Review of 2009 Fall Football Camp

It's the time of year again, when Bruin Report Online reviews the Bruin fall camp, and then makes some predictions for the season. First, we take a look at the developments over the last few weeks during practice -- the keys to the season, like the state of the offensive line and the quarterback position...

It's a tradition – to preface this annual story by pointing out that trying to predict a season's outcome is a dubious exercise, given everything that can occur between September and December, particularly in terms of injuries.

Even so, we uphold the tradition of making  predictions, but have to remind our readers that we've gotten a great deal of flack in the past for our predictions – which have turned out to be very accurate. In 2007, we predicted both the football season final record and, remarkably, the basketball season final record. We also predicted a win over USC in football that season.

In 2007, we predicted a 9-3 finish in football, which was off compared to the 6-6 of the actual record. But, if you remember, when we predicted 9-3, there were many who were talking about a national championship that season that criticized the prediction and called it far too pessimistic. So, if anything, we definitely were on the more accurate side of the fence in terms of having a grasp of the program.

Last season, we made a one-game-too-optimistic call of 5-7, when the team actually posted a 4-8 record.  

So, all in all, while it is dubious, we've been pretty accurate year after year.  

We'll start, as we annually do, with a review of what we've seen so far from the 2009 Bruins in fall camp.

Fall Camp Review

The first order of business when a team emerges out of double-days and starts game preparation, as UCLA is doing now, is to assess the casualties.  Last season, UCLA came out of fall camp in a near-catastrophic state, without its top two quarterbacks, and a number of key personnel sitting on the sideline.

The team this season isn't nearly as decimated.  Perhaps the biggest blow is to the developing offensive line when it lost veteran Micah Kia to an ACL last week.   But, other than that, UCLA isn't without any players who you would have projected as starters three weeks ago when fall camp started, except for running back Christian Ramirez, but it might prove to be a blessing for the UCLA backfield (in that it will get others opportunities).  

Last season it was easy to predict UCLA would struggle – when it went into September not only missing many players to injury, but having to replace a good number of starters.  

Going into 2008 UCLA had to replace 7 starters on defense; this year: two.  

On offense, UCLA lost just three players who were starting by the end of last season to graduation.  It's a unique situation, however, because UCLA will probably have six new starters on offense, guys who are replacing players still on the roster because of a talent upgrade.

So, that's a good thing, right?  Hopefully.

It's interesting to remember at this time last year most UCLA followers were a little giddy that there was a new coaching staff in place, which included one of the best – if not the best – offensive coordinators ever in Norm Chow.

But, at the time, while we were excited to watch the new UCLA offense – instead of the stretch, stretch, dive of the Karl Dorrell era – we were pretty realistic about how effective UCLA could be offensively, given the lack of talent on the roster, the inexperience, the injuries and that it was the team's first year in the offensive scheme.

This year, only just a year later, we've become used to Chow's innovative offense and expectations have risen.

Every fall camp there is some drama in terms of personnel, and this year the biggest drama took place on the first day of practice.   True freshman offensive linemen Xavier Su'a-Filo and Stan Hasiak lined up with the first-string offensive from the first snap.  The coaches said they were merely trying to give them a look,  since they were pretty familiar with the other offensive linemen on the roster.  But there was quite a bit more to it than that; it was clear that the UCLA coaches thought, despite their youth, Su'a-Filo and Hasiak were a considerable talent upgrade and wanted to get them working with the 1s as much as possible. It really was a win-win situation: if the two freshman proved to be worthy, you were smart to give them as much time with the ones as you could;  if they didn't prove worthy of starting, it wasn't that big of a loss since you, indeed, did know the other offensive linemen pretty well.

It did, indeed, prove to be a smart move.  Su'a-Filo is easily the most gifted lineman on the UCLA roster, with very quick feet and agility – the kind you want at your left tackle position protecting your quarterback's blind side.   Hasiak is one of the few strongest players on the team already and has a mean streak.  They both proved worthy of running with the 1s.

