Last spring we put together a fairly extensive review on our wide receivers and tight ends before heading into the camp. The dynamic around this talented crew hasn't shifted all that much since the end of the camp. There were 3 developments personnel wise following that analysis during spring:
- We had an injury during camp as highly touted transfer from Josh Smith had to sit out after an MRI revealed a tear in the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He seems to be on track for return for the season opener (fingers crossed).
- True junior Antwon Moutra who was buried deep in the depth chart asked for transfer and got his released about a month ago. He ended up at University of Montana. Good luck to him.
- Incoming freshman Paul Richardson ... uhm ... got himself in a bit of a "situation" and was dismissed from UCLA and released from his LOI (with an opportunity to come back in Winter provided he had taken steps to take responsibility for his actions). Looks like he might end up at Colorado.
None of those events really impacted the core of what should be a strong group of receivers for Norm Chow heading into Rick Neuheisel's third year in Westwood. Here Is how the depth chart looks as of right now:
|Nelson Rosario (6-5, 218, Jr.) (2)||Taylor Embree (6-3, 201, Jr.) (12)||Cory Harkey (6-5, 259, Jr.) (3)|
|Jerry Johnson (6-4, 208, So.**)||Josh Smith (6-0, 197, Jr.**)||Joseph Fauria (6-7, 259, So.**)|
|Randall Carroll (5-10, 186, So.)||Ricky Marvray (5-11, 188, Fr.**)||Morrell Presley (6-4, 222, So.) (1)|
|Jerry Rice, Jr. (5-11, 192, Fr.**)||
Connor Bradford (6-5, 249, So.**)
|John Young (6-3, 260, Fr.)|
** notes redshirt season
() number of games started
As you can see it has remained unchanged from what we had last spring. Still there are few thoughts on this group that are worth revisiting and reflecting at this time of the year.
I will start with Nelson Rosario. The True junior emerged as a consistent during the latter half of the season. 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).
Those are impressive stats yet I thought he came up a little short during the huge game against Southern Cal. Right when the team needed him most Rosario didn't come through with catchable passes from Kevin Prince, that would have given the Bruins some much needed momentum in a big game. I am hoping Rosario will be coming in this year hungrier. He has all the tools to become one of the better receivers to come out of UCLA in the mold of Sean Lachappelle, JJ Stokes, and Kevin Jordan. He will have to step up in a consistent manner this year.
Speaking of consistent, among this crew Taylor Embree (6-3, 201) has been the most dependable receiver for the Bruins last two 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).
I had always heard that Embree has been one of the most consistent performers during practices last two years. Saw that play out in first hand when I was able to check out a practice this past spring. The dude catches everything coming his way. I think where Embree can improve heading into his junior season is working on getting better separation from opposing DBs. Hopefully he has been focusing on his speed and agility. He has slimmed down by 6 lbs this off-season, so perhaps that has to do something with his effort to get in even better shape? If he can improve on those areas he will have the chance to emerge as a dangerous and a consistently dependable weapon for Kevin Prince and Bruins QBs.
After Rosario and Embree things are going to get very interesting - hopefully in a very good way. Josh Smith before he went down this spring was dazzling during spring practices. He was vowing practice goers with his speed and ability to make plays. He teased everyone with the idea of a playmaker, UCLA hasn't had in many years in Westwood. Perhaps Craig Bragg was the last real playmaker from this position. No offense to Terrence Austin, who gave everything he had as a Bruin. He still didn't have the consistently explosive and breakaway ability of a Bragg, Danny Farmar or JJ Stokes. Could Smith be that guy this season? Well, not sure. However, if he is fully recovered by this Fall camp, it could get exciting.
Speaking of exciting everyone's eyes are also going to be on Randall Carroll. Randall Carroll, one of the fastest athletes in the country, by all accounts had a tough freshman season. He was suspended along with three other players following the Tennessee game and never got into any kind of rhythm. He was frustrated and had a tough time adjusting from his high school offense to Chow's scheme. Yet, he had a pretty solid spring camp. From number of accounts (if you go through our archives) he was reportedly more consistent and seemed to be doing well in the newly implemented revolver formation out at Spaulding. Hopefully the spring gave Carroll some much needed confidence because if he can emerge as a viable option among this crew, he can potentially become a deadly weapon for Chow and Prince.
