The entire offense has been graded and it doesn't look so bad. The results won't lead you to believe that we'll have an explosive offense and that's because we won't, but you can see mediocrity across the board for the most part and after last season, I'll take mediocrity. The quarterbacks got a C+, the receivers and tight ends an A, the running backs and fullbacks a B+ and the offensive line a C-. Not so bad. Now we go to to the defensive side where there is elite talent at the top in some spots, but little to no depth in just as many spots.
Any defensive line that has Brian Price in the middle is going to make its fair share of plays, but one player alone cannot make every play and its the play of the other three along the defensive line that brings a shred of doubt into the mind of UCLA fans. You know what you're going to get from Price. The massive, agile, strong and tough junior defensive tackle from Crenshaw High School will be double teamed, but hold at the point of contact, shed his man and get on the ball carrier against the run. Against the pass, he will command double teams, but will be able to create a push up the middle to create an uncomfortable situation for the opposing quarterback as his pocket collapses. If they're double teaming Price though, opposing teams clearly respect him enough to avoid running at him regularly and will assign as many necessary to block him in the passing game. That means the other three guys along the front four will have to make plays because the opportunities will be there.
As we head into the season, the other starting defensive tackle position is held by Jerzy Siewierski, a senior who has played better than expected this camp and has given the coaching staff some comfort in the level of play next to Price. Siewierski has shown improved strength that has allowed him to hold the point much better and create problems for the offense. In the passing game, he hasn't quite gotten to the level where he's bringing down the quarterback, but he's moving the pocket and causing confusion in the backfield so the opposing quarterbacks are often moving into the path of other defensive players. The top two of the UCLA defensive tackles looks strong, but behind them there are serious questions.
Jess Ward was having a good camp, but his knee injury leaves his play in doubt for 2009. Whether he can regain the form he showed in camp before his injury will be one of UCLA's biggest questions heading into the season. Reggie Stokes is another guy who was having a good camp, especially with his intensity and motor before falling victim to injury. His injury is more serious than Ward and he may be back by midseason, but only in a best-case scneario. If Ward and Stokes are still injured or does not regain his form, the even more responsibility will fall to David Carter, who had a sensational camp to go from near afterthought to trust member of the defensive tackle rotation. Carter showed a better motor than he had before and was able to establish leverage on a more regular basis despite being 6'5''. Carter should be a force in the running game with his size and improved handwork that allows him to shed blocks well, but the next step for him will be to pressure the quarterback.
The depth at defensive tackle is so poor right now that a pair of offensive linemen, Sean Sheller and Connor Bradford were moved to the position to give the Bruins some depth in camp. Andy Keane and Justin Mann are ahead of the two converted offensive linemen on the depth chart, but are closer to those two converts than they are to the rest of the tackles. Both really struggled in camp and will be called upon this season so they have limited time to make vast improvements.
The end position is another position that is rather strong at the top, although not as strong as at tackle, but with little depth, although a little better than tackle. Starting at ends is one guy with plenty of experience and another with plenty of talent. The one with plenty of experience, Korey Bosworth, is a redshirt senior and does have some talent to go with that experience. He led the Bruins in sacks last year and was second in tackles for loss so much is expected of him in his final year at UCLA. He will provide the Bruins an outstanding end and after a strong camp in which he was often on the quarterback off the edge, the only concern is when teams choose to run right at him. The super talented end is Datone Jones. What he lacks in experience (he's a sophomore), he makes up for in athletic ability, which he has in spades.The question for Jones is how he handles himself not in one-on-one situations, but when he's asked to twist or stunt. In one-on-one situations in camp, Jones was a terror as he used his speed to get off the edge and while he wasn't great against the run, he was able to get into the backfield with some regularity. When asked to work more within the team structure, he often got lost and dominated. When backs picked him out of the backfield, he was often slow to react and taken out. When tight ends rubbed him on the line, he was knocked backwards. He'll need to deal with those if he's to be a trusted every down end, but that could come with experience.
Damien Holmes will also be used off the end and while he doesn't have great physical tools, he has a never ending motor. Time and time again, Holmes would be originally outplayed by an offensive lineman, but would eventually make his way downfield, across field or into the backfield late in a play to make a tackle. Against the run, Holmes was often outmatched in the strength department, but used great handwork to shed blocks and get in position to make a tackle. He's a crafty guy with a great attitude that allows him to play above his tools. With so little depth, Stokes could slide over to end when he returns from injury and little talked about Ian Davis could get time, Davis doesn't quite have the strength to play on the defensive lins o he would be vulnerable against the run, but he has some wheels so if he were to be used only in passing downs, the Bruins might be able to get away with it. Otherwise Iuta Tepa, a freshman who would probably be best served redshirting, may be forced into action.
Grade: B- The starters on this defensive line would be worthy of a B+ or even A- with the quality all the way across and player who can dominate a game like Brian Price, but the depth is a major concern. If the defensive line can all stay healthy, this unit can be close to an A, but this is D-1 football, no unit stays healthy for an entire year and the depth on this unit will be tested, unfortunately.