Bruin Notes: Four Things I Want to See in UCLA Camp


UCLA’s Fall football camp begins on Monday, and the team will hold single practices open to the public. On the 13th, they will begin doubles (also known as ‘hell’ to the players), and after their scrimmage on the 20th, UCLA will proceed with closed practices. The anticipation is high in Westwood coming off a disappointing 4-8 season, but before we delve too deeply into the season, schedule, or predictions, we must realize that it all begins in practice. With that being said, here are four things I am looking forward to seeing play out during UCLA’s camp.

1) Who is going to play Quarterback for the Bruins?

This, as every UCLA fan will tell you, is the $64,000 question for the Bruins this season. Last year, the Bruins saw a revolving door at the QB position, which led them to finish 116th of 120 teams in passing yards. While Kevin Prince should be 100% healthy entering camp, he is not guaranteed the starting position. As a Freshman in 2009, Prince was not stellar, but passable, as he threw for 2,000 yards, and led the Bruins to an EagleBank Bowl victory over Temple. As a result, the Bruins seemed to be trending upward into 2010. Then, Prince went the way of many Bruins players last year, and missed a substantial amount of the season (7.5 games with a recurring knee injury).

After Prince went down, Sophomore Richard Brehaut stepped in, and showed significant improvement down the stretch. After throwing only 17 passes in 2009, Brehaut averaged 28 attempts in 7 starts (including the game against Cal, where he himself was injured). In the final two games of the season, (@Arizona State, USC), Brehaut threw for a combined 551 yards, 4 TDs, and only 2 interceptions.

And perhaps the most talented QB on the roster has yet to take a snap. True freshman and top recruit Brett Hundley is perhaps most suited to run Neuheisel’s Pistol offense. According to Scout’s Inc, Hundley is as “close to a replica of Donovan McNabb as you will find at the high school level.” The 6’3”, 210 pounder also “shows running back-type skills when he is utilized on designed runs.” However, Hundley suffered a torn meniscus while playing basketball during the summer. It remains to be seen if he can practice at all during the Fall.

For what it’s worth, Neuheisel said that Prince will get the first snaps at QB, but “Richard [Brehaut] will be right there.”

2) How will the new coordinators fare?

The Norm Chow era came to a disappointing and abrupt end this offseason. The offensive coordinator never saw eye-to-eye with Coach Neuheisel, and as a result, asked for a buyout from his contract. Chow is now calling the plays at Utah.

In comes Mike Johnson, who has been in the NFL the past 10 years – mostly as a Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers coach. Last year, he served as the 49ers Offensive Coordinator. Bringing any amount of NFL experience to the college game is a tremendous asset. Johnson seems likely to provide a breath of fresh air for the Bruins (and there is no where to go but up). That being said, will he be able to get along with Neuheisel, (who implemented the Pistol Offense and has been coaching the QBs), better than Chow did?

UCLA also welcomes a new defensive coordinator in Joe Tresey. Tresey was the defensive coordinator at USF in 2009, and the coordinator at Cincinnati in 2007-08. While the Bulls only allowed 19.8 PPG under Tresey, they struggled against the more formidable teams they faced – they allowed 28 PPG against other Big East teams. The same was true of his time at Cincinnati. That being said, the Bearcats led the nation in turnovers in 2007. Fans are hoping that Tresey can take advantage of the talent the Bruins have on their defense, specifically in the secondary with Tony Dye, Aaron Hester, and Sheldon Price, and improve on the paltry defensive numbers from last year. The Bruins forced only 8 turnovers during Pac-10 play last year, the worst in the conference.

3) Are there any playmakers on the team?

In 2008, the Bruins had the 13th ranked recruiting class. In 2009, 17th. In 2010, 10th (all ESPN rankings). Clearly, the highly ranked recruiting classes have not translated into similar results on the field. Where is all the talent from those recruiting classes?

Since then, the Bruins have had 16 combined ESPN Top 150 players. They are (along with position rank and year): Aundre Dean (RB-7, 2008), E.J. Woods (S-6, 2008), Nick Crissman (QB-10, 2008), Tony Dye (CB-12, 2008), Xavier Su’a-Filo (T-3, 2009), Morrell Presley (TE-1, 2009), Randall Carroll (WR-5, 2009), Richard Brehaut (QB-7, 2009), Owamagbe Odighizuwa (DE-2, 2010), Jordon James (RB-5, 2010), Malcolm Jones (RB-8, 2010), Anthony Barr (ATH-11, 2010), Dietrich Riley (S-10, 2010), Brandon Willis (DT-10, 2010), Aramide Olaniyan (OLB-13, 2010), and the aforementioned Brett Hundley (QB-6, 2011).

