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Spring Football: Thoughts On UCLA's Receivers/Tight Ends

Let's shift our attention to our receivers and tight ends. Heading into spring ball the depth chart in these positions look pretty good.  We did lost Terrence Austin from this group but we are getting back two guys who had more than 40 receptions this season and a handful of talented athletes who will hopefully make some moves during spring ball and coming season.

Yet as good as I feel about these guys, note that our receivers/tight end positions were looking pretty solid heading into last season. We were all excited about Nelson Rosario possibly emerging as a J.J. Stokes type of weapon in his second year at UCLA. The light bulb seemed to go on for him during that fourth quarter against Oregon State. Since that point he ended up having a pretty good year, except for lack luster performance against Southern Cal. As for the other guys the incoming freshmen we were all excited about - kids like Randall Carroll and Morrell Presley - had their struggles adapting to Norm Chow's scheme and generally adjusting in their first year as college freshman.  As we head into this spring camp, the hope is guys like Carroll, Presley and other young talents will take another step and be ready to make meaningful contributions next season.

Here is how the depth chart is set heading into this spring for our receivers and TEs:

Nelson Rosario (6-5, 216, Jr.) (2) Taylor Embree (6-3, 207, Jr.) (12) Cory Harkey (6-5, 262, Jr.) (3)
Jerry Johnson (6-4, 208, So.**) Josh Smith (6-0, 203, Jr.**) Joseph Fauria (6-7, 259, So.**)
Randall Carroll (5-10, 184, So.) Ricky Marvray (5-11, 188, Fr.**) Morrell Presley (6-4, 220, So.) (1)
Jerry Rice, Jr. (5-11, 202, Fr.**) Antwon Moutra (6-2, 197, Jr.)

** notes redshirt season
() number of games started

CRN offered up the following thoughts on WRs:

"This group has a nice combination of experienced talent and youthful potential," said the head coach. "Taylor and Nelson each had outstanding seasons for us a year ago. Jerry and Antwon are not far off from joining them in the rotation. Our young receivers, Randall and Ricky, continue to develop and I am looking forward to seeing them back on the field. Josh gives us a wild card at the position. He is a talented performer who we will put through the paces this Spring."

And on our TEs:

"I am excited about our group of tight ends," said Neuheisel. "Cory has done a nice job for us in his first two seasons and now it is his time to step up. Joseph is a great addition and gives our quarterbacks a large target as a receiver. Morrell has a full year of experience under his belt and we anticipate his productivity rising."

Our analysis and thoughts after the jump.

The official site has the following breakdown on our WRs:

True junior Taylor Embree (6-3, 207) has enjoyed two straight highly-productive seasons. He made 12 starts a year ago and led the team with 45 catches, after ranking second, with 40 receptions, as a freshman. Embree's 608 receiving yards were second-best on the team in 2009 while his 45 catches led to 29 first downs or touchdowns. His two-year total of 85 receptions ranks No. 22 (tied) on the UCLA career list. Embree ranked 12th (tied) in the Pac-10 in receptions (3.46) and was 13th in receiving yards (46.77).

True junior Nelson Rosario (6-5, 216), who blossomed during the latter half of the season, appeared in all 13 games and made two starts. He was named honorable mention All-Pac-10 after leading the team with 723 receiving yards and his average of 17.2 yards per catch. His total of 42 receptions ranked second on the team and produced 30 first downs, including two touchdowns. Rosario ranked 12th (tied) in the Pac-10 in receiving yards (55.62) and 18th (tied) in receptions (3.23).

Two young speed receivers will be looking to expand their roles on the team. True sophomore Randall Carroll (5-10, 184) appeared in 10 games during the 2009 season and made three receptions for 21 yards. Redshirt freshman Ricky Marvray (5-11, 188) earned the attention of the coaching staff last season while performing on the scout team. He earned All-Region acclaim after leading Centennial HS to a State championship as a prep senior.

Two players with good size and speed also figure to compete for spots in the receiver rotation. Redshirt sophomore Jerry Johnson (6-4, 208) came off the bench in two games in 2009, but did not make a catch.

True junior Antwon Moutra (6-2, 197) saw action in four games off the bench in 2009 and made one catch for four yards.

Redshirt junior transfer Josh Smith (6-0, 203) will look to find his way into the mix after joining the Bruins last fall following a transfer from the University of Colorado. He was a dangerous receiver and return man (honorable mention All-Big 12 in 2008) for the Buffaloes. Smith caught 52 balls for three touchdowns in his two seasons at CU. He averaged 10.4 yards on 28 punt returns amd 25.5 yards on 50 kickoff returns.

