Optimism High As Football Team Heads Into Spring Drills
March 26, 2003
There is a new excitement surrounding UCLA football. Former wide receiver Karl Dorrell has returned to Westwood as the Bruins' head coach and optimism is high.
UCLA returns 14 starters from last season's 8-5 team - seven on offense and seven on defense - to form the nucleus of Dorrell's first Bruin team. On offense, the returnees include split end Craig Bragg, an All-America candidate who led the Bruins with 55 receptions a year ago; flanker Tab Perry, an honors candidate who averaged a Pac-10 best 19.9 yards per reception; tailback Tyler Ebell, who earned second-team Freshman All-America honors while rushing for 994 yards; fullback/tailback Manuel White Jr., the team's second-leading rusher; guards Eyoseph Efseaff, a second-team All-Pacific-10 Conference performer, and Steven Vieira, a Pac-10 honorable mention selection; and center Mike McCloskey, a second-team Freshman All-American. On defense, the returnees include tackle Rodney Leisle, a 2002 pre-season All-American before suffering a broken foot; end Dave Ball, who made 11 quarterback sacks en route to second-team All-Pac-10 honors; linebackers Brandon Chillar and first-team Freshman All-American Spencer Havner; cornerback Matt Ware, a 2001 first-team Freshman All-American; and safeties Ben Emanuel II, who tied for the team lead in interceptions, and first-team Freshman All-American Jarrad Page.
Other key returnees include sophomore quarterbacks Drew Olson, who started the final five games of the year, and Matt Moore, who helped rally the team to a victory in the SEGA Sports Las Vegas Bowl; wide receivers Junior Taylor and Ryan Smith; tailback Akil Harris; fullbacks J.D. Groves and Pat Norton; offensive linemen Ed Blanton, Paul Mociler and Shane Lehmann; defensive linemen Ryan Boschetti, who started five games a year ago, Mat Ball and Asi Faoa; linebackers Dennis Link and Justin London; safety Jibril Raymo and Kevin Brant; and cornerbacks Matt Clark, Keith Short and Glenn Ohaeri.
Key losses from last season include tight end Mike Seidman, quarterback Cory Paus, offensive tackles Mike Saffer and Bryce Bohlander, defensive linemen Steve Morgan and Rusty Williams, linebacker Marcus Reese, cornerback Ricky Manning, Jr., and kickers Nate Fikse and Chris Griffith.
'Spring Practice will be a learning process for the players and the coaches,' said Dorrell. 'The players will be learning new systems on both offense and defense and most of the coaches will be seeing the players on the field for the first time after watching them on tape. Since the players are starting out even in terms of the system and the coaches' knowledge of them, I would expect the competition for playing time to be at a very high level during Spring drills.
'It appears from watching tapes of last year's practices and games that we have a talented group of players. It will be our job as coaches to identify those who we think can best help the team be successful and to teach our new systems as quickly and effectively as possible.
'Offensively, our system will be balanced. Our goal is to run the ball effectively, throw efficiently and strike with the big play. Defensively, (defensive coordinator) Larry Kerr's package is modeled on the principles of attacking opposing offenses. Our defense will scheme blitzes coming from anywhere and everywhere. It's the coaches' job to make sure our personnel can run these systems and to make the adjustments necessary to make our players as effective as possible,' said Dorrell.
UCLA will again face a challenging schedule, playing 12 regular-season games for the second straight year. The Bruins open the season at Colorado, where Dorrell coached on two occasions and where assistants Jon Embree and Eric Bieniemy coached last season Following the home opener against Illinois, the Bruins face 2000 national champion Oklahoma on the road and San Diego State at the Rose Bowl.
In Pac-10 play, the Bruins will host Washington, California, Arizona State and Oregon and travel to Arizona, Stanford, Washington State and USC. Overall, UCLA will face seven schools that played in bowl games and eight with winning records.
Seven starters, plus several other performers who have started games, give the Bruins excellent experience in many key areas. However, everyone will be learning a new offensive system, so the Spring should be educational for the coaches as well as the players.
UCLA has three sophomores who will be competing for playing time at the quarterback position - all with game experience.
