UCLA should have about 20 scholarships to give for 2009 but, of course, there are always some that open up, especially with a new staff, so you'd have to anticipate UCLA having close to the limit of 25 to give for 2009.
Of course, this is based on a great deal of speculation, especially given the new coaching staff. But, heck, it's fun.
As Head Coach Rick Neuheisel said in his Signing Day Q&A, it's very unlikely that a lineman can step in and play as a true freshmen. The two OLs that UCLA did sign, Jeff Baca and Connor Bradford, are thought to be solid gets. Baca looks to have good size (at about 6-3) for a guard, and good quickness. He has a good frame, but will have to bulk up and add muscle, of course. Bradford projects as a tackle, at about 6-5. He showed good quickness at UCLA's camp last year, and looked rangy, with long arms, but needed to bulk up considerably.
Now, of course, Neuheisel, new Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow and new offensive line coach Bob Palcic could re-arrange the personnel on the OL this spring, but you can probably expect Micah Kia and Aleksey Lanis to be the starters at tackle. The former staff indicated that former walk-on Micah Reed, who ended up winning a starting guard position last year, would move to center, and we can't see anything detering that. So, that leaves the two guard positions. Nick Ekbatani will be a senior and, even though UCLA has been disappointed in his development since he came from the JC ranks, he has the most playing experience. The other guard spot is wide open. Nathaniel Skaggs will also be a senior and has playing experience, so he might have first dibs on the other spot. Then, there is the unknown – all the linemen who came in to the program from the 2006 recruiting class – a line class that was fairly highly touted. So far, none have developed enough to warrant even a sniff at getting on the field. Sonny Tevaga might have the most talent, and he's slimmed down considerably. There's also Brandon Bennett, Jake Dean and Darius Savage, who probably sticks with his move to OL. At center, Aaron Meyer will be a senior and hopefully be a solid back-up to Reed. The back-ups at tackle are Sean Sheller, another from the 2006 class that still hasn't panned out as of yet, and last year's one true freshman, Mike Harris, who really looks the part physically, but it will be a question of quickness.
So, there are a good amount of bodies, but not enough of them that have proven they can play. Obviously, as Neuheisel said in the Q&A, offensive line will be a huge priority for 2009. It would really go a long way for UCLA's offense that a few of these young, question-mark linemen stepped up in spring practice this year. I'm sure it'd certainly make Neuheisel, Chow and Palcic feel a great deal better.
But right now, with so many unproven guys on the roster, OL is the biggest recruiting priority for Neuheisel for 2009. Even if one, or even two, of the young interior OLs become viable players next season, Neuheisel will still need to stock up on at least two or three interior guys in 2009. They'll definitely need a couple of tackle types, also, since, after Kia and Lanis, who will be juniors next season, there is no one at the position that generates confidence.
Even though Neuheisel said there wasn't a plan to go JC in recruiting the OL, it's really a very obvious option for him to take. UCLA will need immediate help at OL in the next couple of years; and JC OLs tend to be the JC players that more readily have good academics.
At tight end, UCLA has a pretty good depth chart. Logan Paulsen will be a senior next season, and you can only hope he'll be more involved in a Chow offense. There's also Ryan Moya, who redshirted last season due to injury, so he'll be a junior. There is Adam Heater, who will be a sophomore, and hasn't shown any indications that he can be anything more than a blocking tight end. Scott Glicksberg will be a senior and is the same story. There are some walk-ons that UCLA has always liked, Tyler Holland and Travis Martin, but they'll be seniors and are only there in case of injury. Nate Chandler was a true freshman last season and was one of the most physically impressive freshmen on the practice field. He, in fact, almost looks the size of a lean offensive tackle, and is doing very well in the weight room. The previous staff thought he had a chance to be a good one. Incoming freshman Cory Harkey is, in our opinion, under-rated; he's a great athlete, probably at least a mid-major basketball prospect, with very good feet and hands.
So, with Moya, Chandler and Harkey for the 2009 season, UCLA looks fine at tight end, but will have to add one from the 2009 class just to keep the depth chart well stocked.
At receiver, UCLA has, like it has at many positions, enough bodies – just not enough that have indicated they can play. Marcus Everett will return for his redshirt senior season after sitting out almost all of last season with injury. He's expected to be back for spring. Gavin Ketchum looks to be in line to be the other starter, and he very well could get a redshirt year because of injury, which would make him a junior next season. Dominique Johnson will be a redshirt sophomore, and showed great flashes that he could be a reliable possession receiver. So, that's three possession receivers and no home run hitters. Terrence Austin will be entering his junior season and the pressure's on him to live up to his high school hype. Ryan Graves will be a senior and you can't expect anything more than some back-up reps. Jamil Turner will be a redshirt junior and it's very unlikely he'll prove all of a sudden that he can play at the Pac-10 level.
So, the door is definitely open for any of the true freshmen to make an immediate impact on the depth chart for 2008. Jerry Johnson is big (at least 6-2) and strong, and might physically be the most prepared to contribute. Antwon Moutra might end up a better safety, but he had a very effective high school senior season and it's expected he'll get a shot at receiver first. There's Nelson Rosario, who could have the most upside among the incoming freshmen, at 6-5 and athletic. He is pretty thin, though. Taylor Embree, the son of former UCLA assistant Jon Embree, is already enrolled in school. He's 6-4 and projected as another big possession receiver.
It will also be interesting to see if Osaar Rasshan remains at quarterback or gets switched back to receiver.
