2013 UCLA Preview – Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 25, 2013


CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - UCLA Bruin Offense


UCLA Bruins

Preview 2013 - Offense


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What you need to know: Jim Mora deservedly got a lot of credit for last year’s Bruins’ turnaround. But coordinator Noel Mazzone sure earned his attaboys as well. Under his guidance, the pro-style UCLA offense went from 88th nationally in scoring in 2011 to 31st last year. And the seasoned coach did it with a new system and a rookie, Brett Hundley, under center. Hundley is back for Year 2, and by all measures, is looking better than ever. Just a sophomore, he’s on the verge of becoming the kind of quarterback that gets talked about as a future first-round NFL Draft choice. Unfortunately, he’ll need to accept an expanded role now that Johnathan Franklin is in the NFL. The running back was outstanding in 2012, leaving uncertainty at the position in his wake. Hundley will evolve as a passer, but only if his youthful O-line can do a better job of protecting him. If given time to check down, No. 17 has an emerging trio of sophomore receivers, Jordan Payton, Devin Lucien and Devin Fuller, who’ll complement go-to guy Shaq Evans.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Brett Hundley
318-478, 3,740 yds, 29 TDs, 11 INTs
Rushing: Brett Hundley
160 carries, 355 yds, 9 TDs
Receiving: Shaq Evans
60 catches, 877 yds, 3 TDs

Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Brett Hundley
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LT Simon Goines
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Jordan Payton
Best pro prospect: Hundley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Junior LG Xavier Su’a-Filo, 2) Hundley, 3) Senior WR Shaq Evans
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, emerging receivers, balance
Weakness of the offense: Backfield, pass protection, proven depth, tight end, fumbling, third-down conversions

Quarterbacks

A coaching staff never truly knows what it’s going to get when it anoints a rookie starting quarterback. In still-developing Brett Hundley, the Bruins have a young hurler who has already begun rewriting the school record books … before his 20th birthday. The sophomore blue-chipper from the 2011 class left a lot of UCLA opponents feeling blue last fall, completing 318-of-478 passes for 3,740 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. And in true dual-threat fashion, Hundley added nine more scores on the ground, giving defenses an added dimension with which to be concerned. There was never any doubt about the physical ability or strong arm of the 6-3, 227-pound athlete. That he performed with such poise, and picked up Noel Mazzone’s offense so quickly, has the program giddy about the next three years.

Hundley is bigger and stronger, but he absorbs a lot of hits, so it’s important that his backups are ready. A pair of redshirt freshmen, 6-1, 191-pound Jerry Neuheisel, Rick’s son, and 6-3, 218-pound Jerry Millweard, battled to a dead heat in the spring. Neuheisel doesn’t have a major league arm, which has been evident in the spring. Millweard spent the offseason working on his mechanics and improving his delivery, which have helped thrust him into the race. Senior Brendan Cross could also enter the fray. The transfer from Wake Forest, and son of former Bruins great Randy Cross, became immediately eligible once he earned his degree in Winston-Salem.

Watch Out For .... Hundley to take the next step in his evolution as one of the country’s top quarterbacks. His growth was evident in the spring, from his physical maturity to the presence he brings to the field. Hundley is about to make a national statement in 2013, which might even get him thinking about the 2014 NFL Draft.
Strength: Multiple dimensions. The beauty of Hundley’s is that he can beat defenses in more than one way. Not only does he throw a great ball, with touch on his deep passes, but he’ll also break containment when the pocket collapses. He’s coachable and smart, the total package in a franchise quarterback.
Weakness: Depth. Cross was a shrewd addition for a team that’s staring at the possibility of a rookie in the No. 2 hole. The graduations of Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut have left the Bruins noticeably inexperienced off the bench. As much as any team in the Pac-12, UCLA cannot survive an injury to its starting quarterback.
Outlook: This is going to be a fun year in Westwood. It’s patently obvious that Hundley is on the tarmac as he prepares for lift-off. Not since Cade McNown in the late 1990s has UCLA been this excited and confident about its situation behind center. Forget the notion of a sophomore slump. No. 17 has too much talent and too much focus to do anything but take the next step in Year 2 as the leader of the offense.
Rating: 8.5

Running Backs

No unit on the roster is taking a bigger hit from graduation than running back, where Johnathan Franklin can’t possibly be replaced by one individual. The Green Bay Packers draft pick was terrific in his Bruins finale. UCLA will continue to review all of its options. Junior Jordon James has the edge to start, but not by much, and partially by default. The 5-9, 193-pounder displays good speed, quickness and hands, but can also be indecisive in the hole when he dances too much. A year ago, he rushed 61 times for 215 yards and two scores, adding 28 catches for 204 yards and a touchdown.

