My post-camp unit by unit grades of our 2009 Bruins continues with the receivers and offensive line. Yesterday, we took a look at the quarterbacks, who I graded a C+, while at the moment, the overwhelming majority of BN readers have assigned the group a C. What will the UCLA pass catchers grade in at? Here's a hint...it's high.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Without a doubt, the receivers/tight ends offer UCLA the best combination of experience, youth, depth, talent and game breaking talent. Simply put, this is the Bruins' best unit. If you want some experience, there's Terrance Austin. How about a game breaking talent with speed that can't be taught? Say hello to Randall Carroll. Whose route running skills can only be described as machine like and has no problem going over the middle or anywhere on the field to act as the chain mover? That would be Taylor Embree. How about a big body who can go up and get it in the red zone? Gavin Ketchum, come on down. There's Morrell Presley, the freak athlete as well and Ricky Marvray, a freshman like Presley and Carroll, who exceeded all expectations in training camp and is forcing coaches into a touch decision regarding redshirts. There's still the big bodied, big threat sophomores Nelson Rosario, Antwon Moutra with redshirt freshman Jerry Johnson making a name for himself. Oh yeah, I didn't mention the proven commodities at tight end in Ryan Moya and Logan Paulsen, both of whom could play on Sundays. Needless to say, there are options in the receiving game.
We already know what we're going to get from Terrance Austin in the receiving game. The wideout, who announced his decision to attend UCLA four years ago at the Army All-American Game and is a Long Beach Poly alum, his shifty and quick. He runs his routes well and while he's not the big body you sometimes see going up and battling for balls 50 yards downfield, he can quickly turn a catch 15 yards downfield into a 70 yard touchdown with how quickly he gets his hips turned up field and his ability to make people miss. Bringing back your top receiver never hurts and that's what UCLA has in Austin. UCLA also knows what it has in Ketchum, a senior who had a horrid start to camp. A week into camp, I was seriously considering the possibility of seeing Ketchum sixth or seventh on the UCLA depth chart and not traveling with the team. Ketchum stepped it up late in camp though and showed why he can be an asset to the Bruins. His size and knowledge of how to use it makes him dangerous in the red zone, either going up and getting the ball or shielding off defenders as he comes across the middle. Prince and Ketchum still aren't quite on the same page though as they miscommunicated a number of times throughout camp.
UCLA has lacked the ability to stretch the field in recent years. There's been some speed, but not jaw dropping speed. If a 4.3 40 and two-time high school 100 and 200 meter state champion sprinter doesn't make your jaw drop though then you may want to check your pulse and give up your seat at the Rose Bowl because there are plenty of others who would like a glimpse at Carroll. Carroll has speed that makes coaches drool and opposing DB's cry. While he still has a lot of refinement to do as a receiver (he had a case of the dropsies at times in camp and his route running is mediocre at best), he's an athlete that can put six on the board at any time and that's the type of player you make sure to get the ball to. Expect Carroll to be used on reverses, wide receiver screens and anything else imaginable because Carroll is exactly what UCLA defense have seen for years now, but only in games and never in practice. Fellow freshman Marvray doesn't have quite the same speed nor did he have the hype that Carroll had on the recruiting circuit. He was widely acknowledged as a good player because well, that's what a 5'11'' receiver without burning speed is known as, but Marvray has a special something. Last year when practice go-ers saw Embree, you saw he had that special something. It's a feel for the game. The way the field opens up for him and he always finds himself open. While it can be described as luck the first few times it happens, when it becomes regular then it's that special something. With plenty of receivers on the roster, Marvray may be redshirted and that would probably be the prudent route with available snaps at a minimum.
There's a trio of second-year receivers UCLA who are all big and can run. Moutra, Rosario and Johnson are all at least 6'2'', with Rosario checking in at 6'5''. They all have enough speed to get downfield and they all have a year under their belt, either as sophomores like Moutra and Rosario or as a redshirt freshman like Johnson. The one thing that all three need to work on is how to use their size though. Too often they don't shield their defender with their body and get balls knocked down. Too often they don't come down with high, long passes despite having pounds and inches on their opponent. Too often they go back to last year when they were freshmen and lose focus. Just when they frustrate you though, they make a play that wows you. Johnson is the least physically talented of the three, but shows the most hunger. Rosario is the biggest and has the most potential, but Moutra can bust a big one unlike the other two. All three have potential, but are short on results. The good thing for them is they're only one year into their time in Westwood and have time to prove themselves.
All three of the second-year receivers or really any receiver on the roster can take a page or two out of Embree's book. The Bruins haven't have a wideout who runs such precise routes in years and there are few with the reliable hands and willingness to take a hit of Embree either. Let's also remember that this is mister half-star. One recruiting website gave him one star, while the other gave him no stars out of high school. The son of a football coach sure plays like one though and he quickly developed a bond with Prince as the two spent plenty of practice time talking, then reps beating the defense for eight, ten or 12 yard chunks.
Presley is listed as a tight end and will likely be one before he leaves Westwood, but the majority of his freshman year will be spent away from the line and without his hand on the ground. Presley needs to put on some weight before he even thinks about pushing a defensive end or even linebacker around, but on the outside, he is a mismatch waiting to happen. While small for a tight end right now, no DB is contending with 6'4'' 220 lbs. and no linebacker can run with the guy. Toss in his huge vertical and you can see why he spent a lot of practice time on fades. He will be on the field a lot in the redzone and he should be a terror down the seam at midfield forcing safeties to pinch, thus opening up the deep ball.
The two tight ends who will get the most time can do it all. Moya and Paulsen are known commodities. They can block, which this team will need them to do, but they can also prove to be useful outlets for a quarterback with little experience who will be under pressure. Both have had injury problems so health could be an issue, as could fumbles. Paulsen is the tougher of the two and he was knocking heads in practice, especially when freed up to hit linebackers on running plays. Moya meanwhile was doing well on quick outs and turning upfield to pick up yards after the catch. If the two can stay healthy, it will do wonders to have that type of talent and experience on the field.
Grade: A I'm not going to bother researching the depth chart of every Pac-10 team's wideouts and tight ends, but I can't imagine another team having such a mix of strength, speed, experience, refinement and every other good work you can think of to describe receivers. I'll go with stupendousness. On a team of worry after worry, here's one unit to have confidence in.