Last week, we got the ball rolling with a look through how our defensive unit has shaken out following spring practice. Despite losing two special talents in Rahim Moore and Akeem Ayers, the injection of excitement brought on by a more aggressive, attacking scheme by new defensive coordinator Joe Tresey and young (but key) players like Cassius Marsh and Dietrich Riley more experienced, give the Bruins some room for optimism on the defensive side of the ball.
The offensive side, on the other hand, remains a major question mark. Let's look at the depth chart following spring practice and break it down after:
|Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut
|Randall Carroll or Jerry Johnson
|Josh Smith or Ricky Marvray
|Jerry Rice, Jr.
Follow me after the jump to break this all down.
Let's start with offense's engine: the offensive line. As every UCLA fan is painfully aware, without these big men in full gear, there's not much of an offense. On paper, the Bruins look experienced across the line, with capable reserves. But football isn't played on paper: once again, the offensive line is banged up. The key for this unit will be resting hurting players (especially Jeff Baca) and getting them healthy and back on the field as soon as possible. Stan Hasiak will see a lot of time this year, given our injury situation, so he'll need to step up big this year and start playing up to his potential. Junior college transfer Albert Cid will also be in the mix come fall, so hopefully he'll give us some quality reserve time. Joining the program out of high school will be Torian White, Ben Wysocki, Jacob Brendel, as well as Will Oliver and undersized Conor McDermott. Oliver is a project guy who should redshirt this season. Wysocki and Brendel will also probably use a redshirt season to bulk up and adjust to Division I football. White might be the only guy who sees time as a freshman, especially if our injury problems flare up again.
Moving on to the receiving corps, like with the offensive line, this unit looks experienced and deep on paper. However, given last year's lackluster campaign, this unit has a lot to prove before UCLA fans assume it can be a productive component of the offense. At the split end position, Nelson Rosario retains his starting job. Despite his impressive size (6'5", 218), Rosario has always been the epitome of UCLA's receiving game: maddeningly inconsistent. Reports from spring practice is that Rosario had dedicated himself to making the difficult catches in the air, finally truly utilizing his size. Behind Rosario is super-speedster Randall Caroll and Jerry Johnson, who had an impressive (albeit in limited time) campaign last year before being injured. Finally, Notre Dame transfer Shaquelle Evans rounds out the bottom of the depth chart at WR (SE). Across from the split end is Taylor "Stone Hands" Embree, who allegedly has been spending extra time on catching the ball. I'll see it when I believe it. Behind Embree is Josh Smith and Ricky Marvray. Smith came from Colorado with "big play potential" written all over him, but we've yet to see it. Maybe that changes this upcoming year. Ricky Marvray will make a very strong push to displaced Embree, or in the alternative, work out of the slot.
At the tight end spot, Cory Harkey held on to his starting job, on the strength of his blocking ability. If you've been watching UCLA football at all the last couple of years, you know Harkey doesn't have his job because of his hands. Since UCLA will need to generate a consistent running game, Harkey and his superior blocking ability have the edge over Joe Fauria. Behind both Fauria and Harkey is redshirt freshman John Young, who is supposed to be pushing to move up the depth chart.
With the departure of Morrell Presley, the Bruins are now left with only two options at F-back: Anthony Barr, the 6'5", 238 multi-tool athlete and Damien Thigpen, the 5'8", 183 speedster who doubles as a cornerback. The two options new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson has are like night and day, but if utilized properly, both can be very effective weapons for the offense. If new F-backs coach (fresh from Nevada's Chris Ault-fueled Pistol offense) Jim Mastro can get these guys in the mix on a regular basis, that could be a big help to our beleaguered offense, especially since both have playmaker ability if they get the ball in space.
Sticking with the backfield, the running back depth chart is pretty solid. Johnathan Franklin returns after a solid 2010 campaign, in which he put up over 1,100 yards on the ground. There is no doubt that he is the Bruins' go-to guy in the backfield. Jet Ski is the one known variable in an offense that was, at times, wildly inconsistent. Providing the thunder to Franklin's lightening is Derrick Coleman, the bruising big man who showed some real flashes at various times during the last season (such as his end of the game runs that broke the Longhorns' back in Austin). He'll get a healthy amount of carries, although don't be too surprised if his role (and Franklin's) is diminished a bit more this year: Jordon James has been a real treat for the Bruins' offensive coaching staff. Nicknamed the "Joystick" because of his ankle-breaking moves, James has also established himself as one of the better receiving threats out of the backfield, something that new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson is said to covet. While the depth chart lists former Gatorade Player of the Year Malcolm Jones ahead of James, don't be surprised if by season's end, it's James getting the significant uptick in carries and accolades. Malcolm Jones never really got a chance last year: getting too few carries and the quick hook when he caught fumblitis from Jet Ski during the Houston game. The kid has great size and will be a very good compliment to James down the line. This year, though, he'll probably get marginalized with the other options Neuheisel has: hopefully the kid doesn't transfer because he's the future in a one-two-punch backfield with James.
Finally, we come to the biggest question mark of the spring. Richard Brehaut didn't impress enough to out-right win the job, so he's listed with injured former starter Kevin Prince in an "or" situation. We won't know who Neuheisel goes with as his starter until well into fall camp, so this will be an interesting battle to watch unfold. Brett Hundley is also in the mix,although he's still raw and a redshirt year would be ideal for him. True freshmen QBs don't tend to hold up very well in Division I football. Hundley is definitely the future, but for now, Brehaut or Prince will need to keep the seat warm. If Prince comes back completely healthy, that would bode well for the Bruins (and bad for Brehaut's chances of starting again), but Prince has yet to show any ability at not shattering like Humpty Dumpty. Behind Hundley is oft-injured Nick Crissman. If Crissman can put together a decent fall camp and make himself a viable third option at QB, that would make the decision to redshirt Hundley a no-brainer. Last, Darius Bell is on the roster, but given his disastrous performance against Oregon, I doubt he'll be getting any serious time (if any at all) for the Bruins.
Fire away with your post-spring practice offensive thoughts.