We're just a few days away from the beginning of fall football practice, and we've already gone over the general overviews of our offense, the defense, and special teams, with more detailed breakdowns of the linebackers, defensive line, defensive backs, and offensive line. Now, it's time to turn to the guys responsible for getting open and making catches: the wide receivers and traditional tight ends.
Last season, we had high expectations for a unit that is, on paper, very deep and full of talent. Suffice to say, those expectations were not even close to being met, with this unit being a major disappointment under the "leadership" of former wide receivers coach Reggie Moore.
How underachieving was this unit last year? As Achilles noted before spring camp began:
- Our top two receivers - Embree and Rosario - combined for 61 total receptions during the 2010 football season. In comparison, J. Kearse, Pac-10's 6th best receiver caught 63 balls during the same season.
- Rosario and Embree combined for 718 receiving yards. That number would have been barely good enough for the 8th spot in conference statistics in which Robert Woods - a Trojan freshman - placed 7th with 786 receiving yards in Lane Kiffin's offense.
- Bruin receivers and tight ends combined for 8 TDs for the entire season. Jeff Maehl from Oregon (and Kearse from Washington) caught 12 scores alone during the same season
That's not a pretty picture. Let's take a look at the tentative depth chart for the beginning of fall camp:
|WR (SE)||WR (FL)||TE|
|or||Josh Smith or|
|Jerry Rice, Jr.|
If that depth chart looks familiar, don't worry you're not stuck on Groundhog Day. We're just somehow inexplicably stuck on keeping the uninspired Taylor Embree listed as a starter, leaving more dynamic talents like Randall Carroll and Ricky Marvray coming off the bench.
Let's break it down after the jump.
Obviously, the starters remain the same across the board. There is one benefit to this: we'll see immediately the impact, if any, new offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Mike Johnson will have on this unit. Previously, before working with the 49ers as their offensive coordinator, Johnson was the WR coach for the Baltimore Ravens, the Atlanta Falcons, and for Mike Riley and Dennis Erickson at Oregon State. Supposedly, he's got the experience, so one would expect the WR corps to make a dramatic improvement from their lackluster 2010-11 season.
Turning to the players themselves, Rosario, who has the height and potential to turn into a miniature J.J. Stokes his senior season, remains the starting split end. As we discussed before, Rosario apparently spent a lot of time during spring practice working on attacking the ball in the air, much like we've been saying needed to happen since early last season. There's hope for Rosario this season: it's his put-up or shut-up season. He's got NFL size but he's never shown anything resembling NFL-level potential. He's got to know that if he wants to get paid to play on Sundays, he needs to step up big time this season on Saturdays.
Over at flanker, Embree returns as the starter again. After an encouraging freshman campaign, Embree has been a disappointing bust during the rest of his tenure in Westwood. He's been unable to get any separation from the coverage man, has been weak in the air, displayed stone hands at times, and even when holding on to the rock, hasn't demonstrated any ability to make something happen post-catch. He's a plain possession receiver at this point, nothing more, nothing less. Right behind him, who Neuheisel and Johnson need to get on the field more often, will be Ricky Marvray. Despite being prone to stupid penalties and a lack of focus, Marvray has the big-play ability and nose for the ball that UCLA wide receivers have lacked the last few years.
Turning back to split end, speedster Randall Carroll should show signs of significant improvement, if Neuheisel gets him on the field. As discussed before, Carroll's attitude and work ethic has made a remarkable turn-around, working on running clean routes and focusing on football. The kid has freakish speed. He's got through-the-roof playmaking potential, on the same level as former Cal (and scourge of the Bruins) wide-out DeSean Jackson. The question is whether he can unlock that potential in Westwood. Also behind Rosario at split end is Jerry Johnson, who has shown encouraging signs of being a productive option for the Bruins, but who has been hampered by injuries during his UCLA career. If he can get healthy and contribute, he'd be a welcome alternative to not-so-reliable Taylor Embree. Finally, Notre Dame transfer Shaquelle Evans, once a highly-rated and sought-after recruit, is in the mix after sitting out last year. Return man Josh Smith, walk-on Jerry Rice Jr., and incoming true freshman Devin Lucien.
Moving over to tight end, the Bruin offense, with its problems on the offensive line, has placed heavy emphasis on blocking ability at the TE position, giving incumbent Cory Harkey a significant advantage over Joseph Fauria. That said, UCLA has a new offensive coordinator, and with Norm Chow out, likely a more aggressive offensive approach, one that will likely include the need for a TE to make plays down the field with his hands. We all know that's not Cory Harkey's strong suit, since he's been killing UCLA drives with wide-open drops for years now. Hopefully, Fauria can step up and make a strong case for playing time, since reportedly he's the kind of tall, over-the-middle target the Bruins have been lacking in their offensive game plan.
John Young, Austin Hill, and UNLV transfer (and former LB) Jordan Barrett round out the options at TE, so it's really a two-horse race between Harkey and Fauria for playing time. Reeves Nelson's younger brother Raymond will join the squad this fall, but as a true freshman, it's widely expected he'll redshirt and won't contribute this season, although he's going to feel pressure to perform with Neuheisel landing talented TE recruit Ian Taubler out of Fresno in the following class.
With that, let's turn it over to all of you. If you were calling the shots in Westwood, who would your starting WRs be and what would your WR rotation look like? Fire away with your thoughts in the thread.