Receivers: Who Will Step Up?

Let’s finish up my notes on our offense by going through the current depth chart of our wide receivers and TEs. Just like the running back position, these are two units which will be stacked with options. Some of the receivers who are returning from last season could emerge as reliable options, while there is also some exciting potential among the newcomers in this year’s freshman class. The question here again is who is going to step up, adapting to the new coaching regime, and taking advantage of Chow’s offensive scheme.

So here is how the depth chart looked at the end of this year’s spring ball:

SE FL TE
19 Dominique Johnson (6-3, 208, So.**)(3) 9 Marcus Everett (6-1, 212, Sr,**(1)
86 Logan Paulsen (6-6, 252, Sr.)(13)
10 Gavin Ketchum (6-5, 209, Jr.**) 4 Terrence Austin (5-10, 160, Jr.)
15 Ryan Moya (6-4, 229, Jr.**)
2 Ryan Graves (6-1, 167, Sr.**) 82 Taylor Embree (6-4,195, Fr.)
89 Nate Chandler (6-3, 265, Fr.**)
27 Ryal Jagd (6-3, 187, Fr.**)^
6 Jamil Turner (6-1, 204, Jr**) 81 Glenn Rauscher (6-3, 223, Fr.**)^
35 David Martini (6-1, 197, 197, Fr.**)^
26 Michael Angelo (6-1,191, Jr.**)^
88 Alex Pearlstone (6-0, 204, Fr.**)^
21 Ben Bruneau (6-0, 204, Fr.**)^

*noted red-shirt and ^ denotes walkon

At first blush, it looks like a pretty deep rotation (without taking into account the newcomers from this year’s class). However, let’s take a close look at the numbers from this past season:

Rec Yds YPR Long TD
Dominique Johnson
25 322 12.9 42 4
Terrance Austin
17 248 14.6 57 0
Logan Paulsen
12 144 12.0 36 1
Marcus Everett
10 134 13.4 50 0
Gavin Ketchum
5 51 10.2 23 1
Ryan Graves 3 20 6.7 9 0
Jamil Turner
1 13 13.0 13 0

 

Those numbers are kind of grim. None of these guys were in the Pac-10 leader boards in terms of receptions and receiving yards. Among last year’s UCLA receivers only Brandon Breazell found himself in the Pac-10 leader boards, finishing 9th in receiving yds/game (51 rec., 810 yards, 62.3 yds/game). We didn’t have a single WR in Pac-10’s top-10. [See 2007 Pac-10 stats]

Yet, among the returning guys there are few who showed ability make plays. We will start with Marcus Everett who is another Bruin who will be trying to make a comeback from an injury plagued season. During his time here Marcus has shown he can be a player. He has shown that in number of games (headlined by the Notre Dame game in South Bend and the 13-9 two years ago) that he can make those money catches. He is one of those key seniors who is part of CRN’s revitalization plan. The question around Marcus is whether he can stay healthy and step up to be a consistent performer.

Consistency will also be the key issue for Dominique Johnson and Gavin Kethcum. Johnson has the size and athletic tools for emerging as a key target for UCLA QB. Again we have seen what this kid can do. But like Everett, Dominique will have to show he can step up in a consistent basis.

Gavin Ketchum also has all the physical tool to emerge as a dependable receiver in Chow’s offense. He didn’t get a lot of opportunities during the previous regime. So hopefully he will make the best of out of the opportunities presented by the arrival of new coaching staff, and earn himself a spot in the rotation through hard work this off season and the Fall camp.

Now, Everett, Johnson, and Kethchum are "possession" type of receivers. Among the returining receiving corps, the guy who has the potential to use pure speed to emerge as a game breaking is Terrance Austin. Terrance was one of the most highly recruited WR. He was the headliner in Dorrell’s 2006 recruiting class. However, coaches from previous regime was never able to take advantage of his talent and put him in position to be successful (well that goes for most of the offense). Let’s hope heading into his third year at UCLA, Austin finally experiences a breakthrough. As noted during spring practice reports Austin, Everett, and other wide receivers are finding their options in Chow’s offense to be simpler (per Dohn’s notes this past spring):

It used to be UCLA's receivers had two choices on a pass play - run the designed route, or a go-route. It was a source of frustration in a complex, confining system under former coach Karl Dorrell.

Now, when a receiver stands at the line of scrimmage, his job is the look at the defensive backs and one of the linebackers, then choose from a variety of route options off a simple read.

It is simplistic, UCLA's receivers say, but new offensive coordinator Norm Chow's offense provides plenty of freedom.

"The way the play is designed, it's easier to determine which route to do," Bruins receiver Terrence Austin said.

"How it was last year, it was like, `OK, I got two and that's it.' There could have been an alternative route, but it was just not designed in the play. The routes given now are more instinctual. You don't have to think about it. It's common sense."

