Sunday, July 26, 2009

Speaking of Medlock

Here's an interesting article from the Toronto Star about former UCLA kicker Justin Medlock. He's starting now for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.

Friday, July 24, 2009

2009 Preview: UCLA Special Teams

Once again the Bruins will field a very good special teams unit that will be one of the best in the conference.

Special Teams

You know, there was a time when UCLA was known for producing great safeties and even greater quarterbacks. These days, kickers come out of Westwood. So much so, you could could start calling the school Kicker-U. A few years back when the student store was selling #7 jerseys, I wasn't sure if that was for Ben Olsen or Justin Medlock.

This season is no different, with junior place kicker Kai Forbath earning pre-season All American honors by many publications. He is almost a lock on long distance kicks, hitting all 6 of his attempts from beyond 50 yards out. In any close contests, Forbath could be UCLA's ace in the hole.

The last two seasons, Jimmy Rotstein was on the kick-off team and the Bruins were not very good at pinning opponents on their end of the field. The team ranked last in the conference in that category and a lot of that came from Rotstein not getting the ball deep on kickoffs. Forbath reportedly hasn't been consistent on kick-offs in practice but he has a big leg, so if he can find some focus, the Bruins will get much better in this area.

Terrance Austin set the school record for kick-off return yards last season. Austin has been a dynamic return specialist but for some reason he has never taken one to the house. Even on punt returns, he's made his way inside the 10 on a number of occasions but he has never sealed the deal. I think this is the year that Austin breaks that barrier and I see him putting up All American numbers on returns.

The one big unknown this season is the punting game. Aaron Perez had a great career for the Bruins and his big leg lead the league in punting average last season. Jeff Locke takes over this season and reports are that he has an even stronger leg. He'll be making his first start this season and I'm sure it will take a while for him to find the consistency that Perez had as a senior.

UCLA was a middle of the pack team in punt returns. Austin didn't have any big returns but the team did block a few punts and added a couple of touchdowns. The offense will need as much help as it can get this season, so some big returns or a timely block could jump start a drive.

The Bottom Line

Special teams has been one of the few bright spots over the last decade of UCLA football. This season should bring more of the same and the strong kicking and return games could give the Bruins a few more victories this year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Surprise Commitment

UCLA got a huge, and surprise, commitment from one of the top linebackers in the country. Eastlake high school linebacker / running back Tony Jefferson gave a verbal to the coaching staff last night.

Last year Jefferson had 88 tackles and 4 sacks while also rushing for 1,328 yards and 28 touchdowns on offense.

Tony had an impressive list of offers from BCS schools in the SEC, PAC-10, Big-10, ACC, Big-12, and Notre Dame. When UCLA is beating out Florida, USC, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Miami for a recruit, you got to feel a little excited

He was originally committed to Stanford, but switched to the Bruins.

Jefferson will likely come in as either a strong safety or an outside linebacker. He is currently listed at 6'0" and 195 lbs. How much size he can add to that frame will swing him one way or another. In any case he has good speed, so he could be successful at either position.

(Photo Credit: Union Tribune)

2009 Preview: UCLA Defense

The strength of this team will again be on the defensive side of the ball.

The Bruins have relied on their defense to win games over the last few years and this season should be no different. This may be one of the most balanced and consistent squads to wear the blue and gold in recent memory.

There are star athletes at all three defensive levels and some of these guys will be playing on Sundays in the future. The big problem is a lack of depth and pash rush from the ends.


Chuck Bullough takes over for the departed Dewayne Walker but the defensive play calling should be similar. Some have said that Bullough is a bit more conservative than the aggressive, blitzing Walker but only time will prove that out.

The biggest threat up front is Brian Price. He'll again be asked to do a bit of everything this season: placing pressure on the quarterback as well as stopping anyone coming up the middle. His quick first step and immense physical abilities will draw instant double teams.

The rest of the defensive tackle depth is a big concern. Jerzy Siewierski will lineup next to Price and the strong 290 lb senior can hold his own but after that UCLA is scary thin up front.

The defensive ends will likely see a rotation with Jones, Stokes, Bosworth, and Holmes. None of them have really emerged as a serious pass rushing threat, though I think Boswoth should be in the backfield with some consistency this season. One of these guys will need to step up and help take the pressure off of Price.

