He'll be a true junior, have a year in the offense as the most-often starter, so it's Drew Olson's position. With the transfer of Matt Moore, the signing of David Koral can only be seen at this point as insurance. It would be highly unlikely that Koral, given what scouts believe about him, the schools he had seriously recruiting him, and the lack of experience in the offense, would have a strong chance to beat out Olson.
Brian Callahan, the walk-on who will be a sophomore, will be the third-string quarterback and some believe, because of his smarts and knowledge of the offense, could press for the second-string slot.
The recent signee, Patrick Cowan, is thought to be a long-term project at quarterback. He came quite a way from how he looked in the spring and summer camps during his senior season, but most reliable sources believe, even if he does pan out to be a good Pac-10 level quarterback, he's years away.
The position is thin, really one injury to Drew Olson away from being a pretty dire situation, with only a JC transfer quarterback, a walk-on and a project true freshman after Olson.
It's thought that Manuel White will be the starter at the tailback position in the fall of 2004. He might not be recovered enough from his off-season shoulder surgery to participate in spring practice, but it's generally thought that he'll be the starter next fall.
Maurice Drew will be a sophomore, and be used often as the alternative at tailback, in much the same way Drew and Tyler Ebell were used when White was healthy and playing tailback this season.
It's hoped that Jason Harrison, who will be a redshirt junior, will be able to contribute in 2004. He played a few downs in the Silicon Bowl, another step in his return from the severe knee injury he suffered in the 2003 season, but it's still questionable whether he'll be able to contribute enough to make him a real third option at tailback. How he fares in spring practice will be a significant indicator.
Derrick Williams will be a redshirt freshmen next year after winning the offensive player of the year for the scout team for the season. Williams, more than likely, will be the more viable third option at tailback. He showed in practice that he's tough, smart, holds on to the ball well, and his solid build enables him to run well tackle-to-tackle. He doesn't have blazing speed and just adequate quickness, but he has the talent to play at this level and is a player the coaches can rely on.
It's difficult to truly project what kind of impact incoming back Chris Markey from Louisiana could have next season. The odds are that he'll redshirt.
Pat Norton will be a senior and the starter at fullback. White will get some reps at fullback also during the season. The majority of the playing time should be split between these two.
The status of J.D. Groves still remains uncertain; many still close to the situation believe he'll transfer.
The status of freshman fullback Michael Pitre also still remains uncertain. The latest word is that he's in the process of trying to get another opinion on his on-going neck injurty that would enable him to continue to pursue his football career.
After that, Jimmy Stephens would be next on the depth chart. When there were some injuries at fullback this season, he was the next in line who was prepared to play, even though it was thought he wasn't nearly ready. Stephens looked decent this year in practice, with fairly good size and acceptable quickness. It's thought he'd be a serviceable player at fullback but has yet to prove that he could be an impact player at the position. Nikola Dragovic, the converted offensive lineman, is projected as a pure blocking fullback/H-Back. Physically he's a tweener. At 6-3 and almost 250, he is bordering on too big and thick and not flexible enough to be a fullback, but his muscled body is one where it doesn't add bulky weight well, which prevents him from playing OL. As a former wrestler, he definitely looks more the part of a wrestler than a football player. It's hoped that he'll be able to contribute as a strong blocking fullback down the line.
The split end position is obviously locked down by Craig Bragg, who will be a senior. Junior Taylor will be a junior and get first crack at the starting flanker position. But you can expect Joe Cowan, who will be a true sophomore, to push Taylor for playing time. The coaches love Cowan, particularly his size, strength and ability to make a play. He is still raw in his pass-catching abilities, but didn't show too many freshman jitters in catching seven passes and one touchdown this season. The coaches had more confidence in him as the season went on and won't hesitate to call his number next fall.
Matt Slater also is considered a player who will get ample opportunity to contribute next season. In practice, he commonly worked with the veterans and not the scout team. He has a bit of a herky-jerky style, not really fluid in his routes, but he has surprising strength, a pretty good burst off the line and aggresiveness in going after a ball. The coaches will also look for Slater to be a part of the five or so wide receivers to be in the rotation next year.
The shifty Idris Moss, who will be a redshirt sophomore next year, might have gotten passed up on the depth chart by Cowan and Slater. He is able, though, to offer some things that the other wide receivers (other than Bragg) can't: quickness and shiftiness. His hands have been a bit unreliable, in games and in practice, and his inability to sustain effort and focus throughout the season has hurt him. If he can mature, and shore up some of those concerns, he'll definitely be in the mix.
Antwuan Smith and Alex Ghebreselassie were the scout team receivers, portraying the receivers of opponents for much of the season. The word on them is that they both need to get bigger and stronger, and need to develop more discipline catching the ball.