UCLA fifth-year receiver Marcus Everett said there are at least two or three variations on routes for each play, with go-routes also in the equation.

"We have a couple of read routes where we can do one route, or if the defensive back plays a certain way, we can do another route," Everett said. "It gives a lot of leeway to the receivers. As long as the quarterback and the receivers are on the same page, it'll be a good thing."

Well the phrase – "on the same page" – gives me nightmares in the context of UCLA football (from last few years). However, it has sounded different in the context of Ben Ball. Let’s hope after all these years of mediocre coaching, Chow and Neuheisel’s leadership finally establishes a strong foundation for our WRs and rest of the offense, which will not make it such a challenge for everyone to get "on the same page" every years.

As for rest of the depth chart in terms of WRs, not sure how much we can expect from Ryan Graves and Jamil Turner. I think they will get a chance to make some plays here and there, but they will have to show remarkable development from last spring, to make an impression this Fall.

They will have to show the same kind of impression Taylor Embree made this past Spring:
Springfootball

Photo Credit: Jack Rosenfeld

So keep an eye on number 82, the son of former Bruin assistant Jon Embree had an impressive spring camp during which observers noted "his high level concentration and his hands." I imagine if Embree continues on the same path, he will have a chance to make meaningful contributions this upcoming season.

Now let’s get to the new comers. And all eyes will be on Nelson Rosario. And for a little intro here is a little bio from a tv station from San Diego (his hometown) which ran before his senior season:

 

Rosario went on to have senior season that earned him All American honors (SuperPrep) and ranked as one of the best wide receivers in the country. He has the height 6-6. He has the speed and has shown good ability to run his routes. The question around him whether he has put on some weight to go with that 6-6 frame. He was listed at 6-6, 218 per his scout.com bio. Lot of eyes are going to be on him this Fall camp.

Fall campers will also keep an eye on Antwon Moutra and Jerry Johnson. According to Dohn Antwon has been getting "rave reviews" from team-mates. Dohn has gone ga ga over Moutra!

I was on hand for another of UCLA's 7-on-7 passing days Tuesday, and several newcomers continue to standout. One is speedy receiver Antwan Moutra, who is now drawing double coverage because of his ability to get down the field.
The buzz is Moutra should give the Bruins something they lacked recently -- a downfield threat with big-play ability.

Dohn added his caveat about how the observation was based on 7-on-7 drills but he is trying to base it by comparing to his notes from previous season.  Again I should caution folks that although that kind of report is always encouraging, I think we should temper our expectations and wait to see how he performs in the Fall camp. According to scout.com’s bio Johnson has "adequate speed but runs good routes." He seems to have the size (per his bio at least) to perhaps compete for playing time right away. But I guess we will have to wait and see how he performs this Fall camp as well.

Let’s move over to TE, a position that hasn’t gotten much attention since the departure of Marcedes Lewis. Logan Paulsen has most experience out of any of receivers in terms of starting games from last year. He has the potential to emerge as a key contributor in this offense provided he gets the opportunity in Chow’s scheme. Given how Chow’s simplistic offensive scheme is based around slicing and dicing up the opposing defenses based on what they give the offense, there is a good chance Paulsen and rest of our TEs will be called upon a lot this coming season. Ryan Moya is another Bruin bidding to make a strong comeback (seems to be a theme? Doesn’t it? We have already hit that note with Carter at RB and Everett at FL) at the TE spot.

As all of you know by now Chandler is being moved over to the OL, which means freshmen Corey Harkey will most like step into the rotation this Fall. Here is the note from Dohn few days ago where he noted "Harkey has the ability to be UCLA's next great tight end once he gets acclimated to college". That was based on an observation from a player in the team. Again, let’s hope the promises of potential seen during these 7-on-7 drills materializes during Fall camp and the actual games.

So all in all, wrapping up my notes on offense, seems like we do have some decent (but unproven and in some cases totally inexperienced) talent at WR and RB position in our offense. Our coaches will no doubt do everything they can to patch up an injury ravaged OL and do what they can to protect an injury riddled BO, while trying to bring up our young QBs up to speed as efficient game managers. To say that this will be an enormous challenge is an understatement. There is a reason why seasoned analysts and experts are channeling BN in terms of expectations. Again we should keep in mind how these are all kids who are experiencing their 4th OC in as many seasons.

However, as many have observed already on BN, for the first time in years there is a sense of hope. We will see if our players will be able to step up. There is a sense of hope that our coaches will do everything they can to make sure the right scheme in place putting our players in position to succeed. For the first time since Cade’s departure I am excited about our offense (while mindful about the challenges noted last few days). Should be fun. We will take a break from the depth chart analysis for a bit and get back to it with a look at our defensive side in few days.

GO BRUINS.

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