We're entering the silly season a little early here on BRO this year, and we've decided to project a ridiculously premature depth chart for next season. Given how the regular season ended, and how recruiting is shaping up for UCLA, now is an exciting time for UCLA fans. The talent level on next year's team projects to be the highest it has been in a decade. What we're doing is projecting not necessarily who will be on top of the depth chart at the end of next season, but who we think will start next season against New Mexico State. As such, we've included returning players (obviously) and the recruits we expect UCLA to land (effectively, anyone UCLA is leading for or has commitments from).
Adrian Klemm did an outstanding job this year, taking an inexperienced offensive line and molding it into something passably average by the end of the year. From that group, UCLA loses just one starter (Jeff Baca), and just one depth guy (Brett Downey) from the two-deep and is slated to bring in a big class of linemen, many of whom should compete for starting jobs immediately. At this point, you could say that there are two jobs that are safe on the line: Xavier Su'a-Filo's left guard spot and Jake Brendel's center position. Other than that, the rest of the depth chart should be open. Before we provide our early look, we have some notes:
*First, we're projecting that Su'a-Filo won't put his name in the NFL draft. Although he was a dominant force this year and he's eligible to put his name in, Su'a-Filo is still learning the guard position after playing tackle his entire career, and for his comfort level alone, he will most likely want another year at the position.
*Torian White started, when healthy, every game this season, but there's a very good chance that some combination of Poasi Moala, Christian Morris, and Kenny Lacy challenge him for his starting spot. We've heard great things about Moala as a prospect, and so he'd probably be our early contender for the spot. Lacy, though, is athletic and Morris could be just as good as the rest. We know that heading into this season there were some questions about White's commitment to football, so it'll be interesting to see how the depth chart shakes out in both the spring (if any of those players come in early) and the fall.
*Although he was more effective on the field than White this year, Simon Goines also could see his spot challenged. The group of tackles coming in, with Moala, Morris, Lacy, and Sean Dowling, is talented enough that you could see two more freshman tackles starting for UCLA next year. Goines was hampered by a knee injury almost the entire year, so we haven't seen him play when fully healthy. As we said before fall, though, he probably needs to do some significant strength work this offseason to begin redistributing his weight.
*Right guard will be an interesting battle this offseason. Albert Cid lost a lot of weight from the end of spring to the middle of the season, and is now down to about 310 pounds. If he can continue to reshape his body, he could contend for the starting position. He'll likely be pushed by both Caleb Benenoch and Alex Redmond, both of whom we are projecting to be Bruins. Redmond and Benenoch are both, by all accounts, those ready-to-play type freshmen that you don't see particularly often on the offensive line.
*On the injury front, a concussion kept Greg Capella out for most of the year, and it'll be interesting to see if he makes it back out to Spaulding. Colby Cyburt, who had a disc problem in his back, could still be a ways away from contributing after not being able to do much work this season. The plan with Lacy Westbrook, as of now, is still to bring him in this spring. Conor McDermott still needs to gain a lot of weight to be a long-term contributor.
Offensive Line Depth Chart
Left Tackle: Torian White (RS SO) OR Poasi Moala (incoming), Kenny Lacy (incoming), Will Oliver (RS SO)
Left Guard: Xavier Su'a-Filo (JR), Greg Capella (RS SR), Alexandru Ceachir (JR), Ben Wysocki (RS SO), Colby Cyburt (RS FR)
Center: Jake Brendel (RS SO), Scott Quessenberry (incoming), Kody Innes (RS JR), Carl Hulick (RS FR)
Right Guard: Albert Cid (RS SR) OR Caleb Benenoch (incoming) OR Alex Redmond (incoming), Kevin McReynolds (RS SO), Tre Hale (RS JR), John Lopez (incoming), Lacy Westbrook (incoming)
Right Tackle: Simon Goines (SO) OR Christian Morris (incoming), Sean Dowling (incoming), Conor McDermott (RS FR)
This offseason sees the departure of Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, who have seemingly been on the football team for a decade. In their wake, they leave some depth concerns behind them. This year, there was a bit of a security blanket behind Brett Hundley, but barring unforeseen developments, that will be pulled away next season. Jerry Neuheisel, T.J. Millweard, and walk-on Mike Fafaul fill out the depth chart, and none of them are probable starting-level Pac-12 quarterbacks at this point.
*Jerry Neuheisel is probably the best of the back-ups, running the scout team for most of the year. As we talked about in spring and fall, he's physically limited—doesn't have the arm strength to hit every throw, which you can see easily on outs to the sideline. The coaches, though, love him because of his intelligence and savvy. They talk like they would have complete confidence in Neuheisel if he had to play. We're a bit more skeptical. More than likely, he has a chance to be a good back-up level quarterback.