But then, after just a few days, JC transfer Eddie Williams was elevated from the second-string offensive line to the first string.  Williams also proved to be on a level of talent that UCLA really didn't have – huge, strong and pretty quick for his size.   You combine that with Kai Maiava, the transfer from Colorado who redshirted last season after the transfer, plugging into center, and you have four new starters for UCLA on the offensive line.  The "veteran" of the group is Jeff Baca, the true sophomore who started last season as an overwhelmed true freshman, who is now bigger and stronger, and has since moved to right tackle.

Maiava is considered the heart and spirit of the line, with a considerable mean streak himself.

Kia was slated to provide 20 or so plays at left guard to give Hasiak some rest, and that would have been key.  Without him, UCLA is still trying to find where they'll get Hasiak some relief.  It looks like it will be Mike Harris, a starter at the end of last season, plugging in at right tackle and Baca moving back to left guard.   We've also heard the staff likes JC transfer Ryan Taylor at center, and he could plug in and Maiava could move to guard.

Another blow to the OL was the loss of Nick Ekbatani, the senior, to an MCL.  Ekbatani, when he returns within a few weeks, might be the guy who provides Hasiak some relief.  

The OL has quite a bit more depth compared to last season, with guys like Harris, Ekbatani, Darius Savage, and Jake Dean all players who have started a number of games at UCLA.   

There was a very noticeable improvement in offensive line play in fall camp.  It was clear that the quarterbacks were getting considerably more time to throw.  There was also more running room.  There was still some breakdowns, and a good number of sacks, but not nearly as much pressure on the quarterback as there was last season in practice.

But don't expect miracles.  If you count Hasiak and not Harris, the starting OL has 8 starts in a Bruin uniform between the five of them.  Four of them didn't play college football last season.   They've been together for just a few weeks.  You have to expect that the OL is going to experience some issues, but it's also reasonable to expect they'll be improved from last season, and that improvement will be incrementally enough to make the offense decent.  

We've maintained that the two keys to the season are the offensive line and the quarterback.  Kevin Price, the redshirt freshman starter at QB, had an overall good fall camp.  He had some lapses, and not a great showing at last Saturday's scrimmage, but day in and day out over the last three weeks he was the most effective a UCLA quarterback had been in practice in a while.

Prince is a definite upgrade over last year's version of Kevin Craft.  He, first, has a much better arm, and throws more accurate and catchable balls.  He's calmer in the pocket, and has the capability of making quicker decisions.  He's a very smart kid, who the coaches rave about in the film room.  

Given that, though, it's important to have reasonable expectations for Prince this season. He hasn't actually played in a football game in two years (suffering a season-ending knee injury his senior year at Encino Crespi).   He's still learning the offense to the point that he can react rather than have to think.  He has a young offensive line in front of him.  On and on. There are just too many factors to allow yourself to fantasize about Prince having an all-Pac-10 season.  

But it's probably reasonable to expect him to continue to improve as the season progresses, as he gets comfortable.  As he settles in, he'll be able to get through his progressions with less panic, his throws will probably become more accurate, etc.   He's gotten in grooves in practice where he throws many very accurate balls in a row, and I think it's reasonable to expect him to get to the point where he's in a rhythm and the offense is humming. It might not be sustained for an entire game, or even a quarter, but with how accurately Prince can throw you can see it happening.

A big key to the season will be Prince's health.  If Prince goes down, UCLA's quarterback situation becomes a mystery.  True freshman Richard Brehaut looks to have won the #2 spot over Craft, but there's a question whether they'd really burn Brehaut's redshirt for some garbage time in the fourth quarter.  Ideally, you'd like Brehaut to redshirt so he's a year behind Prince.   Perhaps if there is a series or two here or there that Prince misses, they'll go with Craft.  But if, for whatever reason, Prince is out for a game, say, it will be interesting to see if they burn Brehaut's redshirt year.

