Unfortunately for UCLA, always-reliable Kai Forbath is no longer wearing the blue-and-gold in Westwood (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
After walking through both the offensive and defensive units, we finally wrap this post-spring breakdown with a look at how our Bruins' special teams' depth chart has shaken out following spring practices. During the last decade of UCLA football mediocrity, we've had at times, offensive firepower coupled with defensive problems or a solid defense saddled with an inept offense.
We've seen the offense clicking (mostly due to MJD, Drew O., and Marcedes) but we've also seen an offense that make the Little Sister of Poor look like an offensive juggernaut (read: the Law Firm at QB). We've had swarming, attacking defenses anchored by NFL talents (guys like Dave Ball, Brian Price, Bruce Davis, Spencer Havner, and of course, Rahim Moore), but we've also had soft, bend-and-break defenses run by lame "defensive coordinators" without a clue (read: Chucky B.).
The one constant throughout, however, was our special teams play. We've generally always had dependable legs on the roster (Chris Kluwe, Aaron Perez, Justin Medlock, Jeff Locke, and of course, Kai Forbath), a very dependable long snapper (Christian Yount immediately comes to mind), and decent, if unspectacular return men (with the exception of the past few seasons). This year, special teams is in flux. Here's how it looks following spring:
|PLACE KICKER||PUNTER||KICKOFFS||LONG SNAPPER||HOLDER|
|Jeff Locke or Kip Smith||Jeff Locke||Jeff Locke||Kevin McDermott||Jeff Locke|
|Kip Smith||Kip Smith||Alex Mascarenas|
|KICKOFF RETURN||PUNT RETURN|
|Josh Smith or Taylor Embree or Jordon James||Taylor Embree|
|Josh Smith or Jordon James|
Let's take one last leap over the jump for post-spring analysis.
In terms of kicking field goals, it's going to be next-to-impossible to replace Kai Forbath. Kai was automatic, even from distance, which one suspects made Neuheisel more conservative and willing to go for 3 points rather than playing to win by going for it on fourth down situations in enemy territory. Right now, the fact that Kip Smith hasn't out-right won the job he was recruited for is a bit concerning. Locke is the punter and, if you look at when we went after a kicker, it's clear Smith was meant to be Kai's replacement. He'll need to step up his game and claim the top FG spot as his own. All-in-all, losing Kai is a major blow for UCLA, which is compounded by the fact that offense already struggles to put any kind of points on the scoreboard.
Jeff Locke returns as the punter: a very solid, dependable punter with good distance and height. The Bruins, once again, look strong here. Although, given the number of times our offense stalled this last season, I'm sure Locke has gotten plenty of reps in for punting. Likewise, Locke will return next fall as the team's kickoff specialist, a role he excelled in as a high school stand-out. It'll be critical for him to deliver the ball deep in enemy territory (and/or force an increased number of touchbacks) to give the defense as much field to defend as possible.
Moving on to the return duties, although the depth chart has Josh Smith and Taylor Embree listed as the starting kickoff and punt returners, don't expect both of them to hold on to the job by the end of the season. Since kickoffs weren't practiced during spring, it's still a position in flux, with Jordon James figuring to challenger Smith for the job. As to punt returns, practice reports indicate that the coaching staff rotated Smith, Embree, and James on an even basis. For now, the staff has Embree penciled in as starting, but since he's pretty much only good to fair catch, Neuheisel will need to inject some energy back there: that's why Jordon "the Joystick" James is likely to get some of the punt return action, especially given his running ability and excellent hands. Simply put, Rick has to make a change at punt returner. He can't gamble on playing it safe this year: either he puts up results or he'll likely be on the fast track out of Westwood.
With that, we've wrapped up our post-spring practices analysis of the official depth chart. Fire away with your depth chart thoughts.