Wednesday, August 29, 2012

2012 UCLA Football: Offense Position Ratings

In 2010, Rick Neuheisel decided to undergo a complete overhaul and switch to the pistol offense. It was a puzzling move; Kevin Prince and the offense were just gaining rhythm at the end of the 2009 season. Neuheisel often cited the lack of the running game as the reason, but that could be explained by youth and inexperience at the time. The result: 20.2 points per game in 2010. Neuheisel then spoke of relentless optimism and a bright future, only to yield 23.1 points per game in 2011.
Out go Neuheisel and the pistol, in comes new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and his air raid offense. A well respected name in football, Mazzone orchestrated one of the conference's finest attacks in total offense, finishing only behind Oregon in the PAC-12, and 23rd overall in the country. Mazzone’s offense will focus more on making plays in space, asking the quarterback to make quick reads at the line of scrimmage and get the ball out quickly. These words are all music to UCLA fans ears, who haven’t seen many points in recent times.

The bad news: the attack won’t be in full speed, not this year at least, as the offseason indicated. The good news: the Bruins should actually have an attack.


It was time to go in a new direction. Brett Hundley being named the starting quarterback marks a brand new regime in Westwood: new coach, new staff, new quarterback.

Kevin Prince was the candidate with the most experience, but had one weakness: playing football. Richard Brehaut meanwhile showed early last year the potential to become a competent quarterback in this league, but that’s sort of the problem. The Bruins can’t be waiting for competent quarterback play, let alone into the guy’s senior year. Now it’s Hundley’s turn to dance.

What does he need to do for this season? Hundley will first and foremost have to protect the football and show consistency in moving the chains. To summarize how bad UCLA quarterback play has been, if Hundley just takes care of the ball and doesn’t give games away, he’s already begun saving the team. The natural playmaking ability is there, and it’s likely going to be needed with pass protection still a big question mark. Basically, he needs to show that there really is something to get excited about this time around. Does he have to be a key strength? Perhaps not, but quarterback play absolutely cannot continue to be a glaring weakness.

Rating: 6

Running Backs

The attack is led by Johnathan Franklin, the nations best kept secret at tailback. The only knock on the "Jet Ski" is his fumbling, but that should be fixed going into his senior year. Backing up is the speedster Jordan James who has earned good reviews from the staff, and should see time in the new spread look. Next on the depth chart comes Damien Thigpen, who will finally finish his career where he started after being moved to the secondary last season. At a disappointing fourth is Malcolm Jones, who entered UCLA as the heralded savior of the rushing attack. Jones was an Army All American and Gatorade Player of the Year, and showed promise his freshman year, only to be beat out by Franklin and Coleman. Both went on to have productive careers.

This unit will have to keep holding up their end of the bargain until Brett Hundley figures things out, and the passing game starts to click. The only thing holding them back may be the lack of proven depth. As good as the backups could be, they haven't had to shoulder a full load at any point in their careers.

Rating:  9

Wide Receivers

And now we're back to reality.

The switch to Noel Mazzone's air raid offense brings three or four receivers on the field at a time. At the X receiver slot is Jerry Johnson, the veteran who has waited his turn for four years. The Y receiver is the hybrid slot receiver/TE which goes to Joseph Fauria Jr., one of the few Bruins who will look to be playing on Sundays at this time next year. Funnily enough he is not listed at number one on the depth chart for Y receiver, at number one is former quarterback Darius Bell. I would think this is a decoy of some sort, or the coaches have certain packages in which they will use a tight end and others where they will use three wide outs and put in bell. The other split end at Z receiver is Shaq Evans, the former Army All American out of high school and Notre Dame transfer. But you can't finish talking about the receivers without talking about the F receiver slot. Steven Manfro brought some Manfromania to Westwood this spring, showing great will, speed, and agility in the open field. He will likely be used in several screen and slot swing passes to put him in the open field and allow him to make plays in open space.

For better or worse, there is a good amount of depth at the receiver position. Better because there are players who can step in and show little drop off from the rest, and worse because there's little drop off from a bunch of guys who haven't done anything yet. Devin Lucien has drawn praise from the coaching staff, and Ricky Marvray is a veteran who has shown flashes that he could be a good college receiver, but unfortunately only flashes. Tyler Scott and Rosevelt Davis have also shown promise this offseason, but will likely have better days ahead in Westwood.

Rating: 5

Offensive Line

Take a look at any top flight team. Alabama had first round selections from 08-10 and a third rounder in 2011. This years group is supposed to have three future NFL starters. LSU's quarterbacks were slightly better thank Kevin Prince and they seemed to be just fine withB 10 days to throw at a time with the likes of Chris Faulk and other future millionares protecting. The lesson: the best teams have in most cases the best protection

For UCLA, getting a CFL caliber lineman would be a good start. The headline is the return of Xavier Su'a-Failo, the sophomore to be returning from a two year Mormon mission. Xavier started off a very promising career that appeared to be headed for Sundays, with an all-conference freshman team selection in 2009. Jeff Baca is the veteran that might finally finish his career after spending the last two seasons on the sidelines with injury. Greg Capella has seen time before at center, but has yet to show any signs of consistency (he was often singled out and chastised by the old staff). Wade Yandal meanwhile, in true UCLA form, suffered a career ending injury, moving Brett Downey into the starting lineup at right tackle. Jake Brendel is the center who might have some potential, but is still a redshirt freshman whose best days are ahead of him. It’s not just the starters that are question marks; inspection of the two deep will keep UCLA fans up at night. To be very generous, Torian White, Tre Hale, and Alexandru Ceachir might be the team’s only “reliable” backup options. Conner McDermott and new signing Jake Seyel likely wouldn’t see much time at any other upper-half PAC 12 school.

Rating: 5

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