Projected Depth Chart: Offense

It's entirely premature to try to project depth charts for the 2009 season two days after Signing Day and a couple of months before spring practice, but that's what we do here at BRO. We've plugged in all the new names and it's spit out an offensive depth chart with perhaps the most young talent in the last eight years...

With the commitment of 24 recruits on Wednesday, and two more JC players who intend to come to UCLA, that's 26 new players added to UCLA's roster by fall.

That definitely causes a scholarship crunch. You can carry just 85 scholarship football players, and UCLA had just 18 scholarships to give, so that means the coaching staff will have to come up with eight open scholarships if it hopes to accommodate all of its new recruits.

Now, there could be some ways to work around that. A new recruit or two could greyshirt – that is, enroll later in the season and not be counted against the 85. By greyshirting, it gives the situation time for more scholarships to open up. It could also be a matter of some of the JC recruits that are committed not able to become eligible.

But any way you look at it, some current players are probably leaving the team, either because of perceived lack of playing time, transfer or medical reasons.

We're not going to speculate about which players could leave, since we don't think it's appropriate, and could cause players, their families – and the UCLA coaching staff – some grief.

Instead of leaving anyone off the depth chart, we'll include everyone and leave the speculation to you on whom might be a candidate to leave.

So, the following projected depth chart for fall looks particularly deep, since it has eight players on it that most likely won't be apart of it come fall.

Offensive Line

It was UCLA's biggest need in terms of recruiting, and Neuheisel and company went out and got some JC guys who could give him some immediate help, and some very elite level high school talent that portends well for the future.

Xavier Su'a-Filo intends to take his Mormon mission after playing one season. Now, that could change, but if that remains the plan, he more than likely wouldn't redshirt his first year before leaving on his mission. So, you can pencil Su'a-Filo into the two deep. It's pretty safe to say that the JC transfer, Ryan Taylor, will be on the squad in fall since he's a good student and intends to enroll in spring quarter for spring practice.

Plugging in the rest of the new recruits isn't as easy. Stan Hasiak might be the one exception to the rule that true freshman offensive linemen aren't strong enough to play. We're going to project Nik Abele at offensive tackle and not on the defensive line since that's where most experts see him playing.

Ideally we know that Neuheisel and offensive line coach Bob Palcic would like to move sophomore-to-be Jeff Baca from tackle to guard, but it's a case of whether they can find anyone to fill the left tackle position adequately. It would be good if Micah Kia, who will be a senior, could step up and take command of that spot. He couldn't do it last season, but perhaps an off-season under the tutelage of Palcic will give him a chance.

With UCLA getting more depth now on the interior, it makes sense that Kia will be slotted outside.

One of the most interesting battles will be at center, where sometime starter Jake Dean will have to fight off Kai Maiava, the transfer from Colorado that had to redshirt last year. We know the coaching staff liked Maiava quite a bit because of his aggressiveness and toughness. There's also Taylor, the JC transfer, who the coaching staff projects at center.

Inside, you'd have to think that Darius Savage has the "inside" track for a starting spot. The other best bet would probably be senior-to-be Nick Ekbatani, who did time at tackle last season, too, but is best suited inside.

Mike Harris, who will be a soph, was a very welcomed surprise last season, coming on and eventually winning the starting right tackle position.

Something else to watch will be if Sean Sheller, who is returning from knee surgery that kept him out last season after an ATV accident, will be 100%. You'd have to think he'd be rusty. He's expected for spring practice.

As was Palcic's m.o. last season, you can expect the best five to be the starters, with those five plugging into the five starting spots regardless of whether they fit at another position better.

What's really exciting is to see how far physically guys like Baca, Harris, Nate Chandler, and Connor Bradford have come during the off-season. Chandler, especially, since it will be his first true off-season as an offensive lineman.

LT: Jeff Baca (SO), Micah Kia (SR), Nate Chandler (SO), Shawn Johnson (SO), Nik Abele (FR)

LG: Darius Savage (JR), Sonny Tevaga (JR), Stan Hasiak (FR)

C: Kai Maiava (SO), Jake Dean (JR), Ryan Taylor (JR)

RG: Nick Ekbatani (SR), Eddie Williams (SO], Jeff Capella (FR), Brandon Bennett (JR)

RT: Mike Harris (SO), Sean Sheller (JR), Xavier Su'a-Filo (FR), Connor Bradford (R-FR)

Again, you can expect this to look significantly different after spring practice, and definitely after fall camp.

If we had to guess, we see Baca challenging for Ekbatani's spot inside, that is, if Palcic finds someone to step up to the starting left tackle position, such as Kia, or actually maybe Su'a-Filo based on pure talent, or Chandler. It could be that Sheller is ready and able, and he or Harris move to the LT spot.

Inside, as we said, after Savage, it's really a wide open competition. From what we hear, if Williams qualifies, expect him to compete for a starting spot. As we said, Hasiak has the strength to play as a true freshman, but technique might hold him back. At center, from what we've heard, the starting spot is open, but the bet is on Maiava.

What's particularly encouraging is the youthful talent now in the program. There are only two seniors on the depth chart, and many very promising sophomores and freshmen.

Tight End and Wide Receiver

The depth at these positions is now very impressive. And it's not just stocked with bodies, but with experienced guys and some others who have shown flashes of big-time talent – and then some super elite freshman talent.

SE: Taylor Embree (SO), Dominique Johnson (JR), Nelson Rosario (SO), Ricky Marvray (FR)

FL: Terrence Austin (SR), Gavin Ketchum (SR), Antwon Moutra (SO), Jerry Johnson, R-FR), Randall Carroll (FR)

TE: Logan Paulsen (SR), Ryan Moya (SR), Corey Harkey (SO), Morrell Presley (FR), Jeff Miller (JR)

It's very exciting to think about the development of sophomores Moutra, Rosario and Jerry Johnson, combined with freshmen, speedy Carroll and then playmaker Marvray.

