Kyle Boller: Quarterback on the Rise
Arriving in Berkley with great expectations, the first three seasons of quarterback Kyle Boller's career at the University of California were a major disappointment and many wrote him off for any serious draft consideration next April coming into the season. A tremendous athlete with a great arm, Boller possesses all the physical skills required of a top flight prospect but never displayed a feel for the game or quarterback position. Much of the problem was attributed to the coaching carousel at Cal; new coordinators were shuffled-in every season and eventually there was a change at the top after the 2001 season, a change that was in the best interest of Boller and the entire California program. Joe Tedford, the former Oregon Ducks offensive coordinator who helped hone the skills of high draft picks such as Joey Harrington, Akili Smith and Trent Dilfer (when he was at Fresno State) was hired to take over the program and its' paying high dividends. Finally transitioning his athletic abilities into quarterbacking skills, Boller's completion percentage has improved by 10 points during the seasons first half and he's already matched the passing yardage of last year. Factor in a touchdown-to-interception ratio of almost 4-1 this season (compared to 1-1 last season) and it all adds up to Boller and his talents possibly finding their way into the drafts first day next April. The results also have Cal in the bowl hunt for the first time since 1996. Boller will be throwing against one of the worst defenses in the PAC Ten and a unit that is hurting. The match-up to watch is Boller's arm against the cover skills of Ricky Manning Jr., one of the more unheralded corners in the nation. Slight in size, (short more to the point) Manning is a shut down corner yet at the same time not afraid to throw his body around the field, helping to defend the run. Does Boller challenge Manning Jr.? Most UCLA opponents have not this year.
UCLA's Trio of Devastating pass catchers
Craig Bragg has answered the call since taking over for Brian Poli-Dixon. The red-shirt sophomore leads the team with 29 receptions, averaging of 17.9 yards per catch. Factor in seven touchdowns (one for every four receptions) and Bragg is displaying himself to be a game controlling wide out that breaks the contest open on occasion. Right behind Bragg is another top flight underclassman; Tab Perry. Looking like a basketball player in football cleats, Perry has size, speed and big play ability at receiver. Slowly putting together the pieces as a junior, Perry's lessening the drops and lapses in concentration. Mike Seidman rounds the unit out and the big tight end offers a reliable pair of hands with the intelligence to read the defense then find the open spot on the field. Seidman does not time well in the forty nor is he the athlete of former Bruin Bryan Fletcher, drafted by the Bears in the sixth round last April, but could find his way onto an NFL roster in 2003. The Bears have a pair of draftable prospects in the secondary that must shut these three down. Nnambi Asomugha is a tough safety that covers well in the short field while Jameel Powell is a speedy corner effective in press-coverage. To our minds Cal's best cover-man, LaShaun Ward, is now at receiver and leads the team in all purpose yardage. Ward probably won't be selected in the draft but expect him to make it onto a practice squad and eventually find his way on a roster at cornerback.
Battle in the Trenches
Possibly the best lineman for either side, UCLA's Rodney Leslie, is on the sidelines with a foot injury. After that the trenches are filled mostly with free agents. UCLA's bookend tackles, Bryce Bohlander and Mike Saffer are both big, tough blockers but marginal athletes with limited upside potential that will fall out of the draft. They must stop three athletic players on the Bears defensive front four. Tully Banta-Cain is a pass rushing terror whose already accounted for 20 tackles behind the line of scrimmage; seven of them being sacks. Banta-Cain though is an undersized 'tweener; he has linebacker size but defensive end speed and only marginal prospects at the next level. The same can be said for Jamaal Cherry, though Cherry does have experience playing off the line and defending in space. Coming into the season we felt Daniel Nwangwu was the underrated defensive tackle no one ever spoke of and could be one of the gems/sleepers at his position. Nwangwu is a top athlete with deceptive strength and a lineman that defends the run or rushes the passer with equal effectiveness. A starter since he was a true freshman, Nwangwu's senior campaign was beset with injury early on and the scheme now employed by the Bears does not lend to him standing out. Still; we feel he has good upside for the next level.