With some question as to how much Slater, Moss, Smith and Ghebreselassie might contribute next year, it could possibly open the way for one of the true freshmen receivers to get some playing time. Marcus Everett is probably the closest to contributing from a physical standpoint, being a legit 190 pounds now. Ryan Graves is a play-maker, but he could be at least a year away from being physical and polished enough to crack into the rotation. Brandon Breazell was recruited as an athlete, but is going to be given a shot at receiver first, the position he wants to play. He's slight, though, at 170 pounds, and is thought to need at least a redshirt year under his belt to be able to contribute.
One of the most interesting aspects of the team next season will be to watch how Marcedes Lewis, who will be a junior, responds to the new coaching changes. It is known that Lewis didn't always see eye-to-eye with former tight ends coach Gary Bernardi, and is relishing the chance to work with Jon Embree, who will move from wide receivers to coach the tight ends. It was thought that Bernardi put more of an emphasis on blocking as a tight ends coach, and that Embree should be able to further develop Lewis as a pass-catching tight end.
If he were healthy, Keith Carter, who will be a junior, would be getting a good amount of reps at tight end, and making the position one of the strongest on the team. But with his setback last season, when he tried to come back from the fractured and dislocated hip he suffered last spring, his status is uncertain. When he was trying to make it back last season, the general feeling in the program was that he might not be able to ever return to his previous form, and might not ever really be able to play football again. After undergoing surgery again this winter, the jury is still out.
J.J. Hair will be a redshirt sophomore next season and the staff hopes to see some further development from him under Embree. Hair hasn't shown anything more than a limited ability to catch the ball, and is an average blocking tight end to date.
Matt Raney, the JC transfer, will be expected to come in and primarily fill the role of the blocking tight end next season. The early word on him is that he will be adequate in that role, but not to expect too much from him as a pass-catching option. True freshman Tony Lee is slated to take a shot at tight end next season, while it's believed he could end up an offensive lineman down the line. It's pretty unlikely he'll break into the two-deep next year.
It's usually the unit that gets the least attention, but next season it should probably garner the most of any on the team. Last season much blame was heaped on it, many asserting that it was the primary reason that the offense struggled. The offensive line wasn't great last season, but certainly not the only reason the offense was abysmal. But because of the negative publicity it received, along with the firing of coach Mark Weber and the hiring of Tom Cable as offensive line coach, the OL will be perhaps the biggest curiosity next year.
The word around the program is that with Cable coming in nothing – no incumbent, no position – is sacred or untouchable at this point. But Cable will still probably be limited by the talent and depth he has to work with.
Steve Vieira, who will be a senior, is probably better suited as a guard, but out of necessity will probably be the starting left tackle. Eyoseph Efseaff, also to be a senior, will cement the left side of the line at guard. The other known factor, and probably UCLA's best offensive lineman last season, is junior-to-be right tackle Ed Blanton.
The other two positions – center and right guard – could see some considerably more competition. Paul Mociler, who will be a senior, is the incumbent at right guard, but the general word is that the position is fairly open to challengers. Some speculation has been that sophomore-to-be Robert Chai, the second-string center who started the second half of the season at center, performed well enough in that duty that when starter Mike McCloskey returns from his knee injury, Chai could be a possibility at right guard. But there is a school of thought that, with McCloskey being fairly rusty trying to return from the season-ending knee injury, Chai could be needed to help nail down the center position. UCLA signed JC transfer Marc Villafuerte to provide some immediate help at that right guard position. The early word is mixed, with the jury still being out on whether Villafuerte will be able to make an impact. When P.J. Irvin came to UCLA last fall as a freshman he needed some body sculpting, and he has changed quite a bit physically. The coaches are hoping he could be another option at guard, but he'll more than likely back up Efseaff on the left side. Junior-to-be Robert Cleary will probably be the first backup at tackle, but he has yet to show enough in practice that would give the coaches confidence in him as a reliable back-up. Mociler very well could be the first back-up at tackle if there was an injury, with either Chai or Villafuerte filling in at right guard.
Right now, though, there is a feeling around the program that there are some positions (first- and second-string) that need to be won in spring and fall.
UCLA would love it if one of the incoming freshmen offensive lineman could contribute next season, and they very well will have to, given UCLA's lack of depth. Easily the most ready would be Shannon Tevaga, who could be the 2004 equivalent of Kevin Brown. He's most physically ready to play, and probably the most talented among the freshmen, and the coaches will expect him to compete for the two-deep at the interior positions. After Tevaga, the word is that Scott Glicksberg might have the next best chance, with good size (from what we hear, a legit 6-4 and 285). Some who have seen him believe he has the best chance to live up to the "sleeper" connotation – one who was under-hyped in high school but became an impact player – than any of the incoming freshmen OLs. Aaron Meyer is thought to be the other logical possibility to have a chance at the two-deep next year. It's generally believed that the other incoming freshmen OLs – Chris Joseph, Nathaniel Skaggs and Brian Abraham – will almost certainly redshirt. Abraham could have to provide help in the two-deep at tackle, but it's thought to be pretty unlikely.