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2009 UCLA Preview - Offense
UCLA TE Ryan Moya
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need to know:
Roll up your sleeves, Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow. You’ve got
some heavy lifting ahead of you. After sporting one of the worst
offenses in school history, UCLA is in store for more futility
in 2009. The quarterbacks are young, the running backs are
inexperienced, and the line is among the worst in the six BCS
conferences. And under the heading of piling on, four players,
QB Chris Forcier, backs Raymond Carter and Aundre Dean, and WR
Dominique Johnson, are seeking transfers. You’ll have to excuse
Neuheisel, a former quarterback with the Bruins, if he
frequently lets off some steam about this unit. The good news is
that journeyman Kevin Craft is being replaced by redshirt
freshman Kevin Prince at quarterback. While the results may not
be terribly different, he does bring enthusiasm, optimism, and a
live arm to a group that’s craving a spark.
Passing: Kevin Craft
232-417, 2,341 yds, 7 TD, 20 INT
Rushing: Derrick Coleman
53 carries, 284 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Terrence Austin
53 catches, 460 yds, 1 TD
Junior PK Kai Forbath
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior RB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Taylor Embree
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Ryan Moya
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Moya, 2) Embree, 3) C
Strength of the offense: Fullback, Tight end
Weakness of the offense: The offense
Projected Starter: It’s
the dawn of a new era at quarterback in Westwood. Amen to that. The
Bruins were miserable a year ago, delivering more injuries and mishaps
than consistent play. Enter 6-2, 226-pound redshirt freshman
Kevin Prince, the first name recruit at the position in the Rick
Neuheisel era. A big, tough kid, he has the strongest arm of the
quarterbacks and a surprisingly good grasp of the system. He shows a
level of poise in the pocket that’ll only get better the more he plays.
However, there will be the natural learning curve for a young player,
who hasn’t seen live action in nearly two years and will be enduring his
baptism under fire without much support.
Projected Top Reserves:
Neuheisel declined to name a backup following spring, another indictment
of 6-4, 211-pound senior Kevin
Craft, the incumbent at the position. Thrust into a position he was
clearly ill-equipped to handle, he responded by going 232-of-417 for
2,341 yards, seven touchdowns, and 20 interceptions. He is not starter
material, but there is some solace in having a reserve, who’s played a
lot of football at San Diego State, Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) College,
and UCLA since 2006.
Would Neuheisel have the guts to tap a true freshman to be the
understudy to his redshirt freshman starter? He might have no choice.
Richard Brehaut out played Craft in April, making this a very
difficult decision. Ideally, the Bruins would like to redshirt him in
2009 and allow the veteran to be No. 2. Brehaut, however, is not backing
down. A 6-2, 225-pound blue-chipper back in February, he’s an accurate
thrower and has the mobility to run some read-option plays.
Watch Out For… Brehaut
to be on-call throughout the year. The Bruins would like to redshirt him
this fall, but if he’s clearly ahead of Craft in the summer, they might
consider burning it in the event of an emergency. It’s a similar
situation to Prince, who was almost rushed into action in 2008, but
wound up preserving the year.
Strength: The future.
Craft was just a body last fall, gobbling up snaps and taking a beating,
while Prince developed in anonymity. Bruin fans now have a reason to be
excited about the position, as the torch begins to get passed to a pair
of freshmen. Physically, both can already do more than the incumbent,
giving coordinator Norm Chow the raw materials he needs to mold a future
It’s very possible that the starter and his backup will be
wet-behind-the-ears freshmen, a recipe for inconsistency and a steep
learning curve. The future may be bright, but the present is wrought
with landmines and sloppy play.
Outlook: Improving the
landscape at UCLA is going to require a certain degree of pain and
sacrifice. Quarterback is a case in point. The Bruins will go with a
freshman starter, and possibly backup, in the hope that it reaps
benefits in the second half of the season and beyond. While Prince has a
nice future, his first-year report card will depend heavily on how much
help he gets from his blockers and receivers.
Emerging from a deep collection of young backs is rangy 6-2, 220-pound
junior Christian Ramirez, who
is slated to be this year’s starter. A former safety, who missed 2008
for academic reasons, he has the size to run through defenders, speed to
zip past them, and the balance to pick up yards after contact. He missed
most of spring recovering from a hamstring injury, and will need to be
completely healthy when the team reconvenes in August.
After being forced to play some tailback last fall, 6-1, 244-pound
senior Chane Moline is
settling down at his more natural fullback spot. He carried the ball 30
times for 118 yards and is a viable option near the goal line. A
versatile veteran, he’s a capable blocker and will do whatever is
necessary to help get the offense out of neutral.