One of the more intriguing competitors of the spring was 6-0, 220-pound senior Malcolm Jones, a signing day bust up to this point. He’s done nothing for the Bruins, and even left the program last year. However, he’s back, and actually had some bounce in his step during the spring, an encouraging sign entering summer.

Senior Damien Thigpen is a versatile all-around athlete who’ll make a more concerted effort for playing time once he fully recovers from an ACL injury. One of the faster players on offense, the 5-8, 180-pounder ran for 262 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries, while making 18 catches for 211 yards and two more scores.

Yeah, it’s still too early to tell if sophomore Steven Manfro is just a practice star, but the whispers are out there. The 2011 Outstanding Offensive Scout Team Player and star of spring in 2012 did catch 28 balls for 287 yards and a touchdown, adding two scores on the ground last fall. However, he missed this latest spring as he recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.

Watch Out For .... the academic situation of four-star recruit Craig Lee. The gem originally looked as if he wouldn’t qualify for 2013, before reportedly posting a higher ACT score in the spring. Fingers are crossed that he’ll matriculate for the fall semester, because he’s the kind of back who can really shake up an average depth chart.
Strength: Third-down backs. Jones aside, the UCLA backs are eerily similar; they’re all undersized, very quick and dangerous as outlets in the passing game. Now if only they can be paired up with a true workhorse on the ground, the Bruins might be on to something.
Weakness: A feature back. UCLA basically doesn’t have one at this stage of the offseason. And might not for quite some time. There’s no one on the roster who has ever had to carry the load, or looks particularly capable of doing so in 2013. Plus, Jones is the only contending back north of 200 pounds, and he’s been a disappointment since arriving four years ago.
Outlook: Life after Franklin was never going to be a picnic, but this might be even worse than anticipated. The fact that the Bruins might consider a committee on the ground is not coach speak. It’s a real strategy that’ll have to be considered. The pass-catching ability of this group is a bonus, but it’s imperative that James, Jones or Thigpen prove that he can account for around 15 carries and 75 yards a game in 2013.
Rating: 6.5

Receivers

The enormous, literally, void left by the graduation of TE Joseph Fauria means QB Brett Hundley is likely to lean on senior WR Shaq Evans more than ever. The 6-1, 211-pound former Notre Dame transfer is coming off his best season in Westwood, leading the team with 60 grabs for 877 yards and three touchdowns. He’s a dangerous deep-ball threat from “Z” receiver, blending the speed to get behind the secondary with soft, reliable hands. After being named honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2012, Evans is looking to rise up the league pecking order, while attracting the attention of NFL scouts.

At the other outside position, “X”, the staff is eager to turn loose sophomore Jordan Payton, a four-star gem from the 2012 recruiting class. After putting down the ground floor as a rookie by making 18 catches for 202 yards and a touchdown, he’s ready to build a career. At 6-1 and 210 pounds, he has the terrific size to outmuscle opposing defensive backs for the ball. And time and time again in the spring, he displayed the sure hands needed to earn QB Brett Hundley’s confidence.

Payton has played so well that he’s held off hard-charging sophomore Devin Lucien. The 6-0, 192-pounder is a different kind of player, a little faster and more explosive in the open field. He’s all the way back from a collarbone injury that limited him to seven games, and 10 catches for 188 yards a year ago.

At “F” receiver, the Bruins are going to go with sophomore Devin Fuller, the nephew of Sinbad and former blue-chip quarterback recruit. He has settled in nicely as a different component of the passing attack, catching 20 balls for 145 yards and two touchdowns in 2012. He’s a perfect fit in the slot, where his quickness, speed and slick moves will create mismatches with opposing defenders.

There’s just no easy to replace Fauria at “Y”, UCLA’s version of a tight end. He was such a big and reliable target over the middle and in the red zone. First dibs belongs to 5-11, 216-pound senior Darius Bell. The former quarterback is a steady, if unspectacular, performer, making seven catches for 143 yards and a score last year. When the Bruins need a bigger body to open holes, 6-4, 252-pound sophomore Ian Taubler will earn a letter.

