June 19, 2008

Coach: Rick Neuheisel (first season at UCLA; 66-30 in eight seasons overall). | Staff
In 2007: 6-7 overall, 5-4 in the Pac-10 (tied for fourth in league).
Returning starters: Offense: 3. Defense: 4. Special teams: 2 | Depth Chart
Key losses: Offense — T Brian Abraham, WR Brandon Breazell, WR Joe Cowan, C Chris Joseph, TB Chris Markey, G Shannon Tevaga. Defense — T Kevin Brown, CB Trey Brown, E Bruce Davis, SS Chris Horton, FS Dennis Keyes, LB Christian Taylor.
Final 2007 Rivals.com ranking: 47th. | Complete Final 2007 Rankings
2008 Breakdown: Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule | Depth Chart

OFFENSE

THE SCHEME: Offensive coordinator Norm Chow brings his pro-style offense back to Los Angeles. The Bruins will utilize the fullback and tight end, but also will line up in one-back and shotgun sets.

STAR POWER: When healthy, senior tailback Kahlil Bell should be UCLA's top offensive player. In eight games last season, he ran for 795 yards and five touchdowns before missing the rest of the year and spring drills following reconstructive knee surgery. Bell, a physical runner, also is the Bruins' best pass-blocking back.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: True freshman Nelson Rosario could make an instant impact at wide receiver. Rosario is a 6-foot-4, 202-pound, four-star prospect. He could help a receiving corps missing its top two options from last season.

IT'S HIS TIME: Unquestionably, this spot belongs to senior quarterback Ben Olson. He was one of the top quarterbacks in the class of 2002, a class headlined by Vince Young. After a transfer from BYU, a Mormon mission and a variety of injuries, he has played only 14 career games. With quarterback Patrick Cowan out for the season with a torn ACL and the arrival of a quarterback guru in Chow, this is a perfect opportunity for a breakout season by Olson. The backup quarterback is Kevin Craft, who was the California junior college player of the year last season.

STRONGEST AREA: Despite the departure of Chris Markey, UCLA has a strong stable of tailbacks. But there is little experience beyond Bell. Redshirt freshman Raymond Carter is explosive – or was, anyway; he is returning from a major knee injury. If Bell and Carter struggle with their recoveries, four-star true freshman Aundre Dean is waiting in the wings.

BIGGEST PROBLEM: New line coach Bob Palcic – who spent the past two seasons as line coach at Wisconsin – has his work cut out for him. Junior tackle Micah Kia is the only sure thing on the line. The new center is senior Micah Reed, a former walk-on who started eight games at guard last season. The rest of the first-stringers are unproven: sophomore tackle Sean Sheller, sophomore guard Darius Savage and senior guard Scott Glicksberg, a converted tight end.

OVERVIEW: Health is a major concern for the new staff. Cowan already has been lost for the season. Olson, who has had trouble staying healthy, missed the end of the spring drills with a broken foot. The loss of projected starting tackle Aleksey Lanis, a senior whose career ended because of chronic knee injuries, was a huge blow. Bell, Carter and senior receiver Marcus Everett are recovering from injuries. It's a good thing Neuheisel and Co. have boosted UCLA's recruiting; the Bruins might need their freshmen sooner rather than later.

8.77

That was how many tackles for loss UCLA averaged per game last season. The Bruins ranked second in the nation in that category behind Oregon.
GRADE: C

DEFENSE

THE SCHEME: Pro and college teams were interested in coordinator DeWayne Walker during the offseason, and for good reason. Walker's defenses have been stout against the run and apply relentless pressure up front.

STAR POWER: All signs point to a huge season for junior linebacker Reggie Carter. After starting for two seasons on the outside, Carter moves to his natural position in the middle. Playing behind UCLA's defensive tackle duo of Brigham Harwell and Brian Price, Carter will have plenty of opportunities to make plays. He had 62 tackles and 12 tackles for a loss last season.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Redshirt freshman linebacker Akeem Ayers, one of the top recruits in the 2007 class, is trying to crack the starting lineup at weakside linebacker. He has good size (6-2/231) and could provide a physical presence at the position. Seniors John Hale and Joshua Edwards also are in the mix but are dealing with injury issues.

IT'S HIS TIME: A special-teams performer and backup safety for the past three seasons, senior Bret Lockett looks like the new starter at strong safety. He has made one start and has 21 tackles in his career. He's looking to parlay a standout spring into a season as a reliable starter, but several freshmen will pressure him for playing time.

STRONGEST AREA: UCLA should have one of the best defensive tackle tandems in the Pac-10 and could have one of the best in the nation. Senior Brigham Harwell returns after missing all but two games last season with a knee injury. He had a combined 18 tackles for loss in 2005 and '06. He's stocky at 6-2 and 292, but has a great first step. At the other tackle spot, Brian Price is a rising star after earning Rivals.com second-team Freshman All-American honors last season. There is good depth, as well, with senior Chase Moline and juniors Jess Ward and Jerzy Siewierski.