Sophomore DREW OLSON (6-2, 223) enters Spring drills with the most experience of the trio, having started the final five games of last season. He served as the primary backup for the first half of the year and became the starter following a season-ending injury to senior Cory Paus, although his first start was delayed a week due to a sprained right shoulder in the same contest in which Paus was injured (California).
In his first start, he quarterbacked the Bruins to a road victory over Washington, completing 13 of 27 passes for 189 yards in Seattle.
On the year, he completed 53 of 104 passes for 702 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. He appeared in 10 of 13 games, including the final five as the starter.Sophomore MATT MOORE (6-4, 181) also gained important experience during the latter half of the 2002 season. Until the injuries to Paus and Olson at California, Moore was scheduled to redshirt. Instead, he started against Stanford in the Rose Bowl the following week and led the Bruins to a 28-18 victory, completing seven of 19 passes for 142 yards and one touchdown.
Moore played in each of the last four games and came off the bench in the SEGA Sports Las Vegas Bowl to help the Bruins defeat New Mexico by completing nine of 16 passes for 80 yards.In his five games, Moore completed 33 of 62 passes for 412 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Redshirt sophomore JOHN SCIARRA (6-1, 216) will also compete for the quarterback job during Spring Practice. A year ago, Sciarra appeared in five games. Against California, he was pressed into service for the first time (he had previously played just one game (five handoffs) when Paus and Olson were both injured but could not help the Bruins into the end zone. Later in the year, he engineered UCLA's final touchdown drive against USC.
In addition, redshirt freshman walk-on BRIAN CALLAHAN (5-11, 191) will also compete for playing time.
'The quarterback position is a key component of our offensive scheme,,' said head coach Karl Dorrell. 'We believe the young men we have at this position possess the talent and skill to develop into outstanding quarterbacks. Our job is to develop them with a fundamental base and teach an offensive system that will enhance their development.
'I feel it is a plus that all three already have some game experience and we will build upon that experience during the Spring.'
This is an area of strength for the Bruins, both in quality and quantity. The candidates for playing time have all contributed in game situations, yet there is only one senior among the group.
Redshirt sophomore tailback TYLER EBELL (5-9, 171) burst onto the scene at Oregon State a year ago and finished the season just six yards shy of becoming the third freshman in Pacific-10 Conference history to rush for 1,000 yards.
Ebell, who came off the bench to rush for 203 yards against the Beavers, ran for at least 100 yards in six consecutive games, one shy of the school record, and rushed for 994 yards to rank fourth in the Pac-10. A second-team Freshman All-American, the powerful Ebell runs as well between the tackles as he does to the outside despite his size. In addition to leading the Bruins in rushing, he also led the team with 10 touchdowns, averaged 11.4 yards on 24 punt returns and led the team with 1,382 all-purpose yards, the 10th-highest total in UCLA history.
Redshirt junior MANUEL WHITE (6-3, 247) is a big, tough back with speed who has the versatility to play both fullback and tailback. In 2002, he started the first four games at fullback before starting at tailback against Oregon State. He strained his left hamstring in the first quarter of that contest and missed the next four games. When he returned to action, he played at both positions for the final four games, starting once at fullback.
On the year, White, who also catches the ball well and has seen a lot of action in one-back sets, ranked second on the team in rushing with 381 yards. He also ranked fourth on the team with 17 receptions for 238 yards and scored seven touchdowns -- five rushing and two receiving.Fifth-year senior AKIL HARRIS (6-0, 213) has made significant contributions throughout his career and should do so again in 2003. He started the first four games a year ago, leading the Bruin ground attack against Colorado State (94 yards and the go-ahead touchdown) and Oklahoma State (83 yards). He also had some important runs off the bench and finished the year as the team's No. 3 rusher with 323 yards and three scores.
In 2001, he was the team's No. 2 rusher with 375 yards and his average of 4.9 yards per attempt ranked second only to DeShaun Foster among backs. He started two of the final three games and recorded a career-high 138 yards against Arizona State and 79 versus Oregon, scoring a touchdown in each contest.
