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2010 UCLA Preview – Offense
UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - UCLA Bruin Offense
Preview 2010 - Offense
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What you need to know: The offense was a problem when Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow arrived three years ago. It still is. The Bruins haven’t clicked, partly because of quarterback problems and partly because of a sub-par offensive line. The program hopes to solve its issues behind center, as Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut enter their sophomore year, but the line will again be among the Pac-10’s most average. Hey, at least there’s hope at the skill positions, good news for an attack that’s ranked no higher than 94th in scoring over the last two seasons. Leading rusher Johnathan Franklin is back, as are Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree, a pair of hard-to-miss receiving targets. Neuheisel scored big on the recruiting trail with blue-chip backs Malcolm Jones and Jordon James, who are both gifted enough to displace a veteran or two.
Star of the offense: Senior PK Kai Forbath
Passing: Kevin Prince
173-308, 2,050 yds, 8 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Johnathan Franklin
126 carries, 566 yds, 5 TDs
Receiving: Taylor Embree
45 catches, 608 yds, 2 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Kevin Prince
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Nelson Rosario
Best pro prospect: Rosario
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Forbath, 2) Rosario, 3) Junior WR Taylor Embree
Strength of the offense: Big receivers, experience up front
Weakness of the offense: Red zone touchdowns, inconsistency behind center, the running game, turnovers
Projected Starter: Last year was the sticky part at quarterback. The next few seasons should be a whole lot more productive now that all the kids are a year older. More specifically, 6-2, 229-pound sophomore
Kevin Prince is ready to take flight now that he has a full season of work in the vault. As expected, he had an awkward debut, finishing 173-of-308 for 2,050 yards, eight touchdowns, and eight interceptions, but gained a ton of experience while showing glimpses of the future. He has the physical gifts, such as a strong arm, terrific mobility, and overall toughness, to be the program’s best thing since Cade McNown more than a decade ago. Now he just needs to become more consistent and make better decisions.
Projected Top Reserves: With Kevin Craft graduating, 6-2, 225-pound sophomore
Richard Brehaut is the clear-cut No. 2, assuming he can’t jump up and overtake Prince. One of the gems of the 2009 recruiting class, he was thrust into spot-duty as a rookie, going 11-of-17 for 124 yards, a pick, and a few too many sacks. He was in over his head, but no one in the program doubts he has the arm or the overall ability to eventually be in the saddle. There’s a lot of ground to make up and some confidence that needs to be restored prior to that point.
On the outside looking in is 6-3, 212-pound sophomore Nick Crissman, a distant third-stringer in the mix. Another former top recruit, he’s struggled with shoulder problems that have stunted his development and is not on the same career path as Prince or Brehaut. A transfer in order to get more playing time cannot be ruled out.
Watch Out For .... the little things throughout the offseason. Prince and Brehaut have Pac-10 arms, but success in the league will depend on how quickly they mature and master the intangibles. Reading defenses, knowing when to slide, and game management are examples of where the sophomores need to make their greatest progress.
Strength: The measurables. Not only can Prince and Brehaut make all the throws very early in their careers, but they can also escape pressure and make plays with their feet. Prince, for example, was the Bruins’ fourth-leading rusher with 179 yards, and could have been No. 2 had he not absorbed so many sacks.
Weakness: Inconsistency. It’s the mantra throughout the offseason, and it’s not going away until something changes. With youth comes excitement and energy ... and too many unforced errors. The key for the offense—and possibly the entire program—is for the game to start slowing down for Prince and Brehaut.
Outlook: Better days lay ahead. At least that’s the expectation after UCLA used freshmen and finished 101st nationally in passing efficiency. The sophomores have considerable upside. The key for the Bruins is for head coach Rick Neuheisel and coordinator Norm Chow to make sure they reach it as quickly as possible.
Projected Starters: Back for his second season as the feature runner is 5-10, 200-pound sophomore Johnathan Franklin. As an eight-game starter, he ran 126 times for 566 yards and five touchdowns, flashing the good speed and vision that first earned him a scholarship to play for the Bruins. With a little more help from the offensive line, he has 1,000-yard potential, but will see his reps disappear if he doesn’t eliminate last year’s problems with fumbles.