I think this might be one of the more athletic linebacking corps at UCLA in recent years. Reggie Carter is the big name in the middle, but I could see Akeem Ayers getting some press this season as well. He had a breakout true-freshman season in 2008 and that success should continue on this year. Senior Kyle Bosworth is back from injury and will anchor the other outside slot.

Depth is a concearn among the linebackers as well, with virtually no proven experience nor size among the backups.

The secondary has some talented young guys, but the biggest worry for opposing quarterbacks will again be senior cornerback Alterraun Verner. Despite being kind of short ( a generous 5'11" on the official site) and not the most athletic guy, Verner is one dang smart player. A true student athlete, and student of the game, he'll lead the secondary and lock down his side of the field as well.

Across from Verner will be red-shirt freshman Aaron Hester. He had an impressive spring and wow'd the coaches and fans with his big plays and toughness. He'll get picked on early by opposing quarterbacks, so the young corner from Compton will need to grow up quickly.

Rahim Moore is back for another year at free safety and he is sure to start every game he'll ever play at UCLA. Next to him will be Glenn Love. The tall, hard hitting sophomore has always been a favorite of mine and he'll be called upon in run support. He probably would have played more in the past but injuries have slowed him down.

The Bottom Line

UCLA's first string defense looks pretty good. Price, Carter, and Verner are all pre-season all-team selections. If this group can stay healthy and find a play maker, or two, at defensive end then they should do very well this year. The secondary is young but talented and they have the potential to be truly awesome by the end of the year.

The big problem is depth, especially at defensive tackle. Heaven help us if Brian Price or Jerzey Siewierski go down with injury. There isn't a lot of help at linebacker either. The lack of depth also means this team will run out of gas in games unless the offense can carry some of the load. That's never a sure thing with the Bruins.

Monday, July 20, 2009

2009 Preview: UCLA Offense

This will be the first of a three part series looking at the 2009 UCLA Bruins.

It's that time of year again. Arm chair analysts are out in force giving their predictions for the up coming college football season. Let me tell you, those guys don't know spit about UCLA football. They write about a hundred articles (one for every team) and I'd guess not a single one of them watched the Bruins play last year; not to mention a practice or the spring scrimmages.

That's why I like to write up my analysis of the Bruins. I may not be the most knowledgeable guy nor the best writer, but I do follow this team closely and I know how they stack up against the rest of the conference. Check in over the next month as I take an in-depth look at the Bruins and each of our opponents as well.


UCLA has an unproven quarterback. Again. The offensive line is full of inexperienced and undersized players. Again. There aren't any guys in the skill positions who can take over a game. Again. On paper, this offense isn't a whole lot different from other squads over the last three years and it is very unlikely they will take this team to the top of the conference.

What is different this season is that we have some young, skilled guys in key positions.

Most notably red shirt freshman Kevin Prince. Repeat after me: Prince is the key to the season, Prince is the key to the season, Prince is the key to the season. It really can't be stated too many times. Prince's development will go hand-in-hand with the team's ability to win.

Even though Prince is playing his first football game in nearly 3 years (he missed his entire senior season at Crespi due to injury) he brings a lot to the table. Most importantly, he is a smart player who has a firm grasp on Chow's offense. If Prince can avoid the mind-numbingly horrible decisions that Craft made last season then he'll be a huge improvement. He also seems to be a capable game manager, accurate, and mature for his age.

Of course, he's still a freshman who will make freshman mistakes. In particular, an early season game at Neyland Stadium will test his mental toughness. I'm not expecting miracles from this kid, but I do think we'll be pleased with his progress by year end.

The offensive line will also be getting some fresh faces. I fully expect talented freshman Xavier Su'a-Filo and junior college transfer Ryan Taylor to be starting on the line by the end of the season. Sophomore Jeff Baca looks to have locked up a position with his determined play last year; the staff wants him at guard but he could play tackle again if other guys don't pan out.

The center position will be anchored by Kai Maiava, who should be back from an ankle sprain sustained at the end of spring ball. Maiava had rave reviews from the bleacher bums who watched him while he sat out last season. He's reportedly tough, angry, and aggressive ... everything you want in a center.

The rest of the line, in particular the 2-deep, isn't going to scare opponents. The best I think we could hope for is to find a consistent starting 5 players. Last season, the line was shuffled so many times I lost count. They won't be a particularly good squad, especially at the start of the season, but I think we'll again be pleased with the progress come December.

The running game is still a work in progress.