Third-year sophomore WENDELL MATHIS (6-0, 193), who appeared in nine games a year ago, will also have a chance to impress the coaches with his abilities. In spot duty, he rushed for 50 yards on 18 carries and also earned some time on the kickoff return team. Mathis, who earned 2000 prep All-America honors while rushing for 2,027 yards and 21 touchdowns at Merced (CA) High, possesses outstanding potential.
JASON HARRISON (5-10, 194), another talented tailback, will miss Spring Practice while recovering from two ligament surgeries on his right knee. His status for the 2002 is undetermined at publication time.
The fullback position is wide open when White mans the tailback slot. Sophomore J.D. GROVES (6-2, 240) earned the bulk of the playing time a year ago and did a good job blocking for the tailbacks. Fourth-year junior PAT NORTON (6-1, 253) added depth to the position after missing the year's first two games due to a sprained ankle. RAY CASSADAY (6-1, 238), another fourth-year junior, will also compete for playing time during the Spring.
'We have a great amount of experience among our running backs, ' said Dorrell. 'We want to be able to control the football in key situations and I feel our ability to run the football is enhanced by the experience at this position.
'From watching films of last year's games, it's obvious that Ebell and White did a fine job. Both have the ability to gain yards between the tackles and the speed to take the ball outside. In addition, Manuel has a size to move the pile.
'That being said, I think the other tailbacks and fullbacks have some special talents unique to themselves and it will be the staff's job to identify those strengths and make sure we take advantage of them in our game plans. It should be interesting to watch these players compete during Spring Practice.'
This is another area in which the Bruins are experienced, returning four of their top five receivers from a year ago. Several of them could be in line for post-season honors.
Leading the way is redshirt junior CRAIG BRAGG (6-2, 189). In just two seasons, this deep threat has made 84 receptions for 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns. Nine of his 10 scoring receptions and 14 of his 15 career scores of any kind have measured at least 33 yards. No Bruin has ever entered his junior season with more receptions or receiving yards. In 2002, his 55 receptions ranked seventh on UCLA's single season list and his 889 yards ranked eighth and both totals set school sophomore records.Against Oregon, Bragg enjoyed one of the best afternoons in UCLA history, making nine receptions for 230 yards and three touchdowns -- all career highs. The 230 yards rank second-only to J.J. Stokes' 263 yards versus USC in 1992 and the nine catches tied for eighth on that single-game list.In addition, he also led the Pac-10 with his 16.0 average on punt returns and was named the Most Valuable Player of the SEGA Sports Las Vegas Bowl after returning a punt 74 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in UCLA's 27-13 victory.
Senior TAB PERRY (6-3, 215) gives the Bruins one of the best wide receiver combinations in the West, if not the nation. A year ago, the versatile senior averaged a Pac-10 best 19.9 yards on his 35 receptions. In addition, he also led the Pac-10 with his average of 25.0 on kickoff returns and set a UCLA record for kickoff return yardage (626). His 1,329 all-purpose yards ranked 13th on UCLA's single-season list and his average of 110.8 all-purpose yards per game ranked seventh in the Pac-10 (he missed one game due to an ankle sprain).
He enjoyed the best game of his career at Oregon State, making a career-high seven receptions for a career-high and team-high 145 yards and five first downs. Against Oregon, he tied his career high with seven receptions and accounted for 126 yards, giving him back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time in his career. He gave the Bruins an early lead with his 55-yard touchdown on UCLA's first offensive play.
Sophomore JUNIOR TAYLOR (6-2, 197) will push Bragg and Perry for playing time at both wide receiver positions. This youngster with great speed scored a touchdown the first time he touched the football as a Bruin on a 49-yard reverse. On the season, this youngster with great potential made 14 receptions, including four in each of his last two games, both of which he started.
Redshirt senior RYAN SMITH (6-3, 213) will add quality depth to the rotation if he has fully recovered from ankle surgery. In 2001, Smith ranked fourth on the squad with 18 catches for 272 yards and scored UCLA's only touchdown in the 13-6 win over Ohio State. Last season, hampered by an ankle injury from the previous year, he made just five receptions, including a 25-yard touchdown at Oklahoma State, and did not play in the final five games of the year.