Watch Out For .... the play of true freshman Thomas Duarte this summer. The coaching staff has unabashedly gushed about their four-star signee with the long frame and soft hands. He clearly has more long-term upside at “Y” than Bell or Taubler, but will he be ready to contribute this early in his career?
Strength: Playmakers on the outside. In Evans and Payton, the Bruins have a couple of big and think targets who’ll use their strength and gait to get behind the secondary. Evans has NFL aspirations, while Payton has looked in the offseason as if he won’t waste another minute before showing why he was such a pursued recruit.
Weakness: The “Y”. It’s obviously a spot on the field that UCLA likes to employ, but it has suddenly devolved into mediocrity. Bell is reliable, but he’s also nine inches shorter and far less accomplished than Fauria. Fingers are crossed regarding Duarte, but how much consistency can really be expected from a rookie?
Outlook: Despite losing a couple of productive receivers to graduation, the Bruins might actually be more dangerous in the passing game in 2013. Evans is a solid go-to guy, and Payton, Fuller and Lucien are all showing signs of busting out as sophomores. Sure, consistency will be an occasional worry, but it’s opposing defenses that’ll have to worry about corralling the underclassmen once they locate their groove.
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

The Bruins went very young in the trenches last year. Yeah, there were growing pains that nearly got QB Brett Hundley killed, but now four of five starters return with something to prove. The undisputed leading man up front will be junior LG Xavier Su’a-Filo, who’s coming off a triumphant return from an LDS mission in Alabama and Florida. Despite being away from the game for two years, the 6-3, 304-pound budding star was still able to block his way to the All-Pac-12 First Team. Su’a-Filo is explosive and athletic, which became increasingly apparent as his conditioning improved throughout the year. His technique is crisp, and he’ll be NFL-ready as soon as he gets a little stronger in the weight room. It’ll be an upset if the program can keep him through the 2014 campaign.

Much was expected of Su’a last fall. Sophomore Jake Brendel, on the other hand, was a very pleasant surprise for the Bruins. In his first season of action, the team’s new center not only started all 14 games, but got recognized as All-Pac-12 honorable mention. For such a young player, the 6-4, 276-pound Brendel did an outstanding job of making line calls, and keeping the up-tempo offense from becoming bogged down or sloppy once a play had ended. Brendel has the head and the talent to become a four-year starter at the pivot in Westwood.

The final piece of the interior puzzle at right guard remains up in the air at this time. Sophomore Ben Wysocki has a slight edge on junior Kody Innes, but not so much that he’s been anointed with a job. The 6-4, 280-pound Wysocki may never be anchor material, but has worked hard to clean up his footwork and improve his strength. While Innes has hung around, his lack of size and experience will make it tough for him to earn the nod.

At the all-important left tackle spot, the position in charge of protecting Brett Hundley’s rear, 6-6, 320-pound sophomore Simon Goines is expected to switch sides of the line after starting 13 games at right tackle. He has a lot of natural ability and great size, but will only begin to fulfill his potential if he can avoid the nicks and dings that have plagued him the last two seasons.

Sophomore Torian White is basically a smaller, more athletic version of Goines at the other tackle spot. He, too, started in his first year, suffered through growing pains and has dealt with some injury issues. However, unlike Goines, White’s heart and passion were questioned at times in 2012. Still, the staff loves his feet and his long arms, and is willing to put in the time to coach him up to a higher level of consistency in pass protection.

Watch Out For .... rookies to flood the two-deep like an invasion. The Bruins are rickety and thin up front, encouraging the staff to sign seven quality high school recruits in February. Each one will get a shot to earn a spot in the rotation in August. OT Poasi Moala, OG Caleb Benenoch and C Scott Quessenberry all ranked among the top dozen nationally at their respective positions, and this staff has not been afraid to start freshmen.
Strength: Run blocking. Four starters return from a unit that helped pave the way for Johnathan Franklin and a ground game that averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Sure, Franklin had an awful lot to do with the final numbers, but his blockers did a nice job of driving linemen off the ball and creating running lanes.
Weakness: Pass protection. It was here that it became most evident that UCLA was employing three rookies at times during the 2012 season. The Bruins ranked a dismal 118th nationally in sacks allowed, meaning their franchise quarterback took far too many hits. And the situation at tackle is far from certain as the opener quickly approaches.
Outlook: There’s Su’a-Filo and pretty much everyone else for a unit that badly needs to bloom in 2013. The Bruins will continue to be young and inconsistent at the point of attack, especially with such a large swath of talented true freshmen entering the fray in August. The line remains a very tender area for an offense hoping to keep last season’s momentum going strong.
Rating: 6.5
 
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