*T.J. Millweard progressed greatly from spring to fall in terms of his throwing mechanics, but still has a long way to go before he has a consistent delivery. As we talked about in fall camp, the ball has a tendency to wobble out of his hand, without any kind of consistent spin. As his throwing mechanics got shorter, though, his arm strength improved.
*Mike Fafaul probably has the best mechanics and throwing motion of the three, but is limited, even moreso than Neuheisel, by his body, which is thin through the shoulders and would probably not stand up well to getting hit. His arm strength is good, but his decision making isn't as great. He has decent speed.
*Brett Hundley is a stud, but he has a few things he needs to clean up in the offseason. He throws slant passes poorly and needs to work on leading them better. He should work on knowing when to throw the ball away. And he should continue to learn how to slide better, as he still looks awkward at times. He's also just at the beginning stages of learning the offense of OC Noel Mazzone, and actually Mazzone and his offense tended to cover up some of Hundley's inexperienced mistakes. Of course, he had a phenomenal season, and the scary thing is how conceivable it is for him to greatly improve.
Quarterback Depth Chart
Brett Hundley (RS SO)
Jerry Neuheisel (RS FR)
T.J. Millweard (RS FR)
Mike Fafaul (RS FR)
This is probably the one area on the team that is completely up in the air. Johnathan Franklin is the lone loss from the unit, but his loss throws the entire depth chart into disarray. Behind him, this year, the team had Jordon James and Damien Thigpen taking the primary reps, but Thigpen tore his ACL in November and James underwhelmed in the latter half of the season. While players can recover from ACL injuries quicker now than even five years ago, Thigpen's injury and the uncertainty surrounding James leaves a situation where any one of five guys could snag the starting spot by next fall.
*Jordon James showed a lack of decisiveness coupled with a lack of elite vision this year, often dancing behind the line rather than making one cut and turning up field. He showed very little of Franklin's ability to break tackles, and certainly showed very little of the power that Franklin ran with. He had one very nice touchdown run near the mid-point of the season where he scored from 20 yards out on a very Joystick-type run; however, he showed very little consistency throughout the year.
*Thigpen, on the other hand, seemed set to be a significant factor in the position next year, if not the starter. In his first close-to-full season, Thigpen showed off electrifying speed to go along with good shiftiness. His ability to catch out of the back field was also a huge asset on wheel routes, which became a devastating weapon for UCLA after the halfway point in the season. There were times, when he was handed the ball, you weren't sure if it were Franklin or him. If he hadn't torn his ACL, we would easily be the leading candidate to be the starter next season.
*We're slotting Steven Manfro at running back for two reasons. First, he didn't show off great hands at the F, which was surprising given his pass-catching abilities in practice. Second, he looked much, much better at running back in limited time this season, and throughout spring ball. He probably doesn't have the game breaking talent to be a starter at running back, but in a role similar to what James played this year, he should be effective.
*Paul Perkins wowed throughout fall camp, and we'd guess that, if the Thigpen injury had come in September rather than November, we might have seen Perkins play this season. We've heard some rumblings that Perkins underwhelmed to a certain extent during the season as a member of the scout team, but he looked good enough in fall camp that we'd be willing to bet his light will turn on when the competition begins in the spring.
*Craig Lee is the lone freshman we're projecting to come in at this point, but he could easily factor into the rotation and competition. He has the potential to start out of the gate, with good size, balance, vision, and speed.
Running Back Depth Chart
Running Back: Jordon James (RS JR) OR Paul Perkins (RS FR) OR Craig Lee (incoming) OR Damien Thigpen (RS SR) OR Steven Manfro (RS SO), Melvin Emesibe (RS JR)
Fullback: Luke Gane (RS JR), Alek Cusick (RS SR), Philip Ruhl (RS JR)
After watching Jerry Johnson dominate in spring and fall camps, and watching the game-breaking talent of Devin Lucien, it's fair to say that the receiving corps, as a whole, was the lone disappointment on offense. Joseph Fauria probably wasn't utilized enough, given how dominant he was. Lucien hurt his shoulder and sat out the last chunk of the season. Johnson was very underwhelming most of the season. UCLA loses Johnson and Fauria in the offseason, which takes away two of the Bruins' biggest receivers. With Noel Mazzone's offense, the receiver position was already a little thin; now, it's imperative that UCLA bring in at least a couple of receiver that could contribute in 2013.
*Shaquelle Evans showed that he can be a solid No. 2 receiver this season, and Devin Lucien, in limited time, showed that he could be a potential big-play threat. Filling out the depth chart behind them at the X and Z, though, will take some doing. If you project Devon Allen as signing with UCLA, he'll probably immediately jump into the two-deep alongside Jordan Payton, since he provides a speed threat that is sorely lacking among the outside receivers. Then some combination of Mossi Johnson (who we project to the offense), Ricky Marvray (who has fallen into the dog house), Jerry Rice Jr., and Darren Andrews will fill out the remainder.
