Spring Football: What to Watch

Here's a look at the keys to spring practice for the offense. All eyes will be on quarterback Cory Paus. Will he be able to overcome last season's diversity? Who will take over the startng tailback position? And other questions...

A reminder about spring practice:

It begins Tuesday, April 2nd. It goes for four weeks, Monday through Thursday of each week (except the first week, obviously, which begins on Tuesday). It culminates with the spring scrimmage, Saturday, April 27th, at Drake Field at 1:00 p.m. The first two days of practice (April 2 & 3rd) are in shorts. To my knowledge, and until further notice, spring practice is open to the public.

Here are some of the biggest issues to look for in each defensive unit for spring practice:

OFFENSIVE LINE

There are really two primary issues to watch for in spring practice in regards to the offensive line: 1) Who will step up and be the frontrunner for the right guard position? and 2) Which among the redshirt freshmen will prove to be the most ready to play and provide usable depth?

The battle at the guard position will be waged mostly between Shane Lehmann (JR, 6-5, 290) and Steve Vieira (SO, 6-6, 300). Lehmann had the starting position for the first part of last season, but he relinquished it after injuries and inconsistent play. Lehmann is still a very talented player and many believe that it could be his time to step up and live up to the expectations. Vieira served fairly well in Lehmann's place last year, playing as redshirt freshman. It will be interesting to watch him this spring, to see if that game experience adds up to something in practice. While Lehmann and Vieira aren't long-time veterans, they do now have some experience under their belt and it's generally felt that it's time for one – or both – of them to step up. Spring is the time to do it.

Another semi-veteran to watch this spring is definitely Paul Mociler (SO, 6-5, 300). Mociler is another who the coaches believe is very talented but are waiting for the light to turn on. It would be great if the switch was thrown this spring for Mociler, too.

John Ream (SO, 6-4, 290) looks to have a hold on the starting center position. There are many who believe that Ream has the potential to be a very good one – with a certain nastiness that all centers should have. Watch to see if Ream performs well enough to solidify him at the starting center position, or if perhaps the coaches during spring don't gain more confidence and look for other options. Again, the overall theory of UCLA football coaches is to get the best players on the field. If that meant moving starting left guard Eyoseph Efseaff (SO, 6-3, 290) to center, it could happen.

Then, for spring, there's the sweepstakes among the redshirt freshmen offensive linemen to determine who is going to fill out the two-deep. There is the opportunity for probably three of the true freshmen to be able to play next year in a backup role, even without any injuries to the starters. While Mociler was slated to backup both positions on the left side of the line last year, including tackle, the line still lacks at least one more tackle that the coaches could confidently put into the rotation. It will be very fun to watch this spring to see how far Ed Blanton (R-FR, 6-9, 310) and Matt Mosebar (R-FR, 6-8, 290) have come in the off-season – how big they've gotten, how much they've matured, physically and mentally, and how much more ready they are to play. It is pretty well accepted that Mike McCloskey (R-FR, 6-4, 280) will be listed as the backup center behind Ream. The coaches generally loved McClosky last fall, and this spring will see if he's advanced enough to be an option for the coaches if somehow Ream gets injured (rather than shifting over Efseaff).

Also, we'll be keeping an eye out for Robert Cleary (R-FR, 6-7, 285) and Colin Barker (R-FR, 6-8, 300), both of whom look quite a bit bigger physically walking around UCLA recently. The UCLA coaches would really love to see at least one of them step up in spring to garner enough confidence.

TIGHT END

Mike Seidman (SR, 6-5, 245) will be the man at tight end next year. Last year he looked good and looked ready to step up. With the designation of being the #1 guy at tight end, it will be interesting to see if Seidman is looser in spring and performs even better.

Then, it gets fun. Keith Carter (R-FR, 6-4, 250) was one of the favorites of the freshmen last fall. They'll throw him straight into the mix. Also, many at UCLA think that Blane Kezirian (JR, 6-6, 240) will be capable of contributing, and spring will be a big indication of whether that's true. Also, the word is that Saia Makakaufaki (SR,6-3, 265) will return to his original position of tight end, having played defensive tackle for the last couple of seasons. Reports from the informal seven-on-seven is that Makakaufaki has slimmed down and looks very good at tight end.

If all of these guys step up this spring, it will make it even more interesting when Marcedes Lewis comes in next fall to compete for playing time. Even though, there is some thought going around UCLA that Lewis might line up with the wide receivers as much as the tight ends next fall.