The graduations of Chane Moline and Trevor Theriot have left the program searching for options at fullback. For the time being, the edge belongs to 5-11, 243-pound senior
Tobi Umodu, a former linebacker, with minimal experience. However, 6-0, 256-pound redshirt freshman Jayson Allmond is a potential pile-driver, provided he doesn’t add more weight and balloon into a defensive lineman.
Projected Reserves: The veteran among the tailbacks is 6-0, 231-pound junior
Derrick Coleman, last year’s second-leading rusher with 244 yards and a score on 54 carries. Although his combination of size, speed, and thump jump off the page, he hasn’t been able to parlay those physical tools into consistent production, which has cut into his touches. He has to elevate the level of his play or become vulnerable to the kids in the rear view mirror.
The jackrabbit of the group is 5-8, 180-pound sophomore Damien Thigpen, one of the quickest and fastest of the runners. He produced 62 yards on 26 carries during spot duty last season, and could see an expanded role this fall. He may never be an every-down player, but if the Bruins can find ways to get him into space, he has the jets to become a viable weapon.
Watch Out For .... the rookies. UCLA does not currently harbor an elite bunch of backs. That could be about to change, thanks to this latest recruiting class. Malcolm Jones and Jordon James are two of this year’s elite high school runners, drawing offers from a slew of major problems. Jones, in particular, already looks the part, a downhill runner, with no thoughts of being redshirted.
Strength: Power. Franklin and Coleman are not the type of backs, who’ll go down easily on first contact. Both run with good leverage and have a knack for bouncing off tacklers. Jones is already 6-1 and 220 pounds, conjuring up thoughts of a young Beanie Wells.
Weakness: Ball security. This was more of an issue for Franklin than anyone else, but one that needs to be addressed, especially since he’s the frontrunner to start. UCLA coughed the ball up 32 times last season, losing 12 of them, a problem that cannot turn into a trend.
Outlook: For years the Bruins have had a vanilla running game, finishing 97th nationally in 2009 and 116th in 2008. Depending on the development of the two kids and the progression of a suspect offensive line, that trend could be ready to make a u-turn. For now, Franklin and Coleman are the main men, but Jones and James are talented enough to turn the depth chart upside down in the summer.
Projected Starters: The Bruins return their top two wide receivers, both of whom caught more than 40 passes a year ago. At split end, 6-5, 216-pound junior Nelson Rosario enjoyed a breakout season as a reserve, catching 42 balls for 723 yards and two touchdowns. Evolving like a modern-day J.J. Stokes, he used his length and outstanding leaping ability to play above defensive backs and overcome the occasional dropped balls and lapses in focus.
The most consistent UCLA receiver is 6-3, 207-pound junior flanker Taylor Embree. Well-schooled in his fundamentals and physical when the ball is in the air, he has a large catch radius and terrific field awareness. A starter for two consecutive years, he pulled down a team-high 45 balls for 608 yards and two touchdowns last season.
A mass exodus at tight end has created an opening for junior Cory Harkey to quickly climb the depth chart. At 6-5 and 262 pounds, he’s almost as big as the guards, a plus in run blocking, yet still has the soft hands and quickness to be a factor in the passing game. A starter when the Bruins opened in a double tight end formation, he caught eight balls for 41 yards and a score.
Projected Top Reserves: UCLA has scored a key transfer, luring 6-0, 203-pound junior Josh Smith from Colorado. In two seasons in Boulder, he caught 52 passes for 838 yards and three touchdowns, while also contributing on special teams. A kid with a lot of upside—on and off the field—he has a chance to be an instant contributor for the passing game.
The quest for more snaps and a spot in the rotation begins with sophomore Jerry Johnson. At 6-4 and 208 pounds, he has the size-speed blend to be a factor at split end, but needs to become more consistent and gain the confidence of the quarterbacks if his number will start being called.
The Bruins could turn to another transfer in order to beef up their depth at tight end. Sophomore Joseph Fauria began his career, appearing in three games in 2008, before deciding to return back to his home state of California. At 6-7 and 259 pounds, he’s an enormous target, with a unique familiarity with UCLA QB Kevin Prince, his teammate at Crespi (Calif.) High School.
Watch Out For .... Rosario to be a more complete receiver. He was a little rough around the edges a year ago, and it showed. Still, a full season of action and another offseason to work with the young quarterbacks will serve him well as he moves closer to being a polished pass-catcher.
