Lester White, the safety from Riverside North, verbally committed. After UCLA had lost the commitment of Roby Toma, it had moved in the Scout.com rankings from #4 to #6, but now with the commitment of White, it's back at #4, and no longer tied with North Carolina.
USC, by the way, settled in at #8.
The commitment of 27 players definitely causes a scholarship crunch. You can carry 85 scholarship football players at any given time, and UCLA had just 18 scholarships to give, so that means the coaching staff will have to come up with nine 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 in fall. 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 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 who might be a candidate to leave.
So, the following projected depth chart is going to look a bit deeper than it will, since it has nine players on it (on offense and defense) that most likely won't be apart of it come fall.
The D-line will have have adequate depth for 2009, but then it's the one unit that will suffer the most from graduation (or a player leaving early to the NFL) than any other in the program.
The incoming freshmen for 2009 probably won't see the field as true freshmen since --- even though talented – they'll most likely need to benefit physically from a redshirt year in the program.
The one guy coming to the program that UCLA is hoping to have the most impact is JC prospect Branden Warner at defensive tackle. The word is that it's still questionable whether he'll qualify. He didn't sign an NLI last Wednesday because there was a non-grade related hang-up with his transcripts. As soon as they're released, he will sign, but he'll still have to do a good amount of work during the summer to enroll in fall. There are two factors here playing against it: 1) That he simply can't complete the coursework and 2) as we've seen in the past, another program swoops in and makes it clear to him he wouldn't have to do any extra coursework to enroll at their school. Warner has said he's committed to UCLA, and you have to hope that it's just not recruiting season/official visit buzz, and that his sentiment sticks with him while he's hitting the books this summer.
If Warner does, in fact, enroll by next fall, the factor that could limit him in fall camp was that he didn't benefit from the UCLA strength and conditioning regimen during the summer.
Even so, we're hearing that Warner is good enough to be expected to play immediately. He'll have two years to play two so he'll come in as a junior.
LE: Korey Bosworth (SR), Chinonso Anyanwu (JR), Keenan Graham (FR), Iuta Tepa (FR)
DT: Brian Price (JR), Jess Ward (SR), Andy Keane (JR)
DT: Jerzy Siewierski (SR), Branden Warner (JR), David Carter (JR) RE: Reginald Stokes (JR), Datone Jones (SO), Damien Holmes (R-FR), Justin Edison (SO)
UCLA is hoping that Ward can be solid as a back-up, after last season fighting injury and a temporary move to offensive line. If he and Carter, who performed okay as a back-up toward the end of last season, have improved even moderately, UCLA's interior D-line should be good again. Of course, you lose Brigham Harwell, and Sierwierski isn't Harwell, but he's solid. Then, if Warner can give them another body that can play, that's good depth. Eddie Williams, the JC offensive lineman who is penciled in for offensive guard, also could make a move here. He's a pile-driver, and with the projected lack of depth at the DT position for the next couple of years, it might be a move UCLA feels is critical for its future at DT.
The d-end spots should be improved over last season, when they weren't great. After Tom Blake got hurt, and Bosworth was nicked up for a good portion of the season, true freshman Datone Jones had to step in, and he was physically over-matched most of the time. We've heard, though, that Jones is doing good strength work in the off-season, so a bigger, stronger Jones is expected back in spring. He's a talented kid and they think throwing him into the fire as a true freshman will pay off down the line, and hopefully as soon as next season. Stokes returns from an injury that sidelined him for a considerable amount of the season; the coaches like Stokes and think a more mature Stokes and Jones are going to hold down that position well in 2009.
Depth is an issue. Depth, actually that can play. It's a good spot to watch this spring, to see who emerges among Holmes, Edison and Anyanwu to provide good back-up minutes. Edison didn't look like he could play at this level last year in practice, and Holmes, while good on the scout team, looked physically a long ways away. However, eyeballing Holmes on campus recently he has gotten considerably bigger. Anyanwu couldn't play for half the 2009 season due to Crohn's disease, which is an affliction of the gastrointestinal tract. He quietly returned at the end of the season, and played and the word is that he's healthy and able. It's believed that perhaps the Crohn's was a factor in Anyanwu being unable to put on weight, but more than likely it's just his physical make-up.
Overall, the defensive line looks to be UCLA's weakest aspect of the 2009 defense, at least six months before fall camp. Price is obviously a star, Bosworth is an over-achiever and had a very good season in 2008. But after that, it's all more or less a question mark.
UCLA only loses one real contributor, John Hale, for the 2009 season, and the linebacking unit is expected to be a real strength of the defense.
It starts with Reggie Carter, who will be an All-American candidate, no matter what position he plays. That could be undetermined with the return of Kyle Bosworth, who sat out the entire 2008 season with an injury. If Bosworth plugs back into the weakside spot, then Carter probably goes back to middle linebacker.
SLB: Akeem Ayers (SO), Donovan Carter (R-FR), Isaiah Bowens (FR)
MLB: Reggie Carter (SR), Steve Sloan (SO), Patrick Larimore (R-FR), Todd Golper (FR)
WLB: Kyle Bosworth (SR), Sean Westgate (SO), Taniela Maka
We've heard that UCLA will go with its best three as the starters, and that's Carter, Bosworth and Ayers.