WIDE RECEIVER

UCLA looks good here – on paper at least. On the field, once again, they're not a full force at the wide receiver position. Ryan Smith (JR, 6-3, 205), who would be poised to possibly have a big year next year, is out for spring practice due to an mysterious (at least, as of a week ago) lingering ankle injury. He was supposed to have undergone surgery, even though a few doctors had differing opinions on the diagnosis. We'll try to run down the latest on Smith as soon as possible.

Tab Perry (JR, 6-3, 218) would be another, on paper, who you would think would be ready to really step up, but reports are that he might not be 100% for spring. His rib and lung injuries are healed, but he could have other physical problems that limit his time this spring.

That leaves really the only returning wide receiver with any experience that is 100% for spring is Craig Bragg (SO, 6-1, 185). Bragg will probably get a lot of reps, and be the featured wide receiver, which can only benefit him next fall.

But joining the thinning ranks, thankfully, is Junior Taylor (FR, 6-2, 190), who has gotten great reviews in the off-season workouts. Having barely not qualified academically last fall, Taylor worked on his academics, qualified, and enrolled in January at UCLA. He'll be thrown right into the fire, given how few healthy bodies there are at wide receiver.

It would be a good time for Jon Dubravac (SR, 6-4, 215) to step up and prove that he's a dependable option at wide receiver next year. Dubravac should be a little rusty, having sat out last season due to a continuing back injury. Apparently, he's now 100%.

Spring practice would also be a good time for either or both walk-on Garrett Lepisto (JR, 6-2, 195) and Jacques Lazarus (R-FR, 6-1, 185) to show that they could also be a viable option next fall.

Watching to see if UCLA feels they can get five options in their rotation and solid backups at wide receiver this spring will be a big factor in determining what UCLA will do with its incoming freshmen. Of course, Antwuan Smith will join the wide receivers next fall, but Marcedes Lewis could be with the wide receivers instead of the tight ends, especially if the wide receivers are thin. Also, it also could open up an opportunity for Idris Moss to have a look at wide receiver next fall.

RUNNING BACK

Akil Harris (JR, 6-0, 210) will officially be at the top of the depth chart going into spring practice, but who knows who will be there are the end. The starting position is really wide open and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the spring will be watching to see who emerges among the pack. Manuel White (SO, 6-3, 240), in the opinion of many, will emerge as the primary, bread-and-butter tailback by the end of spring. But Harris isn't going to go lightly. Then, throw in the three redshirt freshmen, Tyler Ebell (R-FR, 5-9, 185), Jason Harrison (R-FR, 5-9, 190) and Wendell Mathis (R-FR, 5-11, 190) and it's a free-for-all. The coaches really like Ebell and he'll get looks at many different kinds of positions, including in the slot receiver. He'd be a great change-of-pace at tailback with White. The coaches also liked Harrison, and even though he's the most raw, Mathis could have the most natural gifts. It will be very interesting in spring practice to see how these guys have developed in the off-season and who has matured enough to step up and compete for playing time.

At fullback, Pat Norton (SO, 6-1, 240) is the heir apparent. One of the things to look forward to the most about spring practice is just getting Norton on the field. When he's on the field, things happen. Spring should be instrumental in determining depth at fullback, since it looks fairly thin. Ray Cassaday (SO, 6-1, 245) is slated to back up, and spring will show if he's capable. We've also heard that walk-on Dane Skophammer (R-FR, 6-2, 230) has moved to fullback and could be an option ahead of Cassaday. It will be interesting to see how Skophammer does this spring. UCLA has a good history of developing walk-ons at fullback into solid contributors.

Also, watch to see if Manuel White gets time at fullback this spring – trying to get him on the field with another tailback as much as possible.

QUARTERBACK

While there are quite a few things to be watching for this spring, all eyes will definitely be on Cory Paus (SR, 6-2, 210). He'll be the #1 attraction of spring. Will he be able to overcome the diversity from last season on and off the field? Will he show the ability – as a senior – to improve on many of the aspects of his game that hurt the offense last year?

But that's not the only question at quarterback. It's shocking to really think about this: UCLA will have only one other quarterback on scholarship for spring practice. And he's an undersized, redshirt freshman, John Sciarra (R-FR, 6-1, 195). Something to definitely watch is whether Sciarra shows any signs of being able to contribute at this level. He didn't show much last fall, but he's very young, still in his first year in the program and could still physically mature. Hopefully there'll be some signs of that maturity this spring. It would go a long way toward some security at the quarterback position if Sciarra shows in spring that he's capable of backing up Paus, rather than relying on just two true freshmen to fill that role next fall.


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