Let's start our Saturday football roundup with the tough news on Nik Abele. UCLA announced late yesterday afternoon (evening for those of us out in East) that rising sophomore OT is retiring football medical reasons. Specifically Nik is leaving the game "due to medical issues related to his neck" (via email from UCLA):
"Nik is devastated that he can no longer play football, but his long-term future is more important," said Neuheisel. "Nik is a great young man and we want him to remain involved with our program, both on and off the field, and continue to go to school to earn his degree."
Since Abele is retiring from competition due to medical reasons, Abele will remain on scholarship while enrolled at UCLA but not count against the team limits.
Before we even contemplate the impact on our OL depth, let's all wish Nik luck. This was absolutely the right decision. Nik is going to be successful on whatever he pursues given the education he is going to get from UCLA. The most important deal for him is his long term health and it is good to see both Nik and UCLA coaching staff recognizing that right away.
Now in terms of OL depth, losing Nik is tough. Yet I don't see any reason for panic or the typical "woe is me" Red Soxian mindset (prior to 2004) among UCLA football fans. This is how our OL depth chart shaped up following spring practice:
|Micah Kia (6-5, 331, Sr.)||Jeff Baca (6-4, 307, Jr.) (13)||Kai Maiava (6-1, 300, Jr.**) (12)||Eddie Williams (6-1, 327, Sr.) (6)||Mike Harris (6-5, 331, Jr.**) (13)|
|Sean Sheller (6-5, 290, Sr.**)||Stan Hasiak (6-5, 315, So.)||Ryan Taylor (6-3, 300, Sr.**) (2 at RG)||Greg Capella (6-4, 320, Fr.**)|
|Brett Downey (6-7, 298, So.**)|
Micah Kia was in red-shirt most of the spring practice. However, he is most likely the favorite to get the starting bid at LT given his size and experience. Sean Sheller by all account had a great spring and is in good shape to compete for the starting spot or emerge as the backup option at LT. Wade Yandall enrolled early as a true frosh and hung in there according to our coaching staff. He will have a real shot to compete for one of the tackle positions.
Darius Savage (6-4, 330) also sat out spring practice due to recovering from back surgery. He is another experienced candidate at the guard position. Also note we have two more freshmen coming in next season. Kody Innes (6-5, 273), from Saguaro HS in Scottsdale, AZ and Chris Ward (6-5, 300) from Santa Ana, CA Mater Dei will get a legit shot at making the 2 deep at RT positions. Is it ideal that we will have freshman competing to make 2 deep? Not really. However, that's the price we are paying for Karl Dorrell essentially setting this program back for almost a decade by wrecking talent depth all over this program.
Still, I don't see any reason for getting too worked up over losing Abele for few others reasons. More on that and other notes (including exposing of Trogan Adam Maya's relentless hackish, snarky BS reporting on UCLA football after the jump).
IMHO it will take another recruiting class or two to completely recover from Dorrell's wreckage at OL. In the meantime, I think the UCLA coaches will manage with who we have in our current depth chart and the reinforcements coming in (frosh and recovered veterans) this summer. Meantime, the situation at OL is a big reason why CRN and Norm Chow worked to implement the revolver formation this spring.
The traditional media has been skeptical of UCLA integrating the new formation into their base offense. For, i.e. here is a rather bland take from Ted Miller:
The revolver will evolve: While the new "revolver" offense -- read: Nevada's pistol -- wasn't a smashing success, coach Rick Neuheisel and coordinator Norm Chow believe adopting some spread-option elements will add productive wrinkles to the offense, which will burden an opposing defense's preparation. Quarterback Kevin Prince ran something similar in high school and is a good athlete. Will it become the base offense? We'll see.
There is also the snarky, BS laden, ignorant one from a Trogan hack like Adam Maya (we are going to stop linking to this doofus who has essentially become the Adam Rose of the OC Register's "UCLA Blog"):
After 15 practices, the reality is UCLA still has a long way to go in finding an offensive identity. Come fall, the Bruins are more likely to pull the pistol out of their back pocket than shoot straight from the hip. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)
Coach Rick Neuheisel contests the decision to work almost exclusively out of the shotgun-based formation this spring was a success because UCLA ran the ball better. That's true, so long as you define better to mean the run game improved about five percent.
It's not like the Bruins are now a running team. They still figure to rely on the passing game to move the chains. But with the pistol they were often able to get the yards they needed, especially in short-yardage situations.
Perhaps you'd feel good about their prospects in the pistol if they had a quarterback better suited for it. Kevin Prince added weight and improved his footwork coming into spring and yet he's totally miscast for this role. He's athletic, but not running-quarterback athletic (only the most notable advantage this offense provides). He is in the mold of a Patrick Cowan, whereas an ideal fit would be a Jeremiah Masoli, or even a Jake Locker. Prince's durability was a non-issue this spring since quarterbacks basically go untouched. That won't be the case in the fall.
Hmm. It's a little hilarious to see this Trogan hack to conclude that Kevin Prince doesn't pose the threat of being a running QB. He somehow missed the fact that Prince did improve his speed this off-season and flashed his legit scrambling ability in more than few occasions, including a long TD scamper against Washington State.
What a hack like Maya and traditional reporters like Miller are missing is that Chow and Neuheisel are going to use the revolver formation next season is that it will immensely help out our OL, which still needs infusion of another class or two of OL talent to get where we need to be as a totally healthy program. In the traditional pro-set offense Chow has been running in Westwood, UCLA was mostly using a man-to-man blocking scheme with its OL. However, Neuheisel and Chow realize that UCLA doesn't have the same talent at OL that Palcic had in Wisconsin. So they are going to use revolver formation that will have UCLA going to more of a zone blocking scheme.
For those who paid attention to the entire 15 practices, they know that OL was pretty pleased with the new scheme. It consistently opened holes for Bruin RBs and even Coach Palcic (who is hard to please) was feeling good about the state of his OL (even after Abele had gone down). And from what I have seen at practices, the beat writers are not exactly the most attentive bunch. These guys essentially clown around and talk among themselves instead of studying what is going on at practice field (and hence you end up getting BS laden takens from hacks like Maya who seems to be using the OC Register anyway to push a certain agenda to undermine CRN's program).
Anyway, to sum it all up the Abele news is tough. Most importantly we should be happy that Nik is making the right decision. I am sure he is sad about not continuing with what could have been a promising football career. But there are lot more important things to life than just football and no matter what he will always be part of the Bruin family. Meanwhile, UCLA football is going to be all right and I think our OL will respond to the challenge and take another step or two from its incremental improvement from this past season.