If you were drawing up an offense in your mind, it'd be hard to conceive of one that's less suited to receivers than the pistol, even in its most well-executed form. This past year, UCLA finally got around to "marrying" a passing game to the pistol running game, which the coaching staff had apparently neglected to do the previous year. Still, even with a slightly improved passing game, UCLA's receivers acted more as blockers and decoys than in most modern, or successful, offenses.
Even if the form of the offense had allowed bigger plays to be made, it's a question whether the personnel chosen were adequate to make them. While you can argue that Nelson Rosario justified his usage with 60+ receptions and over 1000 yards receiving, you can't make the same argument with Taylor Embree, who played far, far too much for his modest production. Shaquelle Evans, Ricky Marvray, Devin Lucien, Rosario, and Josh Smith were by all accounts about even heading into the fall, and it's one of the truly inexplicable things about the former coaching staff that Embree got so much playing time.
Even discounting the Embree situation, watching practice for most of the year, Evans, Marvray, and Lucien gave the most consistent effort, and given Rosario's propensity for taking entire games off, probably should have been allowed to compete with him for the primary spot. Lucien, in particular, showed some of the best body control and hands on the team, while Evans looked like a potential star in the making in practice. Lucien took a redshirt year, of course, for reasons that remain opaque, but Evans did see more time as the season progressed.
Joseph Fauria had a breakout season as a pass catcher, and seemed unguardable at times, somewhat in the same vein as Marcedes Lewis. And as with Lewis, the Bruins probably didn't throw to him enough. At 6'8, Fauria was a tough guy to guard for any safety or linebacker, and the few times he was split out wide, he was an absolute nightmare for the opposing cornerback. Fauria did have issues in the more traditional aspects of the tight end position, struggling to block on either passing downs or running downs, but that's an easy thing to discount given his obvious contributions as a safety valve for the quarterback.
A Look at Spring
It's the rare occurrence where a unit that lost three seniors might actually improve- at least at the top. The big issue for UCLA heading into spring is not which guys are going to catch the most balls, but who's going to be backing them up. Lucien, Evans, Marvray and Fauria have all proven, either in practice or in games, that they have what it takes to compete and play at a fairly high level. Behind them, though, there are plenty of unknown quantities.
Jerry Johnson, when he wasn't injured, practically lived in the doghouse under the previous coaching staff, and you have to hope that bad habits haven't crept in while he's waited in the wings. Jerry Rice Jr., who was a pleasant surprise when he had to play, isn't particularly athletic, or fast, or big, but runs good routes and does what the coaches tell him to do. Damien Thigpen hasn't played for a year. And behind them, you have a motley mix of walkons, former quarterbacks, and a tight end, John Young, who will need to work heavily on his hands to have a big role in this offense.
It all adds up to a cast of unknowns. In Mazzone's offense, you'd have to guess that at least a couple of guys have to emerge from that group, or else there'll be quite a few freshmen cast immediately into the fire in the fall.
Things to Watch
-How will the breakdown of coaching work? It looks like Marques Tuiasosopo will be coaching the Y and the F while Eric Yarber will be coaching the X and the Z, but we're waiting to see how that shakes out. Tui hasn't coached receivers, and Yarber's never split the receivers with another coach. It'll be interesting to see if Tui, who helped mentor quarterbacks last year, spends some time helping out with other units.
- How tight end-like will the Y position be? We've heard conflicting reports on whether the Y is going to be more of a slot receiver type guy, or more of a tight end. With Yarber saying he wants every guy to be able to play every position (say, Lucien playing the Y) we'd have to guess it's going to be much more of a receiver position than a tight end position.
-Can the young guys step up? It's all well and good that Lucien looked great in practice against the first team defense, but it's quite another to perform when all eyes are on you. The same goes for Evans and Marvray to a lesser extent. With Rosario and Embree gone, the reps will be theirs, and everyone will be watching how they do.
-Who will emerge? After the four projected starters, things drop off in a hurry. Johnson probably is the surest bet, but even he hasn't played much at all in a year. Thigpen and Rice Jr. are in that next tier, with Rice at least getting some playing time last year, while Thigpen has the electric speed. One or two of those guys is probably going to have to show off some ability, or it could leave UCLA's coaching staff sweating bullets heading into the fall.
-Will the F be used more than in the pistol? Had to ask.
Projected Depth Chart
1. Devin Lucien
2. Jerry Rice Jr.
3. Logan Sweet
4. Tyler Scott
1. Joseph Fauria
2. John Young
3. Darius Bell
4. Jordan Barrett
1. Ricky Marvray
2. Damien Thigpen
3. Roosevelt Davis
1. Shaquelle Evans
2. Jerry Johnson
3. Chrstoph Bono
Spring Preview: Receivers
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