jim Mora and his staff can help transform the quarterbacks, a position that has haunted this program for years, their odds of early success would improve exponentially. The Bruins are in dire need of improved play behind center, which is why Mora listed his contenders in numerical order on the post-spring depth chart. Realistically, this will be a three-man race in the summer. Senior Kevin Prince is the incumbent, a seasoned veteran of 26 career starts. He's coming off his best season, completing 126-of224 passes for 1,828 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Westwood's version of Jake Locker also barreled his way to 424 yards and a score on the ground out of the pistol. The 6-2, 230-pounder has a good arm, excellent athleticism and the leadership qualities teams look for in a quarterback. However, he's also been too erratic, and gets hurt way too often.
Prince light is 6-2, 225-pound senior Richard Brehaut , who has started 11 games over the last two seasons, showing flashes when given an opportunity. In fact, a year ago, he was 67-of-121 for 948 yards, six touchdowns and only one pick. He's also rushed for six scores in his career. He shows nice touch on deep balls, but will have a hard time winning this job if he can't exhibit more consistency on conventional throws.
The future at quarterback almost certainly belongs to 6-4, 225-pound redshirt freshman Brett Hundley , one of the nation's top-rated dual-threats of 2011. However, does the future begin this September or next? Obviously, he's young and still raw with his mechanics, but possesses all of the physical tools that programs look for in a franchise player. His arm is strong, his legs are dangerous and his ceiling is enormous. This will be a big summer for Hundley, who'd be wise to soak up all of the knowledge he can from new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
Watch Out For .... Hundley to be in the huddle when UCLA visits Rice on Sept. 1. The second-year Bruin is going to benefit from the relative simplicity of Mazzone's offense, negating the edge in experience currently enjoyed by the seniors. Neither Prince nor Brehaut was anything special in the spring, which could open the door for Mora to make a splash with this choice.
Strength: Athleticism. All three of the primary contenders for the job can make things happen with their feet. Plus, they're big, fullback-sized players who can pick up yards after contact once they've left the pocket. The Bruins are also going to benefit from having two experienced quarterbacks in the stable no matter who gets the nod.
Weakness: Inconsistency in the passing game. It's a new year, with the same concerns. UCLA simply doesn't know if it has the kind of quarterback who can consistently exploit defenses over the top. Prince and Brehaut have essentially shown their hands, and tapped out their potential over the last three years. And Hundley has yet to even attempt a pass at this level.
Outlook: The situation can certainly be worse, but UCLA needs it to be better. Round 2 of this competition figures to be fascinating as Hundley attempts to dispose of two experienced seniors during one summer session. If he's ready to take over, Mora will hand him the ball without hesitation. If not, the winner of Prince-Brehaut in August will keep the position warm until the redshirt freshman feels comfortable enough to take the reins.
The Bruins may no longer be employing the Pistol offense, but there are still a few bullets left in the backfield holster. Senior Johnathan Franklin , for instance. The 5-10, 205-pounder is now ninth on the school's all-time rushing list, zipping for 2,669 yards and 18 touchdowns on 506 carries. Buried in his aggregate production is that he's averaged more than five yards a carry, including just under six yards in 2011. He has good speed and acceleration, but is also a polished runner, setting up his blocks before locating the hole with the help of NFL-caliber vision.
Now that Derrick Coleman has exhausted his eligibility, junior Malcolm Jones is prepared to take over as the short-yardage bruiser off the bench. The gem of the 2010 recruiting class is 6-0, 227-pound load to bring down between the tackles, and a possible successor to Franklin next fall. He's earned 80 carries in his first two years, running for 303 yards and a score.
The breakout star of the spring was third-stringer Steven Manfro , last year's Outstanding Offensive Scout Team Player. Generously listed at 5-11 and 195 pounds, he's not very big, but he consistently made plays in April with a one-cut running style and dogged determination. Intrigued by his potential, the staff will try to get the ball in his hands a few times every game as a runner or receiver.
Watch Out For .... Manfro to generate a cult following around Westwood. While he doesn't do one thing exceptionally well, he has a unique ability to continuously make positive things happen. His legs are always churning in the pursuit of positive, which will not be lost on a home crowd that's going to feed off the rookie's energy.
Strength: Franklin. Being somewhat buried in UCLA as the Bruins have struggled has hurt Franklin's Q rating, but not his reputation among pro scouts. He's a vastly underrated back, who might actually be even more effective if the new regime can somehow supercharge the passing attack.
Weakness: Proven depth. Losing Coleman actually hurts more than most might assume. He was a terrific short-yardage back and emergency starter when Franklin was unable to go. Jones and Manfro have produced a fair amount of press clippings over the past couple of years, but are still green where it matters most.
Outlook: Franklin is a terrific back, who might not get the attention he richly deserves until he gets to the next level. For now, he'll have to settle for 1,000 yards and a spot on the All-Pac-12 Team. Since the senior has not been a 25-carry guy, it's important that Jones and Manfro make the most of their touches when they get them.
With the program about to use some three and even four-wide sets, its depth in the passing game is going to be tested. Many of the receivers who were utilized more as downfield blockers in 2011 will now be counted on to catch a lot more passes in the new system. The staff is excited about the potential of 6-1, 205-pound junior Shaq Evans, who'll be lining up at "Z" receiver. The Notre Dame transfer showed flashes of big-play potential in his first season in Westwood, turning 19 receptions into 309 yards and two touchdowns. He has good hands, and runs the tight routes needed to school opposing defensive backs.