BIGGEST PROBLEM: Junior cornerback Alterraun Verner (four interceptions last season) is the only returning starter in the secondary. Two seniors and a junior will enter fall camp as the other starters – Lockett at strong safety, senior Michael Norris at corner and junior Aaron Ware at free safety. However, a talented group of redshirt and true freshmen are lurking. Redshirts Glenn Love and Courtney Viney are in the hunt at free safety and cornerback, respectively. The Bruins also signed four four-star defensive backs.

OVERVIEW: Without question, UCLA is counting on its defense to win games. The Bruins were in the top four in the league in every major defensive category last season, a stat that should continue into 2008. The biggest obstacle for UCLA is to find pass rushers to replace end Bruce Davis, who had 24.5 sacks over the past two seasons. If UCLA can continue to find its way to the quarterback, Los Angeles should be the home of the top two defenses in the Pac-10.

GRADE: B+

SPECIAL TEAMS

Once again, UCLA should have one of the top kicking tandems in the league. Kai Forbath made 25 of 30 field-goal attempts as a freshman last season, including five from at least 50 yards. Senior Aaron Perez averaged 42.3 yards per punt to rank second in the league. The return men are another issue, though. The jobs remain up for grabs with junior receiver Terrence Austin, backup tailback Christian Ramirez and a number of freshmen vying for the spots.

GRADE: B

COACHING

Neuheisel's hiring was met with some criticism because of his dubious past with the NCAA and off-field problems with some of his players. But for now, the future looks bright for the Bruins. Neuheisel's track record suggests a quick turnaround. He brought in the second-best recruiting class in the Pac-10 and has what could be one of the best coaching staffs in the country. Neuheisel retained Walker and added Chow, one of the most accomplished coordinators in recent history. Some of the position coaches also have impressive resumes. Frank Gansz Jr. was a longtime special teams whiz in the NFL, and Palcic is an accomplished line coach who tutored Jonathan Ogden in his previous stint at UCLA.

GRADE: B

DATE OPPONENT
Sept. 1 Tennessee
Sept. 13 at BYU
Sept. 20 Arizona
Sept. 27 Fresno State
Oct. 4 Washington State
Oct. 11 at Oregon
Oct. 18 Stanford
Oct. 25 at California
Nov. 8 Oregon State
Nov. 15 at Washington
Nov. 28 at Arizona State
Dec. 6 USC

SCHEDULE

The schedule doesn't look to be set up for a quick turnaround. The non-conference portion includes Tennessee in the opener and also games against BYU and Fresno State. The trip to Provo will be the third meeting with BYU in a little more than a year; the Cougars and Bruins split two games last season. UCLA plays host to USC, but the Bruins face the rest of the Pac-10's top teams – Oregon, California and Arizona State – on the road.

OUTLOOK

Neuheisel's presence should heat up the UCLA-USC rivalry – on the field, on the recruiting trail and in the media. His first season won't be easy, though. The schedule is daunting and the offense is unsettled. Injuries at quarterback are becoming as much a tradition as the Bruins' powder-blue jerseys. While a Pac-10 title is at least a couple of seasons away, UCLA has the overall talent and coaching staff to surprise this season.

OFFENSE
QB Ben Olson, 6-4/230, Sr.
Kevin Craft, 6-5/205, Jr.
RB Kahlil Bell, 6-0/219, Sr.
Raymond Carter, 5-11/208, R-Fr.
FB Trevor Theriot, 6-0/237, Jr.
Tobi Umodu, 6-0/236, Soph.
WR Dominique Johnson, 6-3/206, Soph.
Gavin Ketchum, 6-5/209, Jr.
WR Marcus Everett, 6-1/212, Sr.
Terrence Austin, 5-10/160, Jr.
TE Logan Paulsen *, 6-6/252, Sr.
Ryan Moya, 6-4/229, Jr.
T Micah Kia *, 6-6/298, Jr.
Brandon Bennett, 6-4/310, Soph.
T Sean Sheller, 6-5/282, Soph.
Mike Harris, 6-5/305, R-Fr.
G Darius Savage, 6-4/338, Soph.
Sonny Tevaga, 6-3/320, Soph.
G Scott Glicksberg, 6-4/269, Sr.
Nick Ekbatani, 6-4/295, Jr.
C Micah Reed %, 6-4/316, Sr.
Jake Dean, 6-4/295, Soph. .
K Kai Forbath *, 6-0/196, Soph.
KR Christian Ramirez, 6-3/212, Jr.
(NOTE: *--denotes returning starter; %--denotes returning starter who has changed positions.)

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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