Projected Top Reserves:
The closest thing to a veteran among the tailbacks is 6-0, 231-pound
sophomore Derrick Coleman,
the team’s leading returning rusher. As a rookie, he earned 53 carries
for 284 yards and a pair of scores, running with the power and toughness
of a fullback. Always driving forward, he’ll be an ideal option on short
The flash in this equation is going to be provided by 5-10, 200-pound
sophomore Johnathan Franklin,
the fastest of the Bruin backs. Last year’s scout team co-MVP, he
explodes out of his stance and reads his blocks well. With a terrific
offseason, he’s earned a spot in the rotation, with a chance to be the
gamebreaker of the backfield.
Depth at fullback will come from 6-0, 241-pound senior
Trevor Theriot, a former starter coming back from an ACL tear
suffered last September. A self-made former walk-on, he’s strictly a
no-nonsense lead blocker, who can pave the road for the Bruin tailbacks.
Watch Out For… the
use of a committee. The coaching staff really likes Ramirez, but is he
ready to be a workhorse after sitting out all of 2008? Each of the three
primary backs offers something a little different to the offense, which
will increase his marketability. The one who can make his own yards will
eventually get the bulk of the snaps.
fullbacks. In Moline and Theriot, UCLA has two experienced and unselfish
fullbacks, who do a nice job of creating running room for the tailbacks.
Moline has also carried the ball in the past, making him an option as a
bulldozing change-of-pace runner.
players. No matter how good any player looks in March or April, it’s no
substitute for what happens in September and October. Ramirez, Coleman,
and Franklin have just 72 career carries between them, meaning the first
few months of 2009 will be treated like a classroom for the untested
finishing 116th nationally in rushing offense, UCLA might not
do a heck of a lot better in 2009. In fairness, the ground game got no
help from the offensive line or the passing attack, a trend that must
change this fall. Although the young players bring hope and promise,
they’ll be hard-pressed to produce many seminal moments unless the
blockers do an improbable about-face.
Projected Starters: Last year’s top
three receivers return, creating an air of optimism around the unit. The
budding star is 6-3, 194-pound sophomore split end
Taylor Embree, a Freshman All-American and future go-to guy. A
starter in eight games in his debut on campus, he set school freshman
records with 40 receptions for 531. He has a wide catch radius and
excellent field awareness for such a young player, turning 28 of his
grabs into first downs.
At flanker will be 5-11, 173-pound senior
Terrence Austin, who had a
team-high 53 receptions for 460 yards and a touchdown in a breakout
first year as the starter. One of the quickest and fastest of the Bruin
receivers, he needs more chances in space if he’s going to improve on
last year’s paltry average of 8.7 yards a grab.
After missing all of 2007 for personal reasons, 6-3, 247-pound senior
Ryan Moya made a successful
return to the team. Part tight end and part H-Back, he caught 38 passes
for 364 yards and three touchdowns, earning a spot on the All-Pac-10
second team. With proper support from the quarterback, he has the hands
and fundamentals to have a career year and attract some interest from
Projected Top Reserves:
Last season’s fourth-leading receiver, Dominique Johnson, is seeking a
transfer, creating more opportunities 6-5, 214-pound
Nelson Rosario, the backup at
split end. He got off the sidelines for nine games as a true freshman,
catching 11 passes for 169 yards. Because of his size, leaping ability,
and long arms, he’s a natural target for jump balls near the end zone.
Similarly sized senior Gavin
Ketchum rounds out the two-deep as the No. 2 to Austin at flanker. A
rangy and steady 6-5, 210-pounder, he’s caught at least five balls in
each of the last four years and is also effective as a downfield
blocker. If depth becomes an issue at tight end, he has the size and
experience to pitch in where necessary.
Ideally, 6-6, 268-pound senior
Logan Paulsen will be pushing Moya at tight end, but a foot injury
could complicate that plan. A screw was inserted into the same foot last
year, raising questions whether he’ll be healthy and available in
September. At full speed, he’s got next-level upside, with a rare
combination of size and pass-catching ability.
Watch Out For…
incoming freshman Randall Carroll.
One of the fastest recruits in the country, he has the raw speed to
immediately address one of the Bruins’ glaring needs on offense. A
repeat 100-meter champion in California, he’ll literally hit the ground
running when he arrives in the summer.
Strength: The tight
ends. Assuming Paulsen can return to pre-injury form, UCLA will have two
tight ends good enough to earn All-Pac-10 honors. While Paulsen is a
more traditional tight end, Moya serves the role as an H-Back. In time,
the best of the bunch will be freshman
Morrell Presley, who already
began turning heads in his first spring practice.
