2003-04 Season Outlook
July 14, 2003
There is a new excitement surrounding UCLA football. Former wide receiver Karl Dorrell (1982-86) 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 Manuel White, the team's second-leading rusher; guard Eyoseph Efseaff, a second-team All-Pacific-10 Conference performer; tackle Steven Vieira, a Pac-10 honorable mention selection at guard last season; 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, an All-America candidate, and first-team Freshman All-American Spencer Havner; cornerback Matt Ware, a 2001 first-team Freshman All-American; and safeties Ben Emanuel, 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; and defensive backs Matt Clark, Marcus Cassel, Keith Short, Kevin Brant 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 was a learning process for the players and the coaches,' said Dorrell. 'It was a time to grow and to build and we came out ahead in each area. The players learned new systems on both offense and defense and most of the coaches got their initial look at the players on the field. I was pleased on both accounts and felt both staff and players did a good job getting to know each other. The players picked up the system quickly and we were able to enjoy a very productive Spring.
'We have a talented group of players. It is our job as coaches, now that we all have seen the players perform in person, to identify those who we think can best help the team be successful and continue to implement the new systems.
'Offensively, we 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 (1992-93, 1995-98) and where assistants Jon Embree and Eric Bieniemy coached last season. Following the home opener against Illinois on September 13, the Bruins face 2000 national champion Oklahoma on the road and welcome San Diego State to 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. Three of the last four conference games will be played on the road, at Stanford, at Washington State and at USC.
Seven starters, plus several other performers who have started games, give the Bruins excellent experience in many key areas. However, everyone will be performing in a new offensive system.
UCLA has three sophomores who are competing for the starting nod at the quarterback position - each with some game experience. All three had performances that stood out during Spring drills. As soon as one quarterback took an edge in the competition, another closed any gap that may have existed just as quickly. Two signal-callers, Drew Olson and Matt Moore, emerged from Spring with a chance to earn the starting assigment in the Fall. The third, John Sciarra, showed continued improvement and is next in line.
Sophomore Drew Olson (6-2, 216) had an excellent Spring. He took to the new offense the quickest of the three sophomore quarterbacks. The Piedmont, CA native has excellent field vision and was the most consistent performer during Spring practice.
Olson also possesses the most experience of the young 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 four-year starter 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, 185) has the strongest arm of the trio. He is a very good athlete who has mobility and an accurate arm. The Valencia, CA native did a nice job learning the new offense and came on strong at the end of the Spring.
Moore 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 and had been running the scout team. 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, 208) also had his moments as he competed for the quarterback job during Spring Practice. He did a great job of pressing Olson and Moore during the drills and consistently came up with big plays.
A year ago, Sciarra appeared in five games. Against California, he was rushed into service for the first time with the game on the line (he had previously played in just one game for 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 be part of the equation. He may have been the most improved of any of the quarterbacks during the Spring. He did a very good job in making his reads and improving upon his throwing mechanics.
'The quarterback position is key to our offensive development,' said head coach Karl Dorrell. 'We believe the young men we have at this position possess the talent and skill to develop into very productive players. This Spring we got a chance to install a fundamental base with them and teach an offensive system that will enhance their overall growth.
'I feel it is a plus that three of our guys already have game experience. We had a chance to mold them in our system during the Spring and build upon that experience. The competition seemed to bring out the best in the group. Now we will head into Fall camp and determine which quarterback is most capable of leading us this season.'
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, 180) burst onto the scene a year ago at Oregon State, displaying a rare combination of speed, quickness, power and explosiveness. He 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 net 203 rushing yards against the Beavers, ran for at least 100 yards in six consecutive games, one shy of the school record, and totaled 994 yards on the season to rank fourth in the Pac-10. A second-team Freshman All-American, Ebell runs as well between the tackles as he does to the outside. In addition to leading the Bruins in rushing, he also topped 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.
Fifth-year senior Akil Harris (6-0, 210) has made significant contributions throughout his career and should do so again in 2003. He had a very productive Spring and serves as a change of pace from the elusive Ebell at the tailback position. His experience gives him an additional edge on the playing field.
Harris 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 on the squad. 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, 185), who appeared in nine games a year ago, will also have a chance to impress the coaches with his abilities. He had a very good Spring and can be effective between the tackles and as a receiver.