GARRETT LEPISTO (6-2, 197), a fifth-year senior, will again compete for playing time. This former walk-on, who has also served as the holder on place kicks for the past two years, made two receptions in 2002. Third-year sophomore JACQUES LAZARUS (6-2, 184) and redshirt freshman IDRIS MOSS (5-11, 162) are two youngsters who will have a chance to impress the staff during Spring ball. Lazarus accounted for 2,500 yards of offense as a senior at Pacific Palisades (CA) High in 2000. Moss, who earn prep All-America honors as a cornerback, receiver, quarterback and safety at Rialto (CA) Eisenhower High , spent last Fall learning the nuances of the receiver position.
Freshman ANTWUAN SMITH (5-11, 185), who enrolled in January, has the potential to break into the rotation and should gain valuable experience during Spring Practice. In 2001, he earned prep All-America honors at Buchanan High in Clovis, CA after making 41 receptions for 543 yards and five touchdowns and rushing for 475 yards and eight touchdowns.
'As a former receiver, I like what I have seen on tape in regards to the young men at this position,' said Dorrell. 'Craig is a special player. He has the speed to score anytime he touches the ball and certainly established himself as a go-to receiver last season. Tab is blessed with great size to go with his other abilities and has certainly made significant contributions the past two years. Both Craig and Tab have the ability to make defenses compensate for them.
'We also have good depth at the position. Junior is only going to get better as he gains experience and Ryan has proved to be a dependable receiver when healthy. Spring Practice will also give us the chance to coach some of the younger players such as Jacques, Idris and Antwuan.'
Despite the loss of Mackey Award finalist and first-team All-Pac-10 performer Mike Seidman, the Bruins have several quality performers returning at this position. The depth is important because one or more of these player might be utilized as an 'H-back' or in multiple tight-end formations.Third-year sophomore KEITH CARTER (6-4, 246) is the most experienced of the group. Carter earned extensive playing time in each of the last 10 games (four starts) a year ago as both a second tight end and fullback/h-back. On the year, he made five receptions but also aided the running back with his blocking skills. As a senior at Dowingtown (PA) High in 2000, he earned prep All-America honors while making 33 receptions for 420 yards and six touchdowns.
Sophomore MARCEDES LEWIS (6-6, 250) appeared in every game a year ago, starting twice, making six receptions for 51 yards and one touchdown. This season, he appears ready to contend for the starting position. An outstanding all-around athlete (he played with the basketball team following the football season), he has great size, speed, strength and soft hands and figures to make a significant contribution this season. In 2001, Lewis was regarded as the top high school tight end in the nation and made 44 receptions for 710 yards and 11 touchdowns for the CIF Division I champions from Long Beach Poly.
Fifth-year senior BLANE KEZIRIAN (6-6, 241) figures to add depth at the position. Last season, he saw action as a backup tight end in eight of 13 games, mostly in blocking situations.Redshirt freshman J.J. HAIR (6-5, 241) will also have the opportunity to catch the eyes of the coaching staff during Spring Practice. In his last two seasons at Capistrano Valley High, he totaled 43 receptions for over 700 yards and three touchdowns.
'Despite the loss of Mike Seidman, we have two outstanding young players with experience in Keith and Marcedes,' Dorrell said. 'Both have different strengths but both are well-rounded tight ends who will have an impact within our scheme. Both Blane and J.J. will also have the opportunity to compete for playing time at this deep position.'
Three starters from a year ago - fourth-year junior guards EYOSEPH EFSEAFF (6-3, 305) and STEVE VIEIRA (6-6, 305) and redshirt sophomore center MIKE McCLOSKEY (6-5, 272) - return in 2002. As the three middle positions on the line, they will be the nucleus of what figures to be an athletic and experienced unit.
Efseaff has developed into one of the top offensive linemen in the West. A tough, aggressive performer who has started 23 of his 24 career games at left guard, he has played virtually every snap during his two-year career. In 2002, he earned second-team All-Pacific-10 acclaim after being selected a second-team Freshman All-American in 2001. Vieira moved into the starting job at right guard midway through the 2001 season and started all 13 games a year ago, earning All-Pac-10 honorable mention in the process. Vieira, who can also play tackle, is a consistently solid performer who is often overlooked and underappreciated.