The prevailing sentiment among coaches is to always do what allows you the best chance to win in the present, and worry about the future later.

Brehaut made some strides in fall camp.  You have to keep reminding yourself that he's a true freshman.  For a true freshman he looks remarkably good – even better than Prince did a year ago (though Brehaut had the added benefit of participating in spring practice).   Brehaut is more mobile than Prince, and throws well on the run.  He has shown some inconsistency in his throws, but again, he's a true freshman.  

Craft is pretty much Craft. He looks a little more poised than he was last year, and more comfortable.   He doesn't have the arm that Prince does, and he did still continue to force throws into coverage this fall, but not nearly as often.  Despite the prevailing sentiment, there are those in the program that feel Craft is a solid back-up quarterback, and that he is getting a bad rap after being thrown into the fire last year.  

One of the most impressive performances in fall camp was that of Nick Crissman.  Crissman underwent surgery for a torn labrum in his shoulder last year, and there was a time when it was uncertain whether he'd ever throw again. He couldn't throw even as recently as spring practice.  Despite that, Crissman, who is now a redshirt freshman, really showed some considerable moxy and ability this fall.   Yes, he has that awkward throwing motion, where he leaves his non-throwing had down when he throws, but if you just watch the ball and not the actual throw, you'll be impressed again and again at the accuracy of his throws.    It's completely uncertain what will happen with Crissman, since he's a freshman on a team with a freshman as the starting quarterback and a freshman as the #2 quarterback. Regardless, it's just a great story that Crissman has returned to the field and has shown he has the capability to be a D-1 quarterback.  

Probably the biggest key to the quarterback position being effective is the effectiveness of UCLA's running game this season.  If UCLA can move the chains by gaining yards on the ground, it takes considerable pressure off Prince (and it keeps UCLA's defense off the field).  

During practice the last few weeks, the offense generally looked better than it did last season in creating running room for its running backs.  There were, of course, the many times defensive tackle Brian Price would explode into the backfield and blow up a play, but there aren't many Brian Prices on the planet.  

The tailback position should be much improved also. Last season, UCLA lost its top two tailbacks – Kahlil Bell to injury and Christian Ramirez to ineligibility.  Bell was never 100% all season.   It then looked to true freshman Derrick Coleman, who gained 5.2 yards per carry, with an offense that overall gained just 2.7 yards per carry.  Coleman, admittedly, looked more like a fullback than a tailback in 2008, and played like a freshman many times.

This season, however, Coleman is slimmed down and more explosive – and a year more experienced.   

And Coleman probably isn't going to be the starting tailback.  It's looking like Johnathan Franklin, the redshirt freshman, may have won that job, riding his production in Saturday's scrimmage. He's been working with the first string since then and looking very good.   Ramirez, who is prone to injury, suffered an ankle sprain on his second carry in the scrimmage, and is out for an indefinite amount of time.  The report is that it could be a high-ankle sprain, and it could take longer for him to recover than just a couple of weeks.

So, UCLA will go into the season armed with the guy who probably earned the starting spot, the shifty, fast Franklin, the more explosive pounder Coleman, scatback Milton Know and true freshman speedster Damien Thigpen.   

Knox had a very good fall, looking more instinctive in hitting holes.  The word is that he's greatly improved on his blocking assignments (as has Franklin).

As of now, the coaches expect Thigpen to play and not to redshirt – based on his performance in fall camp but also because of the loss of Ramirez.  It will be interesting to look back on this development in a few months and re-evaluate.  Thigpen is one of the fastest guys in the country, and you'd like to be able to utilize that speed. He flashed it in the scrimmage, breaking a kick-off return for a touchdown.  But, if he's not going to get a lot of touches on the ball, you'd really like to redshirt him.  It will be very interesting to see if, say, he doesn't redshirt, what kind of impact he'll have.  It will also be interesting if, say, we look back after Thigpen became a huge weapon over the course of the season and consider Ramirez's injury fortuitous since it contributed to Thigpen not redshirting.

