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2009 UCLA Preview - Offense
UCLA TE Ryan Moya
UCLA TE Ryan Moya
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 9, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - UCLA Bruin Offense

UCLA Bruins

Preview 2009
- Offense


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2009 CFN UCLA Preview | 2009 UCLA Offense
- 2009 UCLA Defense | 2009 UCLA Depth Chart
- 2008 UCLA Preview | 2007 UCLA Preview | 2006 UCLA Preview 

What you 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.

Returning Leaders
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

Star of the offense: Junior PK Kai Forbath
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior RB Christian Ramirez
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 Kai Maiava
Strength of the offense: Fullback, Tight end
Weakness of the offense: The offense

Quarterbacks

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 a star.
Weakness: Inexperience. 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. 
Rating: 5.5

Running Backs


Projected Starters: 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 yardage plays.

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.
Strength: The 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.
Weakness: Proven 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 players.
Outlook: After 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.
Rating: 6

Receivers

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 NFL scouts.

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.
Weakness: 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.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

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 team. 

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.
Strength: Experience. 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.
Weakness: Fundamentals. 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 potholes.
Rating: 6