McCloskey earned the starting center job in Fall camp and never let it go, starting all 13 games. The youngster played virtually every snap a year ago and earned second-team Freshman All-America honors for his efforts. He is probably UCLA's most athletic center since Mike Flanagan of the Green Bay Packers.
Redshirt junior PAUL MOCILER (6-5, 301) and third-year sophomore ED BLANTON (6-9, 325) are the top candidates to replace tackles Mike Saffer and Bryce Bohlander. Blanton, the largest of the Bruins, flashed his tremendous potential in 2002 when he gained valuable experience playing behind Saffer at right tackle. He also started and played the entire San Diego State contest when Saffer was sidelined. The versatile Mociler, who appeared in half the games in 2002, can contribute at tackle, guard and center. Third-year sophomores MATT MOSEBAR (6-8, 294) and ROBERT CLEARY (6-7, 304) and redshirt freshmen ALEX POTASI (6-6, 294) and ELLIOT VALLEJO (6-7, 269) figure to battle Blanton and Mociler for the starting jobs and playing time. Mosebar saw limited duty behind Bohlander on the left side a year ago while Cleary earned some playing time at guard. Both should benefit with a full Spring of workouts. Potasi and Vallejo are both good athletes who should gain valuable experience during their first Spring Practice, although Potasi will be limited while continuing to rehab from last season's knee surgery.
Fifth-year seniors SHANE LEHMANN (6-5, 297) and TYSON CLAYTON (6-2, 272) figure to compete for playing time at the guard positions. Lehmann, who appeared in several games a year ago, started six games during the 2001 season. Clayton, a non-scholarship performer, earned some playing time a year ago at center and guard.
Redshirt freshman ROBERT CHAI (6-3, 277), who will be participating in his first Spring Practice, will provide depth at center behind McCloskey.
'The offensive line is where it all starts and we are fortunate to have three quality starters returning in the interior of that unit,' said Dorrell. 'Eyoseph and Steve are an outstanding pair of guards and Mike was very impressive as a first-year starter. All three are very athletic with quick feet and that will enable us to do some things schematically that we might not otherwise do. We will take a long look at all of the tackle candidates. I feel it is a plus that whomever plays at tackle will be working next to experienced guards. In addition, we have some experienced depth at the interior. Overall, I feel this has the potential to be a fine offensive line.'
New coordinator Larry Kerr and the defensive coaches are installing a package that attacks offenses and features numerous blitz packages. Making that job a bit easier will be seven returning starters, including two defensive linemen, two linebackers, two safeties and one cornerback. Many of the returnees earned post-season honors in 2002 and will be in line for more in 2003.
The unquestioned leader of this unit is fifth-year senior right tackle RODNEY LEISLE (6-3, 288). A candidate for All-America honors in 2002, he had his junior season disrupted by a broken foot that caused him to miss five games. Back at full strength, this dominating performer figures to be one of the best players nationally at his position. Leisle had started every game of his career prior to his injury (he started seven in 2002) and his return is a huge plus for the defense. In 2002, he made 36 tackles, including two sacks and five behind the line of scrimmage. He made seven stops against both Alabama and USC.
The other returning starter along the front line is fifth-year senior rush end DAVE BALL (6-6, 268). This aggressive performer enjoyed a spectacular junior campaign, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors for his efforts. Ball led the Bruins with 11 quarterback sacks and 15 tackles for losses and finished the year with 36 tackles. Only three players in school history - all future NFL stars - ever recorded more sacks in a single season. His efforts should be enhanced this season with the new scheme, which will allow him to line up opposite the weak side of the opponent's formation.
Twin bother MAT BALL (6-6, 275), another fifth year senior, is the leading candidate at the strong side defensive end position. A year ago, M. Ball appeared in every game and finished the year with 18 tackles, including two sacks and six tackles for loss. This season, he and his brother figure to cause problems for opposing offenses.