We have heard some chatter about Josh Smith - the highly touted transfer from Colorado - about facing academic challenges since he arrived at UCLA.  I have not heard or read anything official about his status yet.  Moreover, he will be eligible to practice and there is a long way to go till Fall as we still have spring quarter and summer sessions coming up. So just in case we should still be ready for the worst case scenario given how strict UCLA's academics and compliance folks are concerning our athletes participation in the program.  I always mentally prepare myself for the worst case scenario (can't help it since UCLA is pretty much like the Red Sox of college football), hopefully Josh will prove all the chatter to be unnecessary speculation.

Now in terms of athletic ability, can't wait to hear what he does this spring. He generated lot of excitement via the scout team last year. So I think he will have a good shot at emerging as the 3rd option in this rotation and perhaps eve challenge to break into the starting lineup. I especially like the scenario of Rosario, Smith and perhaps Carroll in the lineup at the same time because that presents number of game breaking options at the same time.

I don't want to sell Embree short here though. Embree's stats indicate that he can be a very dependable receiver. I think we need to him to step up as a more than just a possession receiver. He needs to come through in big situations lot more. The aspect we lacked with the combination of Terrence Austin and Embree at times last year was their ability to get separation from opposing DBs. Rosario finally started to emerge as an explosive factor late in the season but we just didn't get that consistently from the group as a whole.

Moreover, we need our receivers to do a much better job of blocking down the field. As a Niner fan as much as I enjoyed watching Jerry Rice (and yes Jerry Rice Jr. is a walk on in our team, so don't forget about him) and John Taylor catching a Montana pass in slant and heading towards end zone, I enjoyed their blocking capabilities just as much. We are going to need Rosario, Embree, Smith, Marvray to play physical brand of football, in addition to bring explosive game breaking skills.

The OC Register had the following on our young WRs:

UCLA has a few options to work with. Marvray (5-11, 187) and Carroll (5-10, 184) are burners and will get a hard look in spring. Carroll is the favorite to separate himself after playing quite a bit as a true freshman, a season he would gladly take a mulligan on. He arrived amid questions about his pass-catching ability and finished the season with more about his character. Marvray, meanwhile, redshirted and was recognized as one of the outstanding scout team players. He's not too far behind Carroll. Johnson (6-4, 208) brings size but has been inconsistent and is in danger of getting buried on the depth chart.

Speaking of Ricky Marvray, I can't wait to watch him during games. I have heard lot of great things about his performance last year in the scout team. Carroll's issue will be his confidence and grasp of Chow's playbook. He has the speed and size. Now it's a matter of understanding where he needs to be and also more importantly being in sync with rest of his team-mates, especially Kevin Prince

As for the other guys, this should be a big spring for kids like Jerry Johnson and Antwon Moutra. Those guys have been in the program for almost three years now. So this is the time for them to step.  In terms of freshmen, Paul Richardson is the recruit coming in. He has a lot of potential but the odds are he will be a red shirt candidate for his freshman season.

Let's move over to our TEs. Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya are gone but this position is looking pretty good. From the official site:

True junior Cory Harkey (6-5, 262) is a big, athletic youngster who saw action in all 13 games and made four starts in 2009. He can be a force at the point of attack and also caught eight balls for 41 yards and a touchdown.

Redshirt sophomore Joseph Fauria (6-7, 259) joined the Bruins in the Fall of 2009 after transferring from Notre Dame, where he played in three games as a freshman in 2008. He impressed the Bruin staff with his work with the scout team and appears ready to step right in and contribute.

True sophomore Morrell Presley (6-4, 220) enrolled at UCLA for the 2009 Winter Quarter. He played in six games last season and made one start. Presley caught six passes for 43 yards on the year.

Redshirt sophomore walkon Kevin McDermott (6-3, 241) could add depth at this position. He has also served as the back-up long snapper. Another walkon, redshirt freshman Andrew Yelich (6-3, 224) is also back. True freshman John Young (6-4, 250), from Loyola HS, will also look to get in the mix in August.

Well I have to say the TE position really was frustrating at times last year. I loved what Paulsen and Moya gave during their four years as Bruins.  Yet ... man ... there were so many times this past season Paulsen killed us with untimely penalties (the game against Arizona and Southern Cal really stand out). It never made any sense considering he was such a good student.

TE position always has been an important one for Chow's offense. Really hoping the combination of Presley, Fauria and Harkey will come through this year.   Presley has been hitting the weight room pretty hard this off-season.  Similarly Fauria and Harkey (at least according to the official video) have had pretty solid off-season to date. We will need these guys not only to emerge as factors as pass catching options, Chow and co. will be looking for them to be smart ball players who are helping out with blocking and also minimizing mental mistakes.

We all are looking for our offense to take a step forward this coming season. While we are worried about or OL and our RBs coming through, the WRs/TEs collectively will have to move some moves this spring. These guys have potential. They have the talent. It is time for them to get up to speed with Chow's scheme and come up with good production on the field. We will be very anxious to hear how these guys are looking this spring.