In practice, we've already witnessed some dynamic ways Chow is experimenting with utilizing Thigpen (of course, we can't reveal how or UCLA would have to kill you).  

UCLA looks very well-stocked at fullback, with seniors Chane Moline and Trevor Theriot.  Moline has had a good fall camp, and it's clear UCLA will be utilizing him as a receiver quite often.  He has been prone to injury in the past, so it's good that UCLA has Theriot. True freshman Jayson Allmond had a good showing in camp, and he brings a completely different dimension to the backfield, being a good 260 pounds with some quickness.  But the coaches intend, as of now, to redshirt him, feeling that he still has quite a bit to learn and would rather save the year of eligibility.  

Really one of the strongest aspects of UCLA's team is its receiving group.  It's hard to remember a time when UCLA was this deep and talented at both receiver and tight end.

There were some known quantities heading into fall camp among the players at these two spots, and then there were some surprises, too.

First, with the known quantities. At receiver, the two starters going into camp were Terrence Austin and Taylor Embree.  Both had very good camps, and look poised to have big seasons.  Embree set freshman receiving records for UCLA a year ago, and is bigger and stronger, and far more confident in taking the ball up the field after the catch.  Austin shows his four years of experience in getting open.  Both exhibited very good hands all camp.   

The first off the bench at receiver is thought to be senior Gavin Ketchum. He's a big target, is reliable and is the best downfield blocker among the receivers. Ketchum, however, is injury prone, and it's questionable how much he'll actually be in the rotation because of it.  He currently is sitting out due to a hamstring.  

True sophomore Nelson Rosario is next in the hierarchy, and he's a bit of a quandary. Many times this fall he appeared to be coasting, and not aggressively going after balls.  But then, like on Tuesday, he'd make an exceptional play on a ball. We know that Chow loves him, and many feel it's just a matter of time until Rosario's light turns on completely.  

Winning a spot in the receiver rotation is freshman speedster Randall Carroll. Carroll came to UCLA as a well-known track sprinter, but whether he was a legit football player was questioned.  In fall camp, he surprised many, including the coaches, by his football savvy and his solid hands.   With that working for him, there were times when his speed was stunning – where he'd get behind a defensive back so quickly and effortlessly.   He brings a dimension to UCLA's receivers that UCLA hasn't had in quite a while.  At the very least, defenses will have to honor his speed and he'll be able to stretch the field to create more space for UCLA receivers to operate.  Best-case scenario, Carroll has a very good chance to become one of the best deep threats in the Pac-10, even as a true freshman.

One of the most welcomed surprised of camp was the emergence of Jerry Johnson, the redshirt freshman receiver.  Johnson might have started practice last on the receiver hierarchy, but he's earned a spot in the receiver rotation this fall.  He's always been a big, quick athlete, but lacked the focus and work ethic.  But he matured in the off-season and in the last three weeks, showing more consistency.  It was clear he was working hard on every rep in fall camp, and he produced some of the most memorable catches.  

The freshman, Ricky Marvray, also performed beyond expectation, seriously competing to make the receiver rotation and not redshirt.  He was very consistent in practice, ran very good routes and showed very reliable hands.  As of now, it looks like he'll be on the scout team and redshirt, but if one of the receivers in the rotation falters, the coaches probably wouldn't hesitate to use him.

Antwon Moutra, who played last season as a true freshman, might have had the most disappointing fall camp among the receivers.  While, say, Johnson was asserting himself more, Moutra was doing it less.  As of now, he looks relegated to the scout team, which will probably lead to a redshirt year.  With Ketchum on the sideline, however, Moutra did move off the scout team.  

It's clear that UCLA is going to use a six-receiver rotation, rather than the more conventional five receivers.  It looks to be Austin, Embree, Ketchum, Rosario, Carroll and Johnson, if everyone is healthy.  