At the other outside position, "X", 6-4, 218-pound senior Jerry Johnson and 6-1, 192-pound redshirt freshman Devin Lucien are locked in an interesting battle for playing time. For one reason or another, Johnson has been snakebitten throughout his career, catching just five passes in three years. However, he took full advantage of his new lease on life in the spring, routinely using his size and elevation to make plays above defenders. Lucien is one of the key cogs of the future in the passing game. He plays with all of the polish of a much more experienced receiver, displaying the soft hands and work ethic of a future go-to-guy.
In the slot, "F" receiver, UCLA will have a couple of choices. The frontrunner is 6-0, 190-pound junior Ricky Marvray , a tough competitor who has no problem crossing the middle of the field to make a play. He was underutilized in 2011, catching just 10 passes for 57 yards. Sophomore Jordon James is more of a hybrid between a running back and a receiver. The 5-11, 200-pounder has great speed and the elusiveness to make defenders miss in space.
The Bruins will be using a "Y" receiver this fall, a monosyllabic term for tight end. The program boasts one of the best in the country in 6-7, 258-pound senior Joseph Fauria . Last year's breakout performer caught 39 passes for 481 yards and six touchdowns, evolving into a dangerous threat on intermediate routes. While No. 8 has the total package to be named All-Pac-12, and go on to be one of the first tight ends drafted next April, he first has to prove that he can complete a season without getting dinged up.
Watch Out For .... how Johnson performs in the summer. Was the senior's eye-opening effort in the spring a mirage or a harbinger of things to come? He certainly grabbed the attention of the new staff, which started the offseason with a clean slate on every player. The physical ability is in place for Johnson to become a preferred target if he can keep the momentum going.
Strength: Big targets. It all starts with the 6-7 Fauria, but it doesn't stop with the Mackey Award-contending tight end. The Bruins house an exciting collection of long and lean pass-catchers who are going to make life a little easier for the quarterbacks by elevating high and plucking the ball out of the air.
Weakness: A lack of consistency. While the Bruins receivers look great in the team photo, their production on the field has been somewhat uninspiring. Now, the style of the offense and recent play of the quarterbacks have been unequivocal factors, but won't completely absolve the receivers of their dropped balls and poorly-run routes.
Outlook: The UCLA receivers and tight ends are bubbling over with potential, but will it reach the surface in 2012? They were sharp in the spring, which the coaches hope will extend into the summer and fall. Since the best is still ahead for the likes of Evans, Lucien and Johnson, it goes to figure that this unit might produce more big plays than it has in the last two or three seasons combined.
If the quarterbacks are the primary reason the offense has stalled in recent years, the O-line is a close second. While there was mild improvement in 2011, the unit has been abysmal for far too long, something the staff is determined to reverse. Hope comes in the form of sophomore Xavier Su'a-Filo , the cornerstone left tackle returning to action after completing his two-year Mormon mission. Out of sight, but not out of mind, he started as a rookie in 2009, whetting the appetite of the old staff with his footwork, upper body strength and general ability to maul opponents. An auspicious debut was capped by honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors, the first of multiple times he figures to be decorated.
The situation at right tackle, though, is far less settled. The favorite is 6-6, 295-pound redshirt freshman Torian White , who has the size and light feet of a prototype at the position. However, he has no experience, and still has to prove that he can sufficiently handle the rigors of battling some of the league's best rushers, week-in and week-out.
The staff needs a little more time to decide on who'll replace Kai Maiava at the pivot. The veteran—and versatile—option would be 6-4, 310-pound junior Greg Capella , who started one game at center in 2011 and 13 at guard. However, the emergence of 6-5, 295-pound Jake Brendel has ensured that this competition will go a lot longer than many expected. After cleaning up his snaps, he showed a level of competency that could help him become a four-year starter up front.
The anchor at right guard, his most natural position, is 6-4, 304-pound senior Jeff Baca , one of the cagiest and selfless members of the entire program. He can play anywhere, as evidenced by his 33 career starts, 14 at guard and 19 at tackle. A blue-collar worker, he's tough and physical, especially when run blocking. If someone, such as White, doesn't step up at right tackle, Baca can easily slide into the opening. The Bruins do have options since both right guard backups, 6-4, 305-pound junior Alberto Cid and 6-4, 318-pound junior Chris Ward started multiple games in 2011.
Rounding out the line at left guard is 6-4, 315-pound Wade Yandall , a three-game starter last fall. Tempering the staff's enthusiasm about its sophomore is that he has suffered multiple concussions during his career, which have cast an air of uncertainty about his future.
Watch Out For .... how quickly Su'a-Filo can shake the rust. It's been a couple of years since the tackle had the pads on, and it showed in the spring. He was clearly rusty, and not in tip-top shape, but that's the beauty of offseason practice and conditioning—they're designed to have players ready long before the games matter.
Strength: Versatility. The tackles can play guard, the guard can help out at center and just about everyone is capable of multi-tasking. Seven different Bruins linemen have started games in their careers, and all of them have been cross-trained to contribute whenever—and wherever—they are needed.
Weakness: Durability. Maybe this unit wouldn't be so maligned if it wasn't so doggone brittle. Too many of the many UCLA blockers have either missed considerable time to injury in the past, or were dinged up in the spring. If a key player or two goes down during the season, the entire unit could go south in a hurry.
Outlook: The return of Su'a-Filo may be cause for celebration, but the rickety nature of the O-line will make the excitement short-lived. At best, UCLA will be protected by a hard-working and heady collection of blockers. At worst, it's a group that has no margin for error, and not enough top-flight pass protectors to help the new system operate at peak performance. They do excel at run blocking, good news for Johnathan Franklin and the rest of the backs.
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2012 UCLA Defense |
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