In spot duty last season, Mathis rushed for 50 yards on 18 carries and also earned some time on the kickoff return team. He earned 2000 prep All-America honors while rushing for 2,027 yards and 21 touchdowns at Merced (CA) High and possesses outstanding potential.
Jason Harrison (5-10, 205), another talented tailback, missed Spring Practice while recovering from two ligament surgeries on his right knee. His status for the 2003 season is uncertain at publication time.
True freshmen MAURICE DREW (5-8, 195) and DERRICK WILLIAMS (5-10, 195) will join the team for Fall camp. Drew, a Parade All-America at Concord, CA De La Salle High School rushed for 1,457 yards, averaging 11.9 yards per attempt as a senior. Williams, a Super Prep All-American from St. John BoscoHigh School in Bellflower, CA ran for 1,104 yards last season.
Redshirt junior MANUEL WHITE (6-3, 245), who has played both tailback and fullback, is expected to see most of his action at fullback this season in the new offensive system. He combines the quickness of a tailback with the size and power of a fullback and can be effective as a runner both inside and outside the tackles. In addition, he is an outstanding pass receiver out of the backfield.
In 2002, White started the first four games of the season 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 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.
True sophomore J.D. Groves (6-2, 240) earned the bulk of the playing time at fullback a year ago when White was at tailback and did a good job as a blocker. He came on strong at the end of Spring practice and can be a good, solid all-around performer. Fourth-year junior Pat Norton (6-1, 245) added depth to the position after missing the year's first two games due to a sprained ankle. When healthy, Norton will be right in the mix for playing time. In addition, freshmen MICHAEL PITRE (6-1, 240) from El Modena High School in Orange, CA, and JIMMY STEPHENS (6-3-230) from Bishop Montgomey High School in Torrance, CA will enter camp this Fall.
'We have good experience among our running backs, ' said Dorrell. 'I feel our ability to run the football is enhanced by the number of veterans we have at this position.
'Ebell and White give us a very productive one-two combination in the backfield. Both have the ability to gain yards between the tackles and the speed to take the ball outside. Ebell has the ability to make a big play each time he touches the ball. In addition, Manuel has the size to move the pile and can catch the ball out of the backfield.
'That being said, I think the other tailbacks and fullbacks have some special talents unique to themselves. It will be exciting to welcome Maurice, Derrick, Michael and Jimmy into the mix.'
This is another area in which the Bruins are experienced, returning four of their top five receivers from a year ago. Several could be in line for post-season honors.
Leading the way is redshirt junior Craig Bragg (6-2, 190). 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, 220) 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, 202) 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, he made 14 receptions, including four in each of his last two games, both of which he started.
Redshirt senior Ryan Smith (6-3, 210) 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, 195), 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, 187) and redshirt freshman Idris Moss (5-11, 170) are two youngsters who both had 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 earned 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 while recovering from an injured shoulder.
True freshman Antwuan Smith (5-11, 180), who enrolled in January of 2003, has the potential to break into the rotation and gained valuable experience during Spring Practice after sitting out the 2002 football season. 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.
Junior Jibril Raymo (6-3, 200) switched from safety to wide receiver during Spring Practice and will probably redshirt this year while he learns his new position.
Three freshmen receivers will join the team this Fall and provide some big targets. JOE COWAN (6-4, 185) caught 41 passes for 698 yards and 10 touchdowns last season at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, CA. ALEX GHEBRESELASSIE (6-3, 180), a Prep Star All-American at Bonita Vista High School in Chula Vista, CA, averaged close to 20 yards per catch during his prep career. MATT SLATER (6-0, 175) made 39 receptions for 707 yards as a senior at Servite High School in Orange, CA.
'As a former receiver, I liked what I saw in the Spring in regards to the young men at this position,' said Dorrell. 'We have worked hard to refine their technique and improve their discipline in route running.
'Craig is truly a special player. He has the speed to score anytime he touches the ball and certainly established himself as a go-to receiver. Tab is blessed with great size to go with his other abilities and is capable of being a big contributor.
'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 gave us the chance to coach some of the younger players who have exciting futures such as Jacques, Idris and Antwuan. In the Fall, Joe and Alex, a couple of freshman with good size, will also enter the picture.'