Field-stretchers. Yeah, the quarterback deserves a share of the blame,
but the Bruins are painfully short on dynamic receivers, who can stretch
the field. Most are big, 4.6-types, which allows opposing secondaries to
take chances without impunity. Among Pac-10 teams, only Washington State
had a lower yards per catch average in 2008.
Outlook: There may be
optimism about this group, but it still lacks the pop and consistency to
provide weekly support for a first-year starting quarterback. Embree is
clearly on the right path, and the incoming freshmen, namely Carroll,
are going to get every opportunity to name their role this season. As a
whole, the wideouts need to do a better job of getting open and holding
on to the ball.
Projected Starters: In
a season rife with problems, the offensive line set the standard for
poor execution. A young and often reshuffled unit finished 110th
nationally in sacks allowed and paved the way for a ground game that
averaged only 2.6 yards a carry. First, the good news. After sitting out
a mandatory season, Colorado transfer
Kai Maiava is now available
to be the starting center. The 6-1, 322-pound sophomore started nine
games in Boulder two years ago, earning the Lee Willard Award given to
the top freshman. He’s got the strong base and the bubble to hold his
ground and drive linemen off their feet.
At left tackle, the Bruins hope they’ve got a future all-star in 6-4,
305-pound sophomore Jeff Baca.
A versatile blocker, he overcame pre-season surgery to start eight games
as a true freshman, while building a foundation for success. Although
he’s penciled in at left tackle out of necessity, he eventually projects
as a guard.
Rounding out the left side of the line is 6-5, 320-pound senior
Micah Kia, the choice to play
guard. A part-time starter in each of the last two seasons, he flashed
his versatility by playing three different positions in 2008.
Surprisingly agile for his size, he can get to the second level in a
hurry and has the wingspan to engulf defenders.
Although he hasn’t even locked down the starting nod yet, there’s hope
that 6-5, 295-pound junior Sean
Sheller can become a pillar at right tackle. He was supposed begin
blossoming last fall before suffering a second ACL injury in the last
three years. Three years since being one of the nation’s top prep
tackles, he’s yet to play a down and still has plenty to prove.
In the hotly-contested battle at right guard, 6-5, 308-pound senior
Nick Ekbatani is the favorite
to retain a job he held for all 12 games last fall. Actually, he played
some guard as well, and can moonlight at center if needed. A
late-bloomer after transferring junior college in 2006, he finally
started getting comfortable with his role last year.
Projected Top Reserves:
Hanging tough with Sheller at right tackle is 6-5, 314-pound sophomore
Mike Harris, who started the
final five games, earning the most improved offensive player award. A
powerful drive blocker, he excels as a run blocker, but needs to make
strides as a pass blocker if he’s going to overtake Sheller.
Backing up Ekbatani at guard will be 6-4, 335-pound junior
Darius Savage, a seven-game starter on the left side last fall. A
massive player and one of the strongest Bruins on the squad, he can
increase his playing time by maintaining his weight and improving his
lateral quickness and agility.
Playing the role of yet another massive reserve guard will be junior
Sonny Tevaga, a 6-5,
345-pound behemoth. Although he only played in three games a year ago,
starting a pair, he’s now in his fourth year in the system, and has the
brute strength, intensity, and know-how to be a valuable member of the B
When pressed into action a year ago, 6-4, 286-pound junior
Jake Dean held his ground, playing in eight games and starting seven
at center. One of the country’s top prospects at his position coming out
of high school, he gives the Bruins more depth at the pivot than they’ve
had in years.
Watch Out For… the
cavalry. UCLA is banking on a number of newcomers, including freshmen
and transfers, to push for spots on the two-deep shortly after arriving
on campus. Rookies Xavier
Sua-Filo and Stanley Hasiak,
in particular, are going to be thrown into the deep end of the pool.
Hey, all of the injuries and problems did have a silver lining in
2008—they forced a slew of linemen to earn more reps than anyone
expected. In fact, eight different Bruins earned at least two starts a
year ago, which is a boon to the team’s once-sagging depth.
To put it bluntly, UCLA just isn’t very crisp at the most elementary
part of the game, blocking. After seemingly bottoming out last year, the
Bruins showed few signs of improvement in the spring, bumbling snaps,
missing assignments, and providing little shade for the quarterbacks.
Outlook: If everything
breaks its way in 2009, the Bruin line has a chance to be only
marginally better than last year’s unit. Although there’s hope that the
availability of Maiava, return of Sheller, and arrival of new faces will
help, the road to respectability is a long and winding one with many