The staff really likes Christian Ramirez. So much so that he sat our all of the spring with an injury and still hung onto the #1 spot. Either Ramirez is that good or the rest of the guys are just that bad. I'm going to go with the former, as I watched all the backs in the spring and came away impressed. Especially freshman Jonathan Franklin, I think he could take over the starting slot with his speed and ability to find the hole.

Chane Moline is moving to fullback to complement Trevor Theriot. Chow likes using his backs as receiving targets, so I think both could see more action this year.

The receiving corps has the most depth and consistency on the team, which is good because almost every other position lacks those characteristics.

The star, if you could call him that, will be Terrance Austin. Back from a record setting performance last year in all-around yards, Austin should take on more of a role in the passing game. His speed has always been there, but he doesn't seem to get great separation. Of course, it would help if he could team up with a quarterback who could throw him a deep ball.

I like our big, tall targets. Nelson Rosario and Gavin Ketchum are both 6'4" and give Prince some jump ball opportunities in the end zone. Taylor Embree will again be the bastion of consistency. His super sticky hands are turning him into a go-to guy on 3rd down situations. Freshman Randol Carroll could end up being the fastest player on the team.

One guy I'm really excited about is Morrell Presley. He was probably one of the hardest workers on offense this spring. He went 100 miles an hour every play, even when he was making mistakes. I looks like a combo of J.J. Stokes and Marcedes Lewis. Not a true tight end, he'll line up as an H-back this season. I'm expecting big things from him.

The rest of the tight end picture is unclear right now. If Moya and Paulsen can stay healthy then they'll be huge additions to this team. If not then we could lack some depth with only Harkey having any playing experience.

The Bottom Line

Let's face it, this is part 2 of Neuheisel's rebuilding process. This team isn't going to win a ton of games this year, even with a more favorable schedule (I'll get to that in future articles about our opponents), and the offense will struggle again.

But the good news is that we've got a lot young guys who will be racking up a ton of experience this season. It wouldn't surprise me if the offense was staring as many as 6 underclassman by the end of the season. All of that is great for the future of the program.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Former ND TE Transfers to UCLA

The Bruins picked up another commit yesterday, this one coming from Notre Dame. Not the high school... the University. Tight End Joseph Fauria has decided to transfer to Westwood. He's a big target, standing in at 6'7", and a big pickup for the Bruins.

Fauria was originally recruited by UCLA last season, but ultimately chose the Fighting Irish over the Bruins. Now, the tables are reversed, and he's leaving Notre Dame to come back closer to home. The former Crespi standout will be eligible to suit up on Saturdays for the Bruins starting in 2010.

There were some rumors around why Joe decided to leave South Bend. Hopefully he wasn't an academic causality. I'm guessing that wasn't the case if he got into UCLA. One thing not in doubt was that the Irish were stacked deep at tight end. Even with some of the top talent in the country, Fauria was 2nd string and looking at some playing time in 2009. Why he decided to leave isn't entirely clear to me, but whatever the reason, I'm glad he chose Westwood as his new home.

Fauria is a much needed addition to the team. We lose Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya after this season and depth at tight end could be a problem. Harkey has looked good, but Nate Chandler (who's bumped around from TE to OT) is an unknown quantity. At the very least, Fauria gives some depth and hopefully he can break out and give the Bruins a big target between the seems.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Earnest Thomas III

UCLA's recruiting efforts out of the state are paying off. On Wedensday, the Bruins picked up a verbal from Michigan Safety Earnest Thomas III. The kid is big, at 6'2" and 210 lbs. He could morph into an outside linebacker if he adds more weight to his frame, which I think he could without too much effort.

Even though the recruiting services only have him as a 3-star, Thomas had offers from a number big-time BCS programs. He was being pursued by Stanford, Missouri, Wisconsin, Penn State, and West Virginia. Ultimately he chose UCLA and one of the reasons may have been family members who live in the south land.

This commitment is a good sign for the program. UCLA has not had any kind of national presence in recent years and this recruiting season. Already this season, two of our five commitments are from outside of California and the three in-state commits are all from up North. It's cool to see us beating out a different set of schools instead of the same old PAC-10 and Mountain West schools that we battle every year. The Bruins are always going to get the bulk of their kids from Southern California but picking up some stars from other areas is encouraging.

From watching his video, he definitely looks like an aggressive, physical, hard hitting strong safety. He kind of reminds me of Horton.