The tight ends are a clear strength of the team.  You have H-back type Ryan Moya, returning from a second-team all-Pac-10 season. Moya had a very good camp, looking like he will again be Chow's most unheralded secret weapon.  There is then senior Logan Paulsen, who sat out all of last season.  Paulsen didn't have a flashy camp, but a consistent one.  He's a great blocking tight end, who will surprise many by his pass-catching ability.  

For many programs that would easily be enough talent at tight end to get them comfortably though the season.  But one of the guys who has probably matured the most on offense is true sophomore tight end Cory Harkey.  Harkey had to play last season as a true freshman, and made his true freshman errors. He looks to be quite a bit more polished in fall camp, catching the ball more consistently.  

Then, there is Nate Chandler, who had a very good fall camp. Chandler has alternated between offensive tackle and tight end too many times to remember, but, since fall camp, has been at tight end. And it looks like he's there to stay.  Chandler is, obviously, one of the best blocking tight ends on the team, but over the last three weeks really exhibited a nice pass-catching ability.  He's a huge target, at 270 pounds, rumbling down the field.  He had some of the most memorable hits of fall camp, too.

Jeff Miller has been out for sometime with an injury, but the junior is thought of as a solid guy who can give you a handful of plays in every game.

Then, there is Morrell Presley.  The 6-4, 220-pound true freshman came to UCLA as the #1-ranked tight end in the country, enrolling last spring in time for spring practice .  Since then he's shown flashes of talent, but there have been some issues.  First, he's still pretty raw in his pass-catching ability and route-running.  Secondly, the UCLA coaches, given his current size, aren't exactly sure what to do with him.  One day he'd be working out with the tight ends, the next day with the wide receivers.  It appears Chow will use Presley like he does Moya, as an H-back type, trying to find mis-matches for him to exploit.   You can expect Presley to line up just about anywhere on the field.  Since he's returned from his quad injury, he's has been working with the game offense and not the scout team, so it's clear UCLA expects to use him, or at least have him prepared to play.

We have to also mention Joseph Fauria, the 6-8 tight end who transferred from Notre Dame.  Since he'll have to redshirt this year due to NCAA transfer rules, he's not part of UCLA's plan for the season, but you can expect him to be in 2010. Fauria proved this fall that he's potentially an all Pac-10 type player, with a surprising ability to run for a guy his size.  The word from the quarterbacks is that he's such an easy target, since he's a full head above everyone in the pattern.  

Overall, during fall camp, the offense looked like it would have a much better chance at being effective this season compared to last year.   It's reasonable to expect that the offense is going to struggle at times, but if they can 1) not turn over the ball, 2) stay on the field longer and 3) run the ball better, it probably would be enough, given UCLA's defense, for the Bruins to have a successful season.

Now, for the optimistic Bruin fans out there – I wouldn't put away those fantasies about UCLA's offense evolving into a good one this season.  UCLA has talent on offense like it hasn't had in at least a few years. It has some weapons.  It has a quarterback that has the potential to be very good.   It has an offensive line that clearly has looked better in this fall camp than the offensive line did anytime last season.

So, there's enough there to envision some offensive success.

Defensively, fall camp proved that UCLA has the talent among its starters to be very good, and probably better than it was a year ago.  But, fall camp also proved it's going to be all about depth.   The Bruins' defense, while talented at the top, isn't greatly deep, and a few injuries could rattle the foundation, as it's already done in the last three weeks.

There isn't great depth on the front seven, and the depth in the back four is generally young and inexperienced.

During fall practice, when UCLA had three defensive linemen in its two deep go down, depth became such an issue that the coaches moved two offensive linemen to the DL.