Senior RYAN BOSCHETTI (6-4, 291) is the top candidate for the tackle position opposite Leisle. Last season, his first at UCLA after transferring from San Mateo College, he started five game after Leisle's injury. Another aggressive performer, he finished the year with 23 tackles, including 1.5 sacks. In 2001, he was rated the nation's No. 2 junior college prospect after making 21 quarterback sacks during his two-year career.
Several experienced performers will be competing for playing time, and possibly starting berths, during Spring drills. Fifth-year senior ASI FAOA (6-4, 265) has been a dependable reserve throughout his career and will compete at both end positions. A year ago, his strong senior made 24 tackles, including two sacks. Redshirt senior DAVID TAUTOFI (6-2, 260), who made five tackles, including two sacks, in limited duty, will also compete at the strong side end position.
Sophomore C.J. NIUSULU (6-2, 300) figures to compete for playing time at the tackle positions. The most advanced of last year's freshmen linemen, he was pressed into service after the fifth game a year ago due to Leisle's injury. He was effective in a reserve roll until his season ended with an emergency appendectomy, making two sacks in his five games. As a prep senior in 2001, Niusulu made 90 tackles in just seven games at Barstow (CA) High.
The coaching staff will also be looking at several young performers to provide quality depth, including redshirt freshman KEVIN HARBOUR (6-4, 244) at end, redshirt freshman THOMAS PATTON (6-3, 263) at tackle and third-year sophomore JAMES JESSEN (6-4, 227) at end. In 2001, Harbour was credited with 72 tackles and 14 sacks at Los Angeles (CA) Loyola High while Patton registered 78 tackles, including 14 sacks and four fumble recoveries, at Oakland (CA) Technical High. In addition, redshirt freshman KIRBY JOSEPH (6-2, 241) may also get a look at rush end when he recovers from off-season knee surgery (he will not partcipate in Spring drills) Joseph, who redshirted as a linebacker last season after shoulder surgery, accounted for 60 tackles and eight quarterback sacks as a senior in 2001 at Lake Charles, LA Washington/Marion High.
'Rodney Leisle's decision to play his senior season was a huge positive for our defensive unit,' said Dorrell. 'He is the type of player who creates opportunities for his teammates because opponents must pay so much attention to him. He is a dominating performer who will excel in this scheme.
'Dave Ball had an outstanding junior year and we expect him to build upon that this season. We feel playing him at the weak side all of the time will give him more opportunities to create havoc in the opponent's backfield.
'We have a nice blend of experience and youth along the front four. We could start four seniors, including Mat, Ryan or Asi, and we have some young players who can build for the future by gaining some valuable experience this year.'
UCLA returns two starters, both of whom figure to contend for post-season honors after enjoying productive seasons a year ago.
Senior BRANDON CHILLAR (6-3, 233) is the leader of this unit. A fine all-around performer who possesses the size and strength to take on tight ends and the quickness to rush the quarterback or cover pass routes, he ranked third with 74 tackles. His 5.0 quarterback sacks were second to D. Ball while his 11 tackles for loss ranked third. He started all 13 games on the strong side in 2002.Redshirt sophomore SPENCER HAVNER (6-4, 229) was one of the year's pleasant surprises. A very athletic linebacker, he ranks first among returnees with his 96 tackles, which also rank second on UCLA's all-time freshman tackle list. A first-team Freshman All-America selection, he ranked second on team with his 12 tackles for loss and returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns to tie an NCAA record for linebackers.
Redshirt senior DENNIS LINK (6-2, 215) and sophomore JUSTIN LONDON (6-1, 235) are the top candidates to fill the vacated inside linebacker spot. Link, a quick all-around athlete, was a dependable reserve behind Marcus Reese a year ago, made 10 tackles in 2002. London saw limited action on defense as a true freshman but has the potential to develop into a fine collegiate linebacker. In 2001, he was regarded as one of the top linebackers on the East Coast after recording 120 tackles as a senior at Northside High School in Roanoke, VA.