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 players might be utilized as an 'H-back' or in multiple tight-end formations.
Third-year sophomore Keith Carter (6-4, 240), the most experienced of the group, suffered a dislocated and fractured right hip in a motorcyle accident this past Spring. His status for the 2003 season is uncertain at press time. Carter earned extensive playing time in each of the last 10 games (four starts) in 2002 as both a second tight end and fullback/h-back. On the year, he made five receptions but also excelled with his blocking skills. As a senior at Downingtown (PA) High in 2000, he earned prep All-America honors while making 33 receptions for 420 yards and six touchdowns.
Fifth-year senior Blane Kezirian (6-6, 253) had a very productive Spring. He showed the ability to make the plays at the line of scrimmage and as a receiver. Last season, he saw action as a backup tight end in eight of 13 games, mostly in blocking situations.
Sophomore Marcedes Lewis (6-6, 245) 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 after an impressive Spring. An outstanding all-around athlete (he played with the basketball team following the football season), he has size, speed, strength and soft hands. 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.
Redshirt freshmen J.J. Hair (6-5, 240) and Will Peddie (6-5, 260) each got a chance to try and catch the eyes of the coaching staff during Spring Practice. In his last two seasons at Capistrano Valley High, Hair totaled 43 receptions for over 700 yards and three touchdowns. Both will look to add strength in the off-season and build on the improvements made this Spring.
'Despite the loss of Mike Seidman and the uncertainty in regards to Keith, we feel good about this position,' Dorrell said. 'We have a couple of promising players with experience in Blane and Marcedes. Each has different strengths but both are well-rounded tight ends who will have an impact within our scheme. We asked them to do a lot in the Spring after the loss of Keith and they responded well. J.J. and Will will also have the opportunity to compete for playing time.'
Three starters from a year ago - fourth-year juniors Eyoseph Efseaff (6-3, 300) and Steven Vieira (6-6, 300) and redshirt sophomore Mike McCloskey (6-5, 276) - return to form a strong nucleus for 2003 at guard, tackle and center, respectively.
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. However, during the Spring, he switched back to the tackle position he played as a true freshman and looked good. He will enter Fall camp as the starter at left tackle, replacing Bryce Bohlander, who started for most of the last four seasons. Vieira is a consistently solid performer who has the experience, saavy, toughness and athleticism to excel at his new position.
McCloskey earned the starting center job in Fall camp a year ago and never let it go, starting all 13 games. The youngster played virtually every snap in 2002 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. McCloskey picked up the new offense quickly and is comfortable making all the calls.
Third-year sophomore Ed Blanton (6-9, 330) is the top candidate to replace Mike Saffer. The largest of the Bruins, he was perhaps the most improved of the linemen during Spring drills. A tough, competitive battler, Blanton flashed his tremendous potential in 2002 when he started and played the entire San Diego State contest when Saffer was sidelined.
Fifth-year senior Shane Lehmann (6-5, 290) and redshirt junior Paul Mociler (6-5, 299) battled it out for the starting job at right guard this Spring. Lehman, who appeared in several games a year ago, emerged from the competition with a slight edge heading into the Fall. He started six games during the 2001 season. Mociler is a versatile performer who appeared in half the games in 2002 and can also contribute at tackle and center.
Third-year sophomore Robert Cleary (6-7, 300) and redshirt freshmen Alex Potasi (6-6, 302) also figure to be in the mix during Fall camp. Cleary earned some playing time last season at guard, but spent most of the Spring drills at a tackle position. Potasi is a good athlete, who has been limited in his on-field participation by last season's knee surgery. This Fall, he will get his first real look from the new coaching staff.
Fifth-year senior Tyson Clayton (6-2, 276) figures to compete for playing time at the guard positions. Clayton, a non-scholarship performer, earned some playing time a year ago at center and guard.
Redshirt freshman Robert Chai (6-3, 275), impressed the coaches after participating in his first Spring. He showed good toughness and body control and will provide depth at center behind McCloskey.
Two freshmen, NIKOLA DRAGOVIC (6-3, 270) and P.J. IRVIN (6-4, 280) will arrive at UCLA in the Fall. Dragovic played at Rancho Buena Vista High School in Vista, CA. Irvin, a Prep Star All-American, is from Agoura Hills, CA and Agoura High School.