You might think that UCLA is thin at defensive tackle, but it's actually thinner at defensive end.  UCLA lost veteran back-up Chinonso Anyanwu for the season before practice began, then lost second-stringer and one-time starter Reginald Stokes to an ACL, which should have him out for about half the season.   That, then, elevated redshirt freshman Damien Holmes to the role of first defensive end off the bench.  Yes, he was going to play this year, but it wasn't expected that he'd be thrust into such a role.  Then, true freshman Keenan Graham, who was looking very talented, broke his jaw in the scrimmage and is out for an uncertain amount of time.   That puts true freshman Iuta Tepa in the two-deep, or converted offensive lineman Connor Bradford.   At this point it looks like both are going to play.  Tepa showed he has a good motor and good agility.  

It's critical that starters Korey Bosworth and Datone Jones remain healthy.   Health, while important at every position, is particularly critical at defensive end for UCLA this season.

Defensive tackle isn't that much better.  You have future NFLer Brian Price, who could have an All-American season. Then, there is Jerzy Siewierski, who the coaches said has been good enough to start at UCLA in his first three seasons, but was behind Brigham Harwell.  Siewierski injured his back while weight lifting and only returned to practice in the last couple of days.  

One of the best developments on defense has been the emergence of David Carter at tackle.  Carter is a big boy, at 6-5 and about 290, and he's shown very good quickness in practice over the last three weeks – the kind where you could see him as an impact player.  

Jess Ward, the senior, injured his ACL, but was running in practice Thursday and looked pretty healthy. If they don't want to rush him back for the San Diego State game he'll probably be completely fine in time for Tennessee.  

Those four make up a very good rotation at defensive tackle – one with talent and experience.  If the four stay healthy for the season, expect the DTs to be a strength of the team.

Andy Keane, the disappointing DT who was thought to be a talent but hasn't done anything starting his fourth year in the program, actually has gotten some time with the 2s and occasionally the 1s this fall because of UCLA's lack of depth.   Justin Edison, the redshirt sophomore, is also there, but he hasn't distinguished himself.

The linebackers haven't experienced the injuries of the front four, but they are similar in the way they have very good talent among the starters, but some question marks in terms of depth.  Reggie Carter will again prove to be one of the best in the Pac-10 at middle linebacker  Kyle Bosworth returns after missing most of last season, and, being a fifth-year senior, he's expected to have a great year at weakside linebacker.  Akeem Ayers, the sophomore, is a star in the making.

Behind them, there is one proven guy – the back-up at middle linebacker, Steve Sloan.  Sloan started 9 games last season when Carter had to fill in at the weakside spot after Bosworth got hurt.   Sloan had a very good fall camp, asserting himself more.  

After that, though, the back-up linebacking crew is unproven.  Sean Westgate, the undersized weakside linebacker, didn't redshirt last year, proving himself to be a great special teams player.   The coaches like his savvy, but he is just 5-11 and 205, on a bulky day.   If something did keep Bosworth out of the lineup, it's believed the coaches would again slide Carter over and plug in Sloan at middle linebacker.

On the other side, redshirt freshman Donovan Carter has worked his way up to the #1 stronside linebacker, moving ahead of junior Mike Schmitt.   Carter had some moments this fall, but he's still thought of as being very raw.  The intention is to get him some game experience this season.  If something happened to Ayers, you could probably expect Bosworth to move to strongside,  Carter to weakside and Sloan, again plugging into the starting lineup at middle linebacker.  

The third string is Schmitt at strongside, Patrick Larimore in the middle and walk-on Frank Guzman at weakside.    Larimore, who was almost completely unheard from last season in practice, definitely stepped up this fall and looked like he could be a contributor sometime in his career.  He showed an aggressiveness and a mean streak.   

True freshman Todd Golper, who looked very heady in fall camp, is the scout team middle linebacker, and true freshman Isaiah Bowens is the scout strongside linebacker.  Bowens looks good physically, but it was hard to get a sense of him this fall.  Golper, despite being on the smallish side, this fall looked like he'd be a guy who could contribute down the line at UCLA.

In the defensive secondary, the strong safety spot is still open.  It does, though, appear that Tony Dye has won the position over Glenn Love.   While this would be simplified, it's the coaches taking speed over size.   From what we're hearing, though, both are going to play quite a bit.  