Fourth-year junior TIM WARFIELD (6-2, 251) will compete for playing time at middle linebacker at middle linebacker. The top reserve behind Chillar on the strong side a year ago, he appeared in six games on defense and 11 overall, finishing with six tackles.Sophomore WESLEY WALKER (6-2, 222) and redshirt freshman XAVIER BURGESS (6-2, 243) figure to compete for playing time behind Chillar on the strong side. As a true freshman a year ago, Walker appeared in six games on defense and 12 on special teams, finishing with six tackles. A youngster with outstanding linebacking skills, he earned prep All-America honors in 2001, making 120 tackles and eight sacks at LaPuente, CA Bishop Amat High. Burgess, another talented youngster, was a prep All-American at Grant Union High School in Sacramento, CA in 2001, making 85 stops, including 14 sacks.
Redshirt junior PATRICK PIERRE-LOUIS (6-0, 216) figures to compete for playing time behind Havner. Pierre-Louise, a talented transfer from Glendale Community College, redshirted last season. At Glendale in 2001, he made 97 tackles.
'Brandon and Spencer are two of the best linebackers in the Pac-10 and we are going to do whatever we can to take advantage of their skills,' said Dorrell. 'Linebackers play an important role in this defensive scheme and we will feature these two individuals as much as possible. Overall, I think this is a talented group of linebackers. The goal in the Spring is to establish a starter in the middle so we will take a long look at Dennis and Justin, and to solidify the reserve spots on the outside.'
The Bruins have three returning starters in the secondary, all of whom have at least two seasons of eligibility remaining. The key will be replacing three-time All-Pac-10 cornerback Ricky Manning, who started the final 45 contests of his 47-game Bruin.
Leading the way is junior MATT WARE (6-3, 201), who has started all 24 games of his career. A great athlete with the talent to play any position in the secondary, he is pencilled in at cornerback. A year ago, he opened the season at free safety but shifted to cornerback, the position at which he starred as a freshman, after the third game of the season. On the year, he made 51 tackles to rank fifth on the squad. In 2001, he became the first true freshman in school history to start every game, earning first-team Freshman All-America honors at cornerback. He led the team with five interceptions, the most by a Bruin since 1997, made 32 tackles and recovered two fumbles.
Fourth-year junior BEN EMANUEL II (6-3, 203) started 12 of 13 games a year ago, shifting from strong safety to free safety prior to the fourth game of the season. He flourished in the new position and finished the year as the Bruins' fourth-leading tackler, making 58 stops. He also tied for the team lead with four interceptions, including one for a touchdown.
The development of sophomore strong safety JARRAD PAGE (6-1, 200) made all the shifting in the secondary possible. Page, who earned first-team Freshman All-America honors, became a starter in his fourth game as a Bruin. He started the final 10 games of the season, becoming the first UCLA true freshman safety since Kenny Easley to start that many games. He finished the year with 43 tackles and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown in the SEGA Sports Las Vegas Bowl. Page will miss Spring Practice while playing with the Bruin baseball team.
Four other talented safeties will compete against Emanuel and Page for playing time and starting positions. Redshirt senior free safety KEVIN BRANT (6-0, 190) has been a capable reserve and special teams standout throughout his career. He made 13 tackles a year ago, started once as a sophomore and played virtually the entire USC contest that year. Redshirt freshman strong safety ERIC McNEAL (6-2, 211), one of the top prep players at his position in 2001, will get a chance to display his talents in Spring Practice after redshirting last season. As a high school senior, McNeal made 80 tackles and seven interceptions at Serra High in Gardena, CA.
Junior strong safety JIBRIL RAYMO (6-3, 203), one of just three true freshmen to letter in 2001, appeared in eight games defensively a year ago, starting once in place of Emanuel. On the year, this physical performer made 18 tackles. He also recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown. Another redshirt freshman, JOE GARCIA (6-0, 185) will open Spring drills at strong safety. In 2001, he earned prep All-America honors while making 68 tackles, three interceptions and 13 pass breakups at Los Alamitos (CA) High.