Projecting the receiver depth chart down the line, UCLA actually won't have too many receivers who actually play leave the program in the next couple of years. There's Everett, Ketchum and Austin. With four new wide-outs in the program, you'd only hope that at least a couple of them develop into definite contributors. Even so, you can probably expect UCLA to go after at least two, if not three receivers, in the 2009 class.
On paper, UCLA's depth chart at running back looks better than it has in a long time, especially after the 2008 Signing Day.
Returning for his senior year is Kahlil Bell, who proved in 2008 that he's a Pac-10 level tailback. He might not be an All-American, but he's definitely made himself into a player and a worthy incumbent starter. Chane Moline didn't get a great amount of carries last season, with an injury slowing him down at the beginning of the season, but he should be even more capable of getting back-up minutes and short-yardage calls. Craig Sheppard, the walk-on, was impressive filling in when injury decimated the running back group. He's proven to be a solid third- to fourth-stringer. It will be interesting to see if Christian Ramirez will stay at tailback, with three guys being added to the depth chart next season. The first of those three will be Raymond Carter, who redshirted last year after blowing out his knee in fall camp. Even though it was early on, Carter was looking like a nice prospect, one who definitely would have received a good amount of playing time last year as a true freshman. Since then, we've heard his knee has healed nicely and he's gotten considerably bigger, probably weighing around 205 to 210 now. It will be a great treat to watch him, and the incoming duo of Aundre Dean and Milton Knox, add the kind depth and talent to UCLA's backfield that we haven't seen in years. UCLA hasn't recruited a big running back of Dean's caliber since probably DeShaun Foster, who he is compared to sometimes. He doesn't appear to be at quite the same level of Foster as a prospect, but he's the big, strong back that UCLA hasn't had in its backfield in a long time. And you can never count out Knox. We're a firm believer that Knox, despite being just 5-8, has the type of thick body and power to not only hold up in the Pac-10 but excel.
It could be difficult to get a running back from the 2009 class to sign on with Carter, Dean and Knox all freshmen next year. But with Bell graduating, UCLA will definitely need to sign a tailback. It will be interesting to see if the lure of playing in Norm Chow's offense will offset the perceived logjam at the position.
At fullback, walk-on Trevor Theriot played admirably in 2007 filling in for injured Michael Pitre. As of this date, it's still uncertain if Pitre will be granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA for the 2008 season. It's looking fairly good, since he did miss a great deal of two seasons due to injury. With Pitre, who was thought to be one of the best fullbacks in the west, returning, and Theriot backing him, up, the fullback position has talent and experience. Dylan Rush will be a sophomore, and was moved from defensive end. He's bulked out and fairly stiff, not having very good flexibility or quickness. Incoming freshman Derrick Coleman is definitely the fullback of the future in Chow's offense. At about 6-0 and 215 already, Coleman has speed enough where he could play some tailback, too. He's the perfect guy to plug into fullback if Chow's offense will be anything like it was when he was the OC at USC.
If Pitre does return, and stays healthy, you could see Coleman redshirting next season. If not, he could see playing time. UCLA will need to bring in another scholarship fullback in either the 2009 or 2010 recruiting classes, but if Coleman redshirts, it might not be a big priority for 2009.
The quarterback position is exciting. It's exciting, first, to think of seniors Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan under Chow's tutelage. While it might not be enough time to create drastic change, you'd have to expect some improvement. If Olson and Cowan are just marginally improved that'd probably be good enough for the position to be effective in the 2008 season.
Kevin Craft, the JC QB, has a lot to work with. From what we've heard, he's big, at 6-4, moves very well, has a strong arm and a good mind for the game.
It will be interesting to see if Neuheisel and Chow see enough in Rasshan to keep him at quarterback. With so many questions at receiver, he could have a chance to play and make an impact there. I would suspect that Rasshan is going to have to show considerable improvement in throwing the ball and thinking the game if he's going to stay at quarterback.
Having gotten Craft will perhaps give them the insurance to move Rasshan to WR. It's not as if Rasshan – or Olson or Cowan for that matter – have a big head start in the offense.
Chris Forcier, last season, almost saw the field because of the injury situation for UCLA at quarterback. While some fans were clamoring for it, and even some pundits, it wouldn't have been pretty. Forcier was nowhere near playing. He was still slight, and his arm lacked strength to make many throws. His athleticism and speed were impressive at times in practice, but that's not enough to be an effective quarterback. It's really critical for UCLA that Forcier, with MacLeod Bethel-Thompson having transferred, comes out in spring practice as a viable fourth option at quarterback, and shows signs that he can potentially be UCLA's quarterback of the future.
Nick Crissman will redshirt for 2008, with four (or five, if you count Rasshan) ahead of him on the depth chart. He doesn't have the kind of great arm strength to come into fall practice and wow everyone, to the point where he'd immediately be considered as a viable back-up for the 2008 season. But he does have enough talent, overall, leadership and a great mental approach to the position to vie for the starting position as a redshirt freshman against Forcier and Craft in 2009.
Kevin Prince will either take his Mission right out of high school, or greyshirt, with the potential to take his Mission in the next couple of years. We think Prince, most likely, will take his mission soon, and then return to UCLA in a couple of years. Prince, we think, is another who is vastly under-rated at his position. He has good size (at about 6-3, a strong arm and a very nice throwing motion). We heard that, as soon as Neuheisel and Chow saw his film, it was a no-brainer. He didn't probably get the recognition he deserved as a prospect since he sat out just about his entire senior season with a knee injury.