Sunday, February 8, 2009

Blessing in Disguise

You know, looking back at our season, it may have been a good thing that we finished 4-8. How so? Well, it gave our program two very important things. The first was an extra month that the coaches could focus on recruiting because they didn't have to spend any time on Bowl preparation. The second was the way it fired up Norm Chow. Chow wasn't required to do much recruiting as a part of his contract, but he went out there and hit the pavement hard. Both of those things lead to a stellar recruiting class. I doubt UCLA would have recruited as well if we had finished with a 6 or 7 win season. Sometimes you need to hit bottom before you can get back up to the top.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Grading the 2009 Recruiting Class

It's Rick Neuheisel's first full recruiting class. It has some punch, some prospects, and some pazaaz... but it's also missing some players; in particular at defensive tackle. However, At the end of the day, it will go down as a very good first effort considering our miserable 4-8 record last season.

Alright, let's had out some grades

Quarterback: A-

The Bruins picked up a single signal caller in this class and he's a good one. Brehaut was wowed to Westwood by Norm Chow and he is anticipated to enroll early for spring practice. With the Bruins struggling at this position over the last few seasons, Brehaut has a chance to play as a true freshman. With KevingPrince added in the last class, the QB slot looks solid for the next few years.

Running Backs: B

Last year UCLA landed a stable of good running backs. So it wasn't surprising that this year's class was a bit small. Dalton Hillard probably has a long way to go if he wants to start and Allmond will likely fight for playing time behind Derrick Coleman as a FB. But these two add some solid depth. Damien Thigpen from Virginia was a nice pickup at the last minute. He probably has the best chance to see playing time among the class.

Tight Ends: A

Morrell Presly was one of the big recruiting wins for the staff this season. Not only is Presley considered the #1 tight end in the nation but he is also a recruiting win over Pete Carroll and the Trojans. When Presley committed to the Bruins, it sent some ripples through recruiting circles and sent a message across town.

I'm not sure if Presley will be a true tight end. He's tall and athletic and not very heavy, weighing in at paulty 213 his senior season at Carson. He may adapt into more of an H-back, lining up as a receiver at times. He reminds me of a J.J. Stokes type of player. Let's hope he can have a similar impact for the blue and gold.

The Bruins almost stole Billy Sanders from Miami but he switched back to the Hurricanes on signing day.

Wide Receivers: A-

Another huge steal from USC was landing Randall Carroll. He should make an immediate impact in the receiver rotation and brings a lot of speed. Ricky doesn't appear to be immediate impact players but you never know when you'll find a diamond in the rough. This wasn't a position of need in this class, but it is great to see at least one play maker here.

Offensive Line: A-

Eddie Williams (OG) - JC
Ryan Taylor (OG) - JC

UCLA has some serious needs along the offensive line. So the coaching staff went and scoured the JC ranks to pick up some immediate help for next season. After picking up only three lineman in the last two classes, Palcic and Neuheisel really had no choice; the cupboard is bare right now. I'm not sure how far some of these transfers will go to fixing that problem, as JC players are always tough to evaluate. Eddie Williams got some looks from Colorado and Washington but the other players weren't heavily recruiting by BCS schools.

The good news is the staff won a number of recruiting battles at this position. The X-man, Xavier Su'a-Filo, was a very pleasant surprise signing. He is one of the top lineman in the country. Hasiak, who was originally committed to UCLA but changed his commit to Cal last month, came back to the Bruins after meeting with Norm Chow. A couple of losses were Joel Gray of Hebron High ( who decided to choose Texas Tech) and Michael Philip (who went to Oregon State).

Overall I'm pretty happy with this group. We got a few really good players, which is all we could expect considering that this year wasn't really full of good offensive lineman out west. At the same time we fill some immediate needs and build for the future.

Defensive Line: B-

Branden Warner (DT) - JC (not signed)

After offensive line, defensive line was probably the position of biggest need. Especially at defensive tackle. With Brian Price expected to declare for the NFL draft after the 2009 season, there is virtually nobody there to fill his slot. Branden Warner will be able to play immediately, but UCLA needed some more bodies here. That will have to be priority #1 in the 2010 class.

The defensive ends were solid pickups. Graham is the considered the best player out of Nevada and Tepa was a good addition as well. Holmes and Jones were good pickups last season and it looks like we'll have some depth here in the next couple of seasons.

Linebackers: B

Told Golper was an early pickup for the Bruins and he looks to lead this group of linebackers. The other guys aren't super stars but could see time on the field. One interesting last minute switch was Jared Koster, who was originally signed with Colorado State. He came to UCLA on signing day based on an 11th hour offer.

Secondary: B

UCLA picked up another batch of defensive back this year, adding to the impressive list that was compiled in 2008. Some have been critical of adding so many players in the secondary, but I'm more forgiving. With nickle defenses becoming a big part of the college game and the inevitable injuries and transfers, you can never have too many corners on your roster.

There aren't any super stars in this group, like Rahim Moore last season, but they should add some good depth behind last years class. Marlon Pollard was a good victory for UCLA as they pulled him back to Westwood after he changed his commitment to Notre Dame. I could see him pushing for playing time.

Overall: A-

This class was good with a few deficiencies. The offensive line was addressed but the defensive line is still a problem and likely will be until some serious talent can be brought into the program. Overall, though, there are some key play makers in this group that will make some ESPN highlight reels in the future. In particular, UCLA got a much needed talent upgrade on offense.

Recruiting is a game of relationships. These days, coaches evaluate high school players when they are sophomores. When you have a new coaching staff, it takes them time to build those bridges. UCLA is obviously behind the curve right now, but in a few years when the current sophomores and juniors are ready to sign LOIs, the time spent will start paying dividends. I expect the 2011 recruiting class to be top notch.

The biggest win for UCLA this recruiting season wasn't the guys they signed but the guys they went after. In years past, UCLA didn't even compete for top talent. Coach Dorrell was content to let USC pick the creme of the crop and then go after the leftovers. This year, coach Neuheisel went after those blue chip recruits. He may have lost more battles than he won, but the very fact that UCLA was in there battling for these guys is a huge step forward.

The staff also didn't take "no" for answer. They fought hard for guys to the very end. I can't remember a season where UCLA signed so many guys who were originally committed to other schools. Obviously, the staff knew they were at a disadvantage getting a late start on recruiting, but they didn't let them slow them down.

I'm pretty high on UCLA recruiting right now. I think we have some positive momentum that makes for a very bright future for the Blue and Gold.

Final ranking: 4th (1st PAC-10)
Final ranking: 14th (2nd PAC-10)