There are five candidates for the open cornerback position opposite Ware - sophomore GLENN OHAERI (5-9, 199), redshirt sophomore MARCUS CASSEL (6-0, 174), junior MATT CLARK (5-9, 171), senior KEITH SHORT (5-10, 178) and redshirt freshman JEBIAUS BROWN (6-0, 179). All will get the opportunity to compete for the starting job and to add depth on both sides.
Clark, who possesses outstanding quickness, was one of just three true freshmen to letter in 2001. Last season, he was one of the top reserves at cornerback, appearing in nine games and making seven tackles. Ohaeri earned playing time last season as a true freshman, mostly on special teams. He is aggressive and possesses the athletic ability to play corner or safety. As a senior at San Bernardino, CA Aquinas High, he earned All-America honors while rushing for over 2,000 yards on offense and starring in the secondary. Cassel is another fine prospect whose action has been limited thus far to special teams. As a senior in 2000, he made 60 tackles and two interceptions at St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, CA.
Short has been a dependable reserve throughout his career. In addition, he is a special teams standout, participating on the kickoff and punt coverage teams as well as the punt return unit. In 2002, he made 15 tackles. Brown, who redshirted in 2002, possesses good coverage skills. He made 55 stops and three interceptions in his senior season at Milpitas, CA High.
'This is an area at which I feel we have a nice combination of experience and youth,' Dorrell said. 'We have three returning starters who each have at least two years remaining to help us raise our level of performance in the secondary. We also appear to have some talented youngsters and reserves to compete against the starters and fill the open cornerback spot. I think the competition at these positions will be interesting to watch during Spring Practice.'
For the first time since the 1998 season, Nate Fikse will not be part of the Bruin kicking unit. Last season, not only did he handle the punting and kickoff chores, he assumed the field goal duties midway through the season.
Redshirt freshman JUSTIN MEDLOCK (6-0, 193) enters the Spring as the top candidate to replace Fikse on the field goal and kickoff teams. This youngster possesses a very strong leg which he demonstrated time and time again during practice a year ago. As a prep senior in 2001, he earned All-America honors, making four of six field goals, including a long of 48 yards, and averaging 43.1 yards per punt. Eighteen of his 20 kickoffs went for touchbacks.
Redshirt junior CHRIS KLUWE (6-5, 212) is the top candidate for the punting job Fikse performed for four seasons. Last year, he kicked once for 44 yards but worked on developing more consistency in practice. As a prep senior in 1999, Kluwe was both a punter and place kicker, earning first-team All-America honors at the former position. He averaged 46.6 yards as a punter and made 16 of 22 field goal attempts as a place kicker.
Wide receiver GARRETT LEPISTO (6-2, 197), a fifth-year junior, will serve as the holder for the third straight year but the Bruins will have to find a new long snapper for the second consecutive season. Junior college transfer JOE TOMASELLO (6-2, 210) could be the answer, but he will miss Spring Practice due to off-season shoulder surgery.
The Bruins have a wealth of experienced punt and kickoff returners, making this an area of strength for the team.
Redshirt junior CRAIG BRAGG (6-2, 189) led the Pac-10 with his punt return average of 16.0 yards on 16 attempts and was named the Most Valuable Player of the SEGA Sports Las Vegas Bowl after breaking a 6-6 tie with a 74-yard scoring return. In addition, redshirt sophomore TYLER EBELL (5-9, 171) ranked fifth in the league with his average of 11.4 yards on 24 returns.
Senior TAB PERRY (6-3, 215) set a new school record with 626 kickoff return yards, breaking the mark he set in 2000. Perry, who ranked third in the Pac-10 with his 25.0 average, figures to conclude his career at the top of the kickoff return and kickoff return yardage charts. Junior cornerback MATT CLARK (5-9, 171) has some experience returning kicks, as does redshirt sophomore tailback JASON HARRISON (5-10, 194), who averaged 23.4 on nine returns a year ago.
'Special teams are an extremely important part of any football team,' Dorrell said. 'One of our primary goals during Spring Practice is to evaluate our kickers and long snappers, since they have virtually no game experience, and our coverage units. We do have some very talented return specialists and the staff will watch them, as well as several other candidates so we can put our best weapons on the field.'