Much is expected of Ayers; starting as a redshirt freshman last season, he showed flashes of greatness, and it's believed that experience will pay off in a big way for 2009.
The issue with linebacker is depth, again. There are bodies, but mostly young, inexperienced ones. Sloan will be a very nice back-up option at middle linebacker, since he started a great deal of the 2008 season, but after that it's the unknown. We have to admit that we didn't get much of a look at Larimore on the scout team in practice. Donovan Carter looked a bit out of shape. Westgate did a good job on special teams and played a little at weakside LB. Linebacker coach (and new defensive coordinator) Chuck Bullough likes Westgate, but he's still very small at 5-11 and 210.
You'd have to think that, with the only back-up that the staff trusts being Sloan, Reggie Carter could be used to give Bosworth a rest. Perhaps Larimore can compete as a back-up at the strongside position to provide Ayers some breathers.
It would be a surprise if any of the three freshmen came in and immediately competed for a spot in the two-deep. Probably the most likely would be Taniela Maka, because there is opportunity at weakside linebacker, where he projects.
So, you have to like the starting three, but the unproven depth doesn't make the unit very injury-proof.
UCLA loses two starters, Bret Lockett and Michael Norris who, by the end of the 2008 season, were playing very well and will be difficult to replace.
It's going to make for a young, inexperienced – but talented – defensive secondary.
LC: Tony Dye (SO), Aaron Hester (FR), Alex Mascarenas (FR), Marlon Pollard (FR)
SS: Glenn Love (SO), E.J. Woods (R-FR), Stanjarivus McKay (FR), Lester White (FR; possible G-shirt)
FS: Rahim Moore (SO), Aaron Ware (SR), Brandon Sermons (FR)
RC: Alterraun Verner (SR), Courtney Viney (SO), Andrew Abbott (R-FR), Sheldon Price (FR)
That's 13 sophomores or freshmen, which is a huge amount of inexperience. You know there isn't a great deal of experience when you look at the depth chart and true sophomore Rahim Moore would be considered a veteran.
We have heard that Dye could get the first look at the open cornerback spot, even though, when he was given a shot at the position in fall camp a year ago, they thought he was better suited for safety. The coaches like Hester quite a bit, especially since he's about 6-1 to 6-2 and can move. He's raw, still, but he's bursting with potential. It very well might be a case that they put Hester in the spot and do the trial-by-fire thing. Viney looks to have been passed up a bit in the cornerback hierarchy and he'll have to show something in spring to compete for the open starting spot. DeWayner Walker, the departed defensive coordinator, really liked the walk-on Abbott, and he's the one walk-on we included in either the offensive or defensive depth charts because of a real chance to play.
Love has had an up-and-down experience at UCLA. As a true freshman, the coaches loved his size and athleticism. He was then nicked up by injuries, and seemed to have lost favor with the coaches. Last season, through very good play on special teams, he won back some favor, and was the first safety off the bench by the end. If Dye doesn't make it as a corner, he and Love could compete to start at the strong safety spot.
The guy to watch is Woods, who has enough talent to leapfrog those in front of him. He sat out last season to get his academics and other issues in order, which he did. He has a chance to be a big-time strong safety at UCLA, and it all begins this spring.
It would be a bit of a surprise if any of the true freshmen came in and made the two-deep. We've heard that the guy, perhaps, with the best chance could be Mascarenas, since he's smart, was very well coached at Mission Viejo, and has very good natural instincts.
Aaron Perez, who seems to have held down the punting duties for a decade, graduates.
Perez developed into a very good punter, and a real weapon, and he'll be difficult to replace. Jeff Locke came to UCLA heralded as one of the best punters in the country but, to be blunt, didn't look good in practice. Hopefully it's the same true freshman issues that Perez had (if you remember, Perez wasn't great his first couple of seasons).
Perez also was the holder, so that role is yet to be determined. UCLA doesn't like to use a quarterback at the position for risk he'll get hurt, and has gone with other special teams players so they can work on the hold while the offense and defense are practicing.
The rest of the special teams personnel is intact from last season, except that Jimmy Rotstein, the walk-on kicker who performed kick-offs, left the program.
PK: Kai Forbath (JR)
KO: Kai Forbath (JR)
P: Jeff Locke (R-FR)
LS: Christian Yount (JR)
PR: Terrence Austin (SR), Taylor Embree (SO), Milton Knox (R-FR)
KOR: Terrence Austin (SR), Christian Ramirez (JR), Johnathan Franklin (R-FR)
Austin will continue to return both kick-offs and punts. Ryan Graves is gone, and Embree got some work at punt return in practice. Ramirez was written in as the starting kick-off returner before he was suspended for the season.
The rest of the back-ups are pure speculation. Knox got some work at both punt and kick-off return, as did Franklin. You'd also think that the true freshman speedsters Damien Thigpen and Randall Carroll will get looks.