Dohn on Start of UCLA Practice

Brian Dohn, who just left the Daily News where he covered UCLA for six years, provides us his insight on some of the keys heading into UCLA's fall camp, including a rundown on personnel and more...

Brian Dohn, considered one of the best newspaper journalists in the Los Angeles area, recently left the Daily News to move to New Jersey after covering UCLA for the last six years. He signed a contract to work for Scout.com in a soon-to-be-announced capacity.
The freshmen report Saturday, the veterans Sunday, and the quest for bowl eligibility begins Monday as UCLA's football training camp commences.

And with more young speed at the skill positions than the Bruins have had in a while, an offensive line that is unsettled, and a red-shirt freshman playing quarterback, this will not be a hum-drum camp during the march to the Sept. 5 season opener against San Diego State.

OFFENSE

The most important spot is the offensive line, which was horrific in 2008 but now offers promise because the talent is improved, and the depth is markedly better.

There is a chance the offensive line will feature four new starters, despite four starters returning from last season.

Center Kai Maiava, the Colorado transfer, brings a toughness and athleticism to the center of a unit in dire need of both. He has a reputation for playing to the whistle, and sometimes beyond it, and can set the tone for the rest of the unit.

But the real questions on the offensive line is whether a pair of highly recruited freshmen will be able to absorb the offense quickly, and keep from getting overwhelmed, as they battle for starting spots. Stan Hasiak will get a shot at a starting guard spot, and it could be on either side of Maiava, and Xavier Su'a-Filo will get an opportunity to compete for the starting left tackle position. Both players are big and strong enough to play as true freshmen, no small feat for a lineman in the Pacific-10, but whether they can handle the mental aspect remains to be seen.

If Su'a-Filo can handle it, Bruins offensive line coach Bob Palcic may opt to move last year's starting left tackle, Jeff Baca, to right tackle. Also, the coaching staff will have an early eye on incoming freshman Greg Capella, who is not being overlooked as a possible first-year player.

Of course, Palcic spent all of last season mixing and matching along the offensive line, and that figures to be the case early in training camp as he tries to find his best 10 offensive linemen. Look for Nick Ekbatani, Ryan Taylor and Darius Savage to battle for a starting guard spot, and Mike Harris and Sean Sheller to factor into the starting tackle battles.

The offensive line's development will be key for quarterback Kevin Prince, a red-shirt freshman who has played less than one quarter of football since his junior season at Crespi High of Encino. Prince has a strong and accurate arm, is heady and can has a pocket presence, but he also hasn't played since 2006.

Prince has to take care of the football, unlike Kevin Craft (school record 20 interceptions) did in 2008. Baby steps is the best way to gauge Prince, who took on a large leadership role during the off-season and has earned the respect of his teammates with his competitive approach, work ethic and, above all, ability to find open receivers and not turn the ball over in practice.

But given UCLA's questions on the offensive line, it may be wise to keep tabs on the backups at quarterback. True freshman Richard Brehaut had trouble in the spring, and that was expected, considering he didn't get the playbook until days before the first practice, but has had a good off-season. Craft is a known commodity, which could work against him considering his penchant for throwing interceptions.

The coaching staff is sold on running back Christian Ramirez, despite his lack of experience or practice. He was academically ineligible last season and missed most of spring practice, but is considered far and away the best running back because of his size (6-2, 220), running instincts, ability to catch the ball and also block.

Offensive coordinator Norm Chow likes big running backs, and Ramirez's backup, Derrick Coleman (6-0, 230) fits that bill. It is also why the staff wasn't upset about Raymond Carter and Aundre Dean transferring. Red-shirt freshman Johnathan Franklin and true freshman Damien Thigpen add game-breaking speed to the equation, and it will be interesting to see how Chow incorporates them into the mix. Redshirt freshman Milton Knox offers another change of pace as a scat-back type.

The receiving corps is talented, but like many areas of the offense, filled with youth. Terrence Austin is a good route-runner, but hasn't shown breakaway speed within the offense. Reliable sophomore Taylor Embree is coming off shoulder surgery, but he is a sublime route runner and has fantastic hands.

What the Bruins need is a flash at receiver, and true freshman and California 100 and 200 meter high school state champ Randall Carroll is expected to provide that. Gavin Ketchum, Nelson Rosario and Antwan Moutra also should get plenty of action, so it could be an early make-or-break training camp for red-shirt freshman Jerry Johnson, especially if Carroll passes him.

Chow also will have versatility at tight end with senior Logan Paulsen, an NFL prototypical player, and H-back style players Ryan Moya and Morrell Presley. Somewhere in there 6-5, 250-pound Cory Harkey should be a factor, especially when the Bruins go in two-tight alignments.

DEFENSE

Defensively, there is not nearly as much intrigue. Expect the defense to be well ahead of the offense, as is always the case when training camp begins, but there are a few things worth watching.

At the forefront is how new defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough handles practice, and whether he relies heavily on zone, or plays man-to-man with what is a talented secondary.

Personnel-wise, red-shirt freshman cornerback Aaron Hester has a chance to be a stud. He is crazy-athletic and at 6-1, 200 pounds, he can play physical. His lack of understanding of zone defenses kept him out of the mix last season, and if he can get his penchant for holding in check, he could be a difference maker (good and bad) because teams are not going to want to attack senior Alterraun Verner on the other side.

One of the few battles for a starting spot is at strong safety, where Glenn Love is the favorite but needs to remain healthy (not an easy thing for him) and beat off an ever-improving Tony Dye. Love can hit and moves well. Dye's curse could be his versatility. He can play strong safety, back up Rahim Moore at free safety and also be the nickel defensive back, which could keep him out of the starting lineup.

UCLA's front seven should be strong, even with the loss of defensive tackle Brigham Harwell. But someone has to emerge to play next to defensive tackle Brian Price, who will see plenty of double teams and maybe even some triple teams. Price will get off the line of scrimmage quickly, and indoctrinate the youthful offensive linemen and cause havoc within a learning offense.

Senior Jerzy Siewierski is athletic, but will that translate into him being a successful every-down player? Senior Jess Ward would have won the job, but a chronic knee issue could limit him to 20 plays a game, and plenty of standing and watching during training camp.

Korey Bosworth is sneaky explosive at right defensive end, and his high football IQ should lead to a big season. But there is plenty of unprovenness on the other side where a lot will be learned about Datone Jones. On pure talent, he should beat out Reggie Stokes for the starting left defensive end spot.

The return of Kyle Bosworth at weakside linebacker gives the Bruins a tremendous linebacker trio. But Bosworth missed most of last season with a knee injury, and will need to show he is healthy and rust-free. Having Reggie Carter back in the middle should be a great asset since it allows him to be active on every play. And strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers has the speed to track down ball carriers from behind, and now has the experience to go with his athleticism.

However, depth is an issue throughout the defense, whether it is one of the many true freshmen defensive backs working their way into a back-up role or Mike Schmitt or Sean Westgate being the primary back ups on the outside of the linebacking corps.

There is also the matter of who backs up Price in the middle (David Carter anyone?) or Bosworth at defensive end.

One other thing worth watching is the progress of punter Jeff Locke. Place kicker Kai Forbath is nearly automatic, but the big-legged Locke had trouble with his directional punting in the spring.


Bruin Report Online Top Stories