You can probably expect Carroll not to redshirt, probably getting time on special teams, possibly as a kick-off returner. As of right now, he's going to get his first look at wide receiver, and then possibly cornerback down the line.

Whatever you do, don't forget Jerry Johnson. He's a talented kid that needed some seasoning. Then think about Embree, Moutra and Nelson another year bigger and smarter, and there is some very impressive young receiver talent in the program.

Dominique Johnnson considered transferring, but we've heard he's been working hard since the end of the season. The coaches believe in his talent, but want to see a better effort out of him, so keep a watch on him for spring practice.

Tight end could be the most talented it's been in a decade. Paulsen returns after sitting out all of last season, and he should be one of the premier TEs in the Pac-10. Then there's Moya, who actually was one of the premier TEs in the Pac-10 this season, and the talented youngster Harkey, who is big and athletic.

Miller pleased the coaches when he switched to tight end last season and showed some ability, especially blocking the position, which is what UCLA needs with Chandler moving to OT.

Presley is one of the most exciting players to come to Westwood since Marcedes Lewis. He's about 6-3.5 and 215-ish right now, and likes to line up as a wide receiver, which he can do with his 4.5 speed. If he gets bigger physically, he's a match-up nightmare as he moves closer to the line. You can probably expect that UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow will use Presley in many different ways, trying to take advantage of his unique talent. Presley had surgery on his wrist a few weeks ago and has a cast, but he told us it will come off in a couple of weeks and he should be good to go for spring practice in April.

Running Back

The depth at this position is truly eye-opening. There are literally eight players who will probably start fall camp at tailback, and that's not counting Chane Moline. It's going to be one of the most exciting aspects of spring practice, watching who wins the starting tailback spot, and then the two back-up spots that will get significant playing time.

TB: Christian Ramirez (JR), Milton Knox (R-FR), Derrick Coleman (SO), Aundre Dean (SO), Raymond Carter (SO), Johnathan Franklin (R-FR), Dalton Hilliard (FR), Damien Thigpen (FR)

FB: Chane Moline (SR), Trevor Theriot (SR), Jayson Allmond (FR), Tobi Umodu (JR)

We have Ramirez penciled in as the starter, after talking to some sources close to the program. The coaches were really excited about him last off-season before he was suspended for the season. He's expected to be the bigger, slasher type. We fully expect Knox to be right there, and even if he isn't the official starter, get significant playing time next season. He was probably the best tailback on the roster last year, but had to redshirt due to academic and other considerations. It will be interesting to see Coleman after his first off-season; we still believe he's a fullback, but we'll see. There were rumors Dean could transfer, but he's telling everyone he's definitely staying and putting in the work to get better, and get on the field. Carter is really going to have to show something this spring and fall or get left out of the rotation. Franklin was very impressive on the scout team, and he looks quite a bit bigger physically; he could, though, end up in the defensive backfield. Hilliard, too, could end up a defensive back. Thigpen's speed will get him on the field, it's just uncertain whether that will be at tailback or perhaps at defensive back. He'll definitely get a look at kick-off returner as a true freshman, and on special teams, like on punt block.

Theriot isn't expected to be completely healthy by spring. If he is by fall, he'll probably win back the starting fullback position. Moline gives Chow more of an offensive threat, but Theriot is a better blocker. So, really, they make a good tandem and Chow could switch them out often. Then, Coleman could be added to the group. Watch for Allmond to compete, though. He is a very impressive physical specimen at 6-1 and 265, one who can run well. There is some thought that if he continues to get bigger he could end up as a defensive tackle, but the coaches are very excited to see him in the backfield first.

Quarterback

It truly will be wide open this spring, and the coaches are looking forward to the competition.

QB: Kevin Craft (SR), Kevin Prince (R-FR), Chris Forcier (SO), Richard Brehaut (FR), Nick Crissman (R-FR), Osaar Rasshan (SR)

While Craft had his much-chronicled struggles last year, he's still far ahead of any other quarterback in the program – or any coming in – in terms of knowledge of the offense and execution. If he's improved, it's going to be hard to unseat him.

Prince probably has the best chance. He picked up the offense fairly well, and throws a good ball, but he still wasn't close to Craft in practice.

There's skepticism about Forcier, and whether he'll ever be able to pick up the nuances of the offense. He still, too, hasn't gotten much physically bigger.

The wildcard in all of this is Brehaut. He's undoubtedly talented, and smart, and is the one guy who gives you the combination of a very accurate arm and mobility. But it's a huge task to come in as a true freshman and run a college offense. Since he'll be enrolled for spring quarter we'll find out pretty quickly if he's able to do it.

Crissman should be recovered from his shoulder injuries, but probably still not 100% back. Crissman is a guy who you can't count out, having those quarterback intangibles of savvy and toughness.

Rasshan has insisted he wants to stay at quarterback rather than move to wide receiver.

Overall, it's a young depth chart, but pretty talented. The offensive line is still the concern, but if Palcic can get his guys to build on last season and improve, that's about as much as you can ask. You'd have to expect it with just the maturation of Baca and Harris.

But in terms of talent, this could be the most UCLA has had on offense in a number of years. Again, it's young, so there are going to be mistakes and breakdowns, but there is more young talent and potential upside at the skill positions with guys like Moutra, Rosario, Knox, Embree, Dean, Prince, Brehaut, Harkey, Allmond, Presley, Jerry Johnson, Thigpen and Carroll than in any time of the UCLA program in the last 8 years.

Plug that talent into Chow's offense and, well, the outlook for UCLA's offense for the next few years is very promising.


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