Strength: Length. At 6-5 and 6-3, respectively, Rosario and Embree give the Bruins a pair of rangy receivers capable of creating match up problems with just about any defensive backfield. Both players get good elevation, which makes them naturals for jump balls near the goal line.
Weakness: Lack of gamebreakers. Rosario and Embree have deceptive speed, which is code for being a step slower than most cornerbacks. Neither is a blazer, allowing opponents to dedicate more resources to the middle of the field and intermediate routes. Sophomore Randall Carroll is an exception, but has to work his way up the depth chart for it to matter.
Outlook: The Bruin receiving corps is only getting stronger, especially as Rosario and Embree begin to enter the prime of their career. With the addition of Fauria and promotion of Harkey, the tight ends should be fine even with the heavy toll of graduations. It would be nice if someone, like Carroll, emerged as a deep threat who warrants respect on go routes.
Projected Starters: While progress has been made, the problems that have plagued UCLA recently up front remain issues heading into 2010. And just when it looked as if LT Xavier Su’a-Filo was going to be the young star of the group, he left to complete his Mormon mission. On the plus side, four starters do return from a year ago. At left guard, 6-4, 307-pound junior Jeff Baca is a versatile and athletic lineman, with 21 career starts at both guard and tackle. He’s added some muscle in the offseason to help with the running game, and is poised to take on more of a leadership role.
On the right side, 6-1 and 327-pound senior Eddie Williams started eight games in his debut out of Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) Junior College before fracturing his ankle and being lost for the year. Although he won’t wow anyone with his footwork, he has tremendous upper body strength and the low center of gravity to be difficult to move off his base.
Back for his second season at center is 6-1, 300-pound junior Kai Maiava, a former Colorado transfer. He had a solid debut in Westwood, showing the athleticism and instincts that make him a natural at the position. A former rugby player and Hawaiian boxing champion, he has excellent footwork and the quick hands to keep opposing linemen from getting penetration.
The Bruins’ closest thing to a sure-thing at tackle is 6-5, 331-pound junior Mike Harris on the right side. He’s started the last 18 games for this unit, and has gotten progressively better since cracking the lineup as a redshirt freshman. He possesses next-level size and strength, but still has a lot of work to do in pass protection and getting out of his stance quicker.
Left tackle is a bit of a hot potato at this point of the offseason. One thing that’s certain is that 6-7, 276-pound redshirt freshman Nik Abele will get every opportunity to win the job if he can flatten the learning curve in as short a time as possible. A terrific athlete, with the right frame for the position, he needs to add some more weight and fine-tune his technique.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Micah Kia might be the favorite at left tackle if not for a torn ACL he suffered he suffered last August that shelved him for the season. A 6-5, 331-pound versatile veteran of 15 career starts, he has the experience and the imposing size to lock down a job if he can regain the strength and flexibility in his legs.
Senior Darius Savage is to the guard position what Kia is to tackle. Another massive veteran of a couple letters, he, too, is trying to work his way back from injury. The 6-4, 330-pounder appeared in 13 games and started one at Washington State, but spent the offseason recovering from back surgery and missed spring drills.
Despite playing in just three games and starting two, 6-3, 300-pound senior Ryan Taylor figures to be a valuable reserve at both center and guard. In his first season out of Tyler (Tex.) Junior College, he quickly picked up the system and was posturing for more playing time before spraining his foot and missing the final four games.
Watch Out For .... the doctor’s reports. If the Bruins are going to achieve some degree of stability in the trenches, they’ll need as many healthy bodies as possible in the fall. That means Williams, Kia, Savage, and Taylor can all shake off the bumps and bruises that plagued them over the past year.
Strength: Leadership. With eight upperclassmen on the roster, UCLA has no shortage of veteran leaders on the first or second team. If nothing else, it’s a mature group, which is going to help the progress of Abele and some of the other young kids.
Weakness: Run blocking. The Bruins have been, to put it bluntly, brutal on the ground the last few seasons, finishing 116th in 2008 and 97th last fall. The backs can shoulder some of the blame, but so should an offensive line that has trouble creating daylight and too often gets beaten at the point of attack.
Outlook: In place of an overnight transformation, UCLA might have to settle for another season of baby steps up front. It’s a creaky unit that lacks a slam dunk all-star on either side of center or much of an attitude. With so much youth at the skill positions, it’s imperative for this group to elevate the overall level of its play.