Also, in the department of exciting, we are all eagerly anticipating the debut of Ricky Marvray. The kid is supposed to be another classic play maker who has great hands and knack for making plays. With a year in the program, it will be fun to see what he can bring to the table this season. I envision him as someone who can also contribute as a special teams player but we will have to see because he will be competing against guys like Josh Smith, Randall Carroll and Damien Thigpen to take over for Terrence Austin's spot from last season.
Jerry Johnson, the 6-4, 208 redshirt sophomore should also be in the mix in terms of getting time in Coach Reggie Moore's regular rotation. Johnson had a pretty decent spring camp too. How much time he gets will depend on how hard he pushes Rosario and Carroll. The completion should be fierce between Carroll and Johnson to get one of the spots behind Rosario in the two deep.
Since Moutra is gone, I wonder if it will give someone like Jerry Rice Jr. an opportunity to step up. Summer 7-on-7 don't mean much. However, they could mean something in terms of getting timing and rhythm down in the passing game. Embree mentioned Rice making plays during his summer blogposts via "82 Review." It will be pretty awesome if Rice gets in sometime this year may be during mop time (if the Bruins are up by comfortable margin in some home game - we can dream right?) and gets a catch. I imagine thousands of Bruin fans growing up as Niners fans like yours truly will appreciate it.
As I was talking about the Niners, that gives me the perfect pivot to switch discussion about our TEs. As Niners fans who saw the perfection through WCO in the 80s and early 90s, we all were lucky to see amazing TEs such as John Frank and Brent Jones. Over at UCLA we haven't had much going for us since Mercedes Lewis. The combination of Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya was ok last season, but their production could have been much better. Paulsen specifically had a somewhat disappointing season on the field. He was a great representative for our school off the field, but his performance on the field with number of untimely mistakes and penalties that were excruciating coming from someone who was supposed to be the senior leader of the program. Hopefully we are going to get lot more from our TEs this coming year.
On paper we are going to have a pretty exciting combination in True junior Cory Harkey (6-5, 259), Notre Dame transfer redshirt sophomore Joseph Fauria (6-7, 259), and true sophomore Morrell Presley (6-4, 222). Harkey is supposed to be a load and a terrific blocker. He has also flashed ability to catch the ball as he logged 8 receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown. Fauria per practice reports could emerge as a dependable option for Kevin Prince. Note Prince and Fauria go ways back to their high school playing days at Crespi. He was banged up a little during spring practices but he should be ready to go.
Then there is Morrell Presley who like Carroll went through his share of freshman blues. With a little more than a year in the program (he enrolled during Winter quarter of 2009), here is to hoping Pressley emerge as the next Marcedes Lewis in UCLA offense. Coaches will probably look to use Morrell in a number ways including trying him out at the F-Back slot, where he could present a matchup nightmare for opposing LBs and DBs, if we can get him out in open spaces.
Also on the depth chart I have former OL/DL Connor Bradford, who was converted to TE this spring. Connor's attitude about that move was really awesome:
"I was a tackle, guard, defensive end and now tight end," Bradford said. "I like it. Everywhere they put me, I enjoy it.
"I think just because catching and running routes is foreign to me, that's a bit of a challenge so far." [...]
This isn't the first time the thought of tight end has been planted in Bradford's head. The subject came up when he was playing at Palmdale High.
"Just because I was faster than all the other offensive linemen, guys said that I could have played tight end," he recalled. "I wasn't expecting it but now that I'm here, I'm going to go and make the best of this opportunity."
I really hope that kind of attitude carries over to rest of the team.
Besides Bradford, freshman John Young (6-3, 260) will be trying out at the TE spot this Fall. Young is a team-mate of Anthony Barr from Loyola. He certainly has the size and frame to play the role of a bruising blocker. If he keeps growing in the coming years, there could be a potential shift over to tackle. We will see how he performs.
So as you can see, just like the RB spot, Bruins have some pretty good pieces to work with at the receiver/TE position. Lot of these guys have already flashed their potential in somewhat semi consistent basis. Some of these guys have the explosive potential which they have shown during practices. The question will be how hard they have been working this off-season and how focused they will be during Fall camp, to translate that effort to consistent results on Game days this Fall. Can't wait to find out the answers starting in less than two weeks.