The post-spring depth chart was recently made available, and I was impressed by how much experience and talent will be available this year. I thought I would be interesting to spend a little time and write about the guys backing up the starters this season.It seems like for the first time in years, the Bruins have capable players at almost every position in the two deep. Even with a ton of starters returning this season, a lot of the backups have game-time experience under their belts. There will also be some fresh and talented faces stepping up this season for the first time.
Quarterback: Obviously, Pat gained a lot of experience last year, playing in more games then the current starter, Ben Olson. He's a solid backup and his scrambling, throw-on-the-go style is a nice contrast to Ben's more traditional, pocket passing skills. Considering how closely the two have competed over the last year, I feel confident that Pat could step right in if called upon.
Wide Receiver: You always want a deep stock of receivers to help in the rotation and give guys a breather after big plays. The Bruins have a nice batch this season with a mix of speed, size, and hands. Ketchum and Dominque Johnson are backing up Marcus Everett at the split end position. Ketchum was in the regular rotation in 2005, catching 11 passes and scoring 1 TD his freshman year. Johnson red-shirted last year, but the coaches raved about him on the scout team. He could be a big play maker this season. Both are big, tall targets.
Behind Brandon Breazell are two very capable and exciting players. Joe Cowan lead the team in receptions in 2005, but sat out last season with a knee injury. I Expect him to push for the starting spot and play a lot of minutes. Terrance Austin is the fastest receiver of the lot and he'll be utilized to help stretch the field. Both him and Breazell give the Bruins a deep threat that was not used much in 2006.
Another interesting update on the receiving corp is that Osaar Rasshan is being moved from quarterback to wide out. I think that is a smart decision, as Osaar probably wouldn't ever crack the two-deep at QB. I have always liked his speed and athleticism and I would love to see him get involved in the offense in some way. I definitely smell a trick play or two with Rasshan in the mix.
Tight End: Dorrell has used a rotation at the tight-end spot for years, and I expect Sneed and Moya (listed 2nd and 3rd respectively) to find plenty of opportunities to get on the field this year. Moya was the starter last season, before breaking his leg against Oregon, and he played a bit in 2005 as well. Sneed was just moved to the position last year, but the former defensive end made some huge plays, including a spectacular touchdown catch against Notre Dame.
Offensive Line: There isn't experienced depth here at every spot, but there are some familiar names behind the starters. Alexi Lanis, who started 12 games last year, has been moved behind Micha Kia at the left tackle spot. Lanis was out of shape this spring and he lost his starting spot to Brian Abraham. Now he is behind Lanis and the sophmore will obviously do well if called up to start. Nick Ekbatani, listed behind Sutherland at right guard, is a JC transfer who has played quite a few downs at the collegiate level. He saw some playing time last year in a limited reserve role. The Center position gives me some concern, because even starter Chris Joseph has limited experience. We'll have to hope he stays healthy or someone else can step-up into that spot.
Running Backs: The tail back and full back positions are two areas where I think the Bruins lack quality depth. There is a significant drop-off form Chris Markey to Kalil Bell, though I did read that Kalil had a good spring camp. I don't know if Crenshaw star Raymond Carter can be an every down back his freshman year and Moline is really only a short yardage specialist. Behind Pitre is pretty much a bunch of walk-ons or guys that have shifted positions. Trevor Theriot did a decent job covering for Pitre this spring, but it will be hard to replace one of the best blocking-backs in the PAC-10.
Defensive Line: This is probably the deepest and most experienced unit on the team right now. Just typing that warms my heart, considering the problems we've had on the line in the past. Chane Moline, who was pressed into a starting role his freshman year, is a regular contributer at the tackle position. He's gotten bigger and stronger over the last two years and I think Moline has grown into a capable backup who can hold his own. Jess Ward also saw time in the rotation last year. He probably isn't ready to be a starter yet, but I think he could do a decent job if Harwell was unable to play. High School standout, Brian Price, might also be available to put in some minutes this year if called upon.
Kenneth Lombard and Tom Blake are in the reserve role at the end position. Lombard played in 11 games last season (starting in 2 of them) and he played in all of the games in 2005. He's coming back from knee surgery but should be ready to go for the season. Ken is a versatile athlete and he could play at all four defensive line spots if required. Tom Blake is a transfer from UC Davis and he impressed the coaches this spring. He will push Dragovic for minutes this season and likely find a permanent spot in the rotation.
Line Backers: John Hale, who has started at both middle and outside linebacker the last two years, is behind Christian Taylor now. I think that is a good switch as Hale will likely be the starter in 2008 at the Mike spot. Hale pushed Whittington at the outside position for most of last year and even started the last few games. Kyle Bosworth saw time on special teams in 2006 and filled in at middle linebacker for a few games. He had up-and-down performances and I don't know if he is ready to be an every-down guy, just yet.
Secondary: The defensive backs and safeties at UCLA this season are probably the most talented unit of the bunch. I don't think anyone doubts that Alteraun Verner is a future super-star for the Bruins and I know the coaches will try and get him on the field as much as possible. Michael Norris is back from a knee injury that sidelined him for all of 2006. He doesn't strike me as a player who will compete for the starting spot, but Walker said that he had a good spring camp and he does give the unit some depth it lacked last season.
Bret Lockett is backing up Chris Horton at the strong safety spot. Lockett played the nickle free safety spot last year and he saw quite a few minutes in the secondary. He also saw time on special teams and I think he adds solid depth behind Horton and Keyes.
Injuries are an all too familiar reality in football. You are almost guaranteed to have a few starters forced to the sidelines each year and having a solid group of athletes in your second string is crucial for the success of a program. I'm happy to see that the Bruins have a very good two-deep this year with only a few positions where the backups are inexperienced or not ready to take the starting role.