Rahim Moore, the true sophomore free safety, was one of the guys who noticeable looked bigger physically. He didn't necessarily have a flashy fall, but a solid one.  

Those three, Moore, Dye and Love, will be the primary safety rotation.

Senior Aaron Ware has been the odd man out a bit during fall camp.   The coaches used some of the true freshmen with the 2s ahead of Ware, to get a look at the youngsters.  It's thought, though, that Ware is the #4 safety going into game week.  

The coaches really liked what they saw from their frosh safeties, though.  Almost with the first couple of hours of practice it was clear that Stan McKay was a stud – aggressive and quick to the ball.  It's thought that he's a good enough talent that, after a year in the program, he'll be competing for the starting strong safety position next fall.   The coaches also like Dalton Hilliard, who returned from a knee operation.  Hilliard showed good quickness and natural instincts.  

True freshman Alex Mascarenas looks pretty small at about 5-10 and 180.  

Coming into fall camp, redshirt freshman Aaron Hester had already won the open corner spot in spring practice, and he proved it was the right decision over the last few weeks.  Hester will sometimes have a breakdown, but other times it's stunning how quick he can be for his size.    With potential  All-American Alterraun Verner on the other side, you can expect offenses to pick on Hester.  Hester was a little dinged up through the last week of fall camp, but appears to be okay now.  

Verner, of course,  was spectacular during the last three weeks.  His cover ability is remarkable and, even when he's lost his receiver for a step, his ability to recover is particularly impressive.  He has the best instincts of any UCLA cornerback in the last decade.

You have to give Andrew Abbott a great deal of credit.  The walk-on has done so well – last year and in fall camp this year – that he's in the two-deep at corner.  He's also probably earned the responsibility of being the #1 nickel back.

Courtney Viney, who has had to live down his diminutive stature, had a very good fall camp, looking very solid in coverage.   Those two – Abbott and Viney – are the two primary back-ups at corner.

There is, then, some great young talent at cornerback among the true freshmen.   Perhaps the guy who impressed the most was Sheldon Price, the 6-2, long, fast athlete. The coaches off the record rave about Price, saying that he possibly is good enough to make the two-deep this year, but that he could use a year to get stronger. When Verner leaves after this season, it's expected that Price will be the main contender for the starting spot next season.

But hold on there because Marlon Pollard is another freshman who has had a pretty impressive fall.  Pollard is also good-sized at 6-0, but like Price needs to bulk up, being only 160 pounds or so.   Pollard is a bit more raw than Price but very quick – being able to move laterally very well.  

Pollard and Price, actually, haven't been moved just yet to the scout team.   

Brandon Sermons is the other freshman, and he didn't perform as well as Price and Pollard, but he still has some considerable potential.  

The Special Teams showed in the last three weeks that they have the potential to be, well, special.

Place-kicker Kai Forbath is on many pre-season All-American lists. He has a range to about 52 yards and he's very, very accurate.  

Redshirt freshman punter Jeff Locke was one of the stars of fall camp.  He not only typically launches punts on an average of about 50 yards, his hang time is remarkable.   Besides his punting, it appears Locke might do kick-off duties, with a bigger foot than Forbath.  And, while Forbath was out for a week with a strained quad, Locke took over field-goal kicking, and was excellent. In the scrimmage, he hit three field goals, one being 52 yards.   Locke, also has shown an uncanny ability at pooch punting in practice.

So, you have the kickers, but you also have an All-American long snapper in Christian Yount.

On the receiving end, at punt returner there is the best in the Pac-10 in Terrence Austin.   Austin also looks like he'll be the first-string kick-off returner.  

But there are also some very exciting possibilities behind Austin.  Thigpen busted a kick-off return and a punt return for touchdowns in the scrimmage, displaying that blazing speed.   Randall Carroll also is getting looks at kick-off return.

Coming up: the season prediction…

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