*The F position seems pretty settled, assuming just one key thing: that Devin Fuller doesn't have his heart set on being a quarterback. Fuller showed that he has the potential to be a dynamic threat out of the back field in and in the slot. Just playing the last half of the season, he was a significant factor in every game plan, and showed off much more of the skill set that Mazzone looks for from that position. Behind him, Kenny Walker looked a bit more freshman-like, showing some poor vision to go along with his excellent speed. A year of seasoning should help greatly. Behind those two, we suspect some combination of Ahmaad Harris, Jalen Ortiz, and walk-on Roosevelt Davis to fill out the depth chart. If we had to guess, Ortiz would likely be a redshirt candidate.
*The Y position probably sees the biggest loss in Fauria. Darius Bell played well in the first half of the season, before suffering a concussion, and then just made it back for the last two games. He showed off great hands in camp and at the beginning of the year, and he could slot in as the smaller Y player. Then,, Ian Taubler has played significantly as the blocking version of the Y, playing more of a traditional tight end role. He looked to have decent hands during fall camp. At this point, we'd also say that it's likely UCLA brings in Darryl Richardson, from Florida, and Thomas Duarte, who should both compete for playing time in the receiving corps. Richardson, in particular, has a chance to be a game-breaking pass catching threat at the Y. Duarte is a talent who we think could play immediately, and we're slotting him at the Y, but he could play the Z or X as well, since he plays like a big receiver. Ammon Barker we project to redshirt or greyshirt, depending on the scholarship count.
*We're not including it, but UCLA should get at least one more receiver in this class, among that group that includes John Ross and Eldridge Massington.
Receiver Depth Chart
X: Shaquelle Evans (RS SR), Jordan Payton (SO), Mossi Johnson (incoming), Jerry Rice Jr. (RS SR), Tyler Scott (RS SO)
F: Devin Fuller (SO), Kenneth Walker (SO), Ahmaad Harris (RS FR), Jalen Ortiz (incoming), Roosevelt Davis (RS SO)
Y: Darius Bell (RS SR), Ian Taubler (SO), Darryl Richardson (incoming), Thomas Duarte (incoming), John Young (RS JR, patellar tendon), Jordan Barrett (RS SR), Ammon Barker (incoming)
Z: Devin Lucien (RS SO, shoulder), Devon Allen (incoming), Ricky Marvray (RS SR), Darren Andrews (incoming), Logan Sweet (RS SO)
Offensive Depth Chart Review
Looking at the depth chart for next year, you'd have to project a significant upgrade along the offensive line. Losing just Baca, and gaining experience for all of the young guys, this offensive line could quickly become a strength of the team. White and Goines were probably below average tackles this year, but with a year of improvement, could possibly become average level. If they're challenged significantly by the freshmen coming in, particularly Moala and Morris, then that should be a sign of the freshmen talent level coming in. At right guard, some combination of Cid, Benenoch, and Redmond should be able to more than offset the loss of Baca, who struggled with penalties this season.
At quarterback, obviously, Hundley will likely be improved from last year. Especially when you consider how much he improved from last spring to the end of this past season. Knocking on every piece of wood I can find, if he stays healthy, this position should be an upgrade as well. The question is depth, and UCLA developing a useable back-up. Or two.
With the receivers, the loss of Fauria takes away one of the biggest threats UCLA had in the red zone, and probably the most consistent possession receiver on the team. Still, though, if you project UCLA to get the players they currently lead for in the 2013 class, there will be an overall talent improvement, even if the top level isn't quite as high. You also can't underestimate the return of Lucien, with a half year of playing experience under his belt. He's been the most talented receiver on the team for two seasons, and there's no reason to believe he won't be anything but one of the most productive this coming year. We'll conservatively say that the receiving corps will be about even with where it was this year, but that could easily be underselling it.
Running back is the only area where, no matter who ends up winning the job, there's a pretty big downgrade. It's going to be impossible for any one player on the team to replace what Franklin did this year, so we'd expect that they'll use running backs in more situational roles than perhaps they did this year. We could see something occurring where James and Manfro are often the motion backs, with Lee and Perkins handling most of the up-field running. The X factor is Damien Thigpen. If he can return healthy by next season, it would go a long, long way toward shoring up this position and providing UCLA with a featured back. In other words, there's a definite downgrade here, pending further information. Not to discount Franklin's incredible season, but Mazzone's offensive scheme doesn't necessarily need a super-elite back for the offense to be effective.
Long story short, UCLA's offense will see improvement on the offensive line and at quarterback, but might see a slight downward tick among the skill positions. However, with Hundley improving, and an offensive line that will do a better job protecting him, we have to figure that the offense, as a whole, will be improved next year, after having what amounted to UCLA's best offensive season in seven years this season.
Next up: Defensive Depth Chart...
Premature 2013 Depth Chart: Offense
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