Let’s start with who isn’t here anymore. First, Xavier Su’a-Filo was successful as a Freshman in 2009, and then announced he would be going on a two year Mormon mission. Aundre Dean transferred to TCU. EJ Woods transferred to a community college. Morrell Presley changed positions and has since left school. Finally, Brandon Willis asked to leave UCLA in May, and was granted release.

So five of the sixteen players are already done with UCLA. This isn’t great, and its unfortunate to lose the #1 ranked TE in the nation. That being said, losing this many players isn’t unheard of either. There is still plenty of talent from the recruiting classes. It is just that things haven’t come together yet.

Dye was the leading tackler last season, and figures to be one of the best safeties in the conference this year. Odighizuwa recorded 3 sacks in limited time last year, and his promotion to starter should see his sack numbers increase. Olaniyan and James were redshirted last year, but figure to provide solid backups at their positions this year. Jones and Barr got some carries last year, and their numbers should improve this year (Barr is expected to be the starting F-Back in the pistol offense). While Carroll caught only 15 passes last year, this did make him the third leading receiver. While it its no doubt difficult to produce as a third receiver on a team which was constantly changing its quarterback, I would like to Carroll elevate his game further this year, and become the team’s best wide receiver.

Of course, talent doesn’t always pan out. And of course, sometimes it is the unheralded players that end up becoming stars (I didn’t mention the Bruins’ two best players, Johnathan Franklin or Sean Westgate, or their two recent draftee, Rahim Moore or Akeem Ayers, because they were not in the ESPN 150). It is important to realize that rankings do not always pan out, for better or worse. That being said, UCLA has a lot of talent on their team. While many have not made an enormous splash yet, it is important to remember that most are first coming into their own, and finally have a season or two under their belt. It will be interesting to see which of these once highly recruited players explode onto the scene this Fall.

4) Offensive Line – Strength or Weakness?

UCLA’s backfield is young and talented. Junior Johnathan Franklin ran for 1,200 yards last year. Freshman Malcolm Jones added 215. Highest rated of them all is Jordon James, who redshirted as a Freshman last year. Put them together in the pistol offense, with a mobile QB (whomever it is), and the Bruins can have a formidable running game in 2011. That is, if the offensive line stays healthy and performs.

There is reason for optimism in regards to this unit, and reason for doubt. In one of the odder twists possible, the Bruins both return four starting linemen, and lose three starting linemen. The reason for this is due to the instability the Bruins went through last year. At this time last year, the Bruins line seemed as if it would be one of the stronger units, with four full time starters returning. Then, Center Kai Maiava and Guard Jeff Baca were lost due to injuries, and Tackle Xavier Su’a-Filo left the school to go on a religious mission. Now, Maiava and Baca are expected to return and bring the experience they had during UCLA’s successful 2009 campaign (although Baca will not be ready for camp or the start of the season, as he is recovering from ankle surgery). Mike Harris and Sean Sheller figure to be the starting right and left tackles. Both are seniors, and both started a majority of last season.

Now, the reason for concern. As mentioned before, Baca figures to miss the first month of the season. Stan Hasiak, who was a projected starter at Guard, was ruled academically ineligible. Sophomore Chris Ward, who is still young but improving, figures to be one of the guards, while the other will see a competition between Wade Yandall and Casey Griffiths for the role.

The line is already stretched to its limit in terms of depth, and with UCLA’s history of injury, fans are on pins and needles when it comes to the unit. Best case, the line stays healthy, Baca has a successful, smooth return, and the line is one of the better ones in the Pac-12. Worst case, an injury or two occurs, UCLA doesn’t have the depth to replace the holes, and the entire offense suffers again as a result.

UCLA is a team that truly tests one’s optimistic/pessimistic outlook. This can be seen just from analyzing the four questions above. Glass half full? The Bruins find a quarterback that stays healthy, the offensive line stays healthy and becomes a top unit, a few playmakers emerge, and the new coordinators optimize the pistol offense and create turnovers on defense. Glass half empty? The revolving door at QB continues, the offensive line, and entire offense as a result, breaks down, the coordinators never seem to imprint their stamp on the team, and the talent continues to be squandered. Which will it be? Luckily, we won’t have to wait long, as many of our questions will start to be answered on Monday.

For up-to-the-minute buzz, follow us on Twitter and join our Facebook Fan Page.