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Bruin Football: On Pace For Steady Progress

I want to pick up on the observation Ryan made last night at the very end of his post on next year's schedule. There is no question right now that Bruin football program is on the rise. The issue is though how far we are going to rise next season and whether we will stay on pace to get back to being a program that will regularly contend for Pac-10 titles (and possibly national championships every now and then) by Neuehisel's fifth season in Westwood. There were couple of articles following the bowl game that took a sneak peak into next year's personnel and pointed to the issues the team will have to deal with next season. Thankfully the coaches are not making any excuses about it.

Before we look into the key issue for next year, I do think it is important to acknowledge the progress the football program made this season. Before the season started pretty much the unanimous expectation for this team was a 6-7 win season and an appearance in the bowl game (not going to bother linking this point since have it done it numerous times in recent weeks). OC Register's Al Balderas noted that Neuheisel went about achieving this objective by opening up all spots for competition during spring and fall camps this past season:

Neuheisel's decision to go with Prince reverberated through the UCLA locker room. No position was safe. Neuheisel was going look at each week of practice as 22 separate competitions, putting the top performers on the field for Saturday's games.

"We're going to have competition," Neuheisel repeated throughout the season. "We're going to play the guy who plays the best in practice."

And then concluded Neuheisel's approach achieved his goals:

Neuheisel's approach was intended to accomplish two things. Improvement was first, and setting the groundwork for the future was the second. It appears the Bruins reached both goals.

UCLA finished the regular season with a 6-6 record and played in its first bowl game in three seasons. Though the EagleBank Bowl doesn't have the same ring, history or prestige as the Rose Bowl, the Bruins knew they had to start someplace.

"This is a start," Neuheisel said after the Bruins beat Temple, 30-21, in the EagleBank Bowl. "The pendulum was sitting right in the middle. We were 6-6 and this was going to determine what kind of season we had in the eyes of a lot of people who don't pay as close attention as maybe we do."

The horizon should project more of the same. The defense will be getting closer looks from the coaching staff as it tries to rebuild from the loss of defensive tackle Brian Price, defensive end Korey Bosworth, cornerback Alterraun Verner and linebackers Reggie Carter and Kyle Bosworth.

Well speaking of the horizon, it is going to be very interesting to see what transpires during this recruiting season (going in right now and lasting for another 3-4 weeks) and spring game. We have some serious depth issues in our front-7 (primarily at DL) at this snap shot of time. The coaches are working over time right now to look for DL/DE recruits from all over the country. I am sure they are also going to take a look at the personnel available in our roster and perhaps make some adjustments as well. So it will be intriguing to say the least how the depth chart shapes up at the end of spring ball and how it evolves through fall camp. More on this after the jump.

Here is what Coach Neuheisel said about the personnel issues he will have to address during the off season:

"It's going to be a definite challenge to get all those guys replaced and to play the same kind of consistent defense and even try to improve," Neuheisel said.

"That's going to be a tall order. We'll have to do a great job in the offseason of not only evaluating our talent but our scheme."

As usual he is being positive. Those comments were taken from Jon Gold's initial outlook on next season who made the following observations on our interior defensive line, which is being "hit the hardest" by this transition as David Carter (junior) is the only player returning with extensive playing experience:

The Bruins have junior Andy Keane and sophomore Justin Edison waiting in the wings, with two verbal commitments in Bellevue (Wash.) High's Julious Moore and Fresno Edison's Wesley Flowers.

They hope to land a major defensive tackle who can play immediately, such as Brighton (Utah) High's Ricky Heimuli. Freshmen Iuta Tepa, Keenan Graham and Damien Holmes will likely compete for the defensive end spot opposite Datone Jones.

Hmm. I am not sure we can be comforted with the idea of Andy Keane and Edison "waiting in the wings." Both of them are great kids but Bruin defense will need lot more than those guys.  Those guys were also barely ahead of converted OL Sean Sheller and Connor Bradford, who were moved over during Fall camp last season. I haven't heard anything indicating those guys will be ready to step in next year. Perhaps they will be but just haven't heard anything from reliable sources.

Getting Heimuli would be a big get. It will be tough to get him though. Brandon Willis is still publicly indicating that he is down to UNC and UCLA (after decommitting from Tennessee) however the rumors (and apparently his facebook although I haven't seen it) indicates that he is heading to Chapel Hill. Other kids to keep track of include names such as Sealii Epenesa (HI) and Fred Thompson (Oakland, CA).

In terms of adding more depth to this position perhaps the coaches might want to think about making moves such as shifting Nate Chandler to the defensive side? Chandler is already around 6-5, 270. Remember he was also tried out at OL for a bit early in his freshman year. I think he appears to be someone who has that mean, nasty streak that could be perfect for DL. Other ideas of adjustment could be to get Damien Holmes to work his rear end off add another 15-20 lbs to his frame (he is around 6-3, 260 right now) and move him over to DL. Lastly, to think really outside the box Jayson Allmond is a red-shirt freshman around 6-0 and 260lbs. Apparently he is also a tough football player who loves to mix it up. I don't think Chow will let him out of his FB spot. But who knows, he could be an option to move over to DL, and then coaches can have Derrick Coleman take over at the FB spot (making room for Jones and James next season). Those are of course just ideas to think about. Like I said it is going to be very interesting to see how the coaches deal with the situation in next few weeks.

Of course there are other spots that will be interesting to keep an eye on during the off season as well. Both Gold and Balderas went over them in their overview pieces linked above. Some of the issues I will try to keep note of during spring game will include:

  • Reports on Richard Brehaut re. whether he has a better handle on the playbook
  • Aah, speaking of the playbook, will be looking forward to reading the reports and first hand observations on Carroll and Pressley
  • Keeping an eye on the health of Eddie Williams, Ryan Taylor and Micah Kia. I have heard that Kia might have some back issues but haven't seen it in print anywhere
  • Reports on young LBers who redshirted this year such as Todd Golper and Isiah Bowens. I have heard Golper has looked pretty solid with the scout team this season but haven't read anything on record anywhere
  • Need to keep an eye on updates on Taniela Maka - last year's LB recruit - who is still working to get academically eligible. If Maka makes it in, he might make an immediate impact in terms of breaking into two deep
  • Reports on Ebele and Capella, two OL I have heard pretty good reviews about in the background without seeing much on paper. I think those guys have a chance to provide much needed depth on OL.
  • Speaking of OL, the Hasiak story is not over yet and there is a chance of a happy ending. Not sure how good of chance that is but the story is not over yet. Stay tuned.

I am sure there are number of other details that we will all keep an eye on in the coming weeks. I do think recruiting is going to be fun to follow heading into signing day. Plus college football is all about transition. Instead of making excuses about it Neuheisel embraced it following the bowl game:

"That's the beauty of college football - that there are those transitions," Neuheisel said. "Where young guys become old guys and followers become leaders. That's all healthy. We have guys there who are very equipped to take that next step."

Looking forward to how Neuheisel navigates through it in the coming weeks. Despite the (expected) up and downs, it's been a fun ride so far and it's clear the football program is on pace for steady progress.