'The offensive line is where it all starts and we are fortunate to have three quality starters returning to that unit,' said Dorrell. 'Eyoseph and Steven are two very capable athletes in the trenches. Steven made a quick switch back to left tackle and is our best option at that position. Mike was very impressive as a first-year starter and backed that up with a strong Spring. Ed, Shane and Paul each had their moments this Spring and put themselves in position to help us this season. In addition, some of our young depth showed in the Spring that they are making steady improvement. '
New coordinator Larry Kerr and the defensive coaches used Spring practice to install a package that attacks offenses and features numerous pressure packages. Making that job a bit easier are 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.
Fifth-year senior right tackle Rodney Leisle (6-3, 288), a candidate for All-America honors in 2002, had his junior season disrupted by a broken foot that caused him to miss five games. Back at full strength and trimmed down in size, this dominating performer had a good Spring and has the ability 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, 275). 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 - future NFL stars Carnell Lake, Donnie Edwards and Jamir Miller - ever recorded more sacks in a single season. His efforts should be enhanced this season with the new scheme, which allows him to line up opposite the weak side of the opponent's formation.
Twin brother Mat Ball (6-6, 285), another fifth year senior, is the leading candidate at the strong side defensive end position. A year ago, Mat Ball appeared in every game and finished the year with 18 tackles, including two sacks and six tackles for loss.
Senior Ryan Boschetti (6-4, 295) is the top candidate for the nose tackle position. Last season, his first at UCLA after transferring from San Mateo College, he started five games 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. Fifth-year senior Asi Faoa (6-4, 274) has been a dependable reserve throughout his career. He has the size and speed to play all four spots on the line. A year ago, Faoa made 24 tackles, including two sacks. Redshirt senior David Tautofi (6-2, 265), who made five tackles, including two sacks, in limited duty, will compete at the strong side end position.
Sophomore C.J. Niusulu (6-2, 295) 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. When healthy, he will make a strong push for playing time at nose tackle. As a prep senior in 2001, Niusulu made 90 tackles in just seven games at Barstow (CA) High.
The coaching staff used this Spring to study the development of several young performers who could provide quality depth, including redshirt freshman Kevin Harbour (6-4, 251) at end and redshirt freshman Thomas Patton (6-3, 265) at tackle. 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.
Several highly touted true freshmen players will report for Fall camp at this position and attempt to learn the scheme in time to be a factor for the 2003 season. KEVIN BROWN (6-2, 285) was a Prep Star All-American from Long Beach,CA Poly High School. BRUCE DAVIS (6-4, 220), son of Bruce Davis, Sr. who played for UCLA from 1975-78, comes to Westwood from Clear Creek High School in League City, TX. JUNIOR LEMAU'U (6-5, 240), a member of the Prep Star Dream Team, made 89 tackles and had 15 sacks at Long Beach, CA Poly High School last season. NOAH SUTHERLAND (6-5, 250) was one of the South's best players while at Kellam High School in Virginia Beach, VA. AARON WHITTINGTON (6-3, 210) was an outstanding pass rusher at Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis.
'Rodney Leisle is the type of player who creates opportunities for everyone around him,' said Dorrell. 'He is a high motor performer who will excel in this scheme.
'Dave Ball had an outstanding junior year. 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 experience and youth along the front four. We could start four seniors, including Mat, Ryan, David, Rodney or Asi, and we have some young players who can build for the future by gaining some valuable experience this year. In addition, we have several outstanding true freshmen prospects at this position joining us for the Fall.'
UCLA returns two starters, both of whom figure to contend for post-season honors after enjoying productive seasons a year ago. The scheme this season will feature one outside and two inside linebackers.
Senior Brandon Chillar (6-3, 230) 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 drop in pass coverage, he ranked third on the team 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 as a strong side linebacker in 2002.
Sophomore Wesley Walker (6-2, 228) and redshirt freshman Xavier Burgess (6-2, 240) figure to compete for playing time behind Chillar. 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 sophomore Spencer Havner (6-4, 233) was one of 2002's pleasant surprises. He will now anchor one of the inside linebacker positions. A very athletic player, he ranks first among returnees with his 96 tackles, which also ranked second on UCLA's all-time freshman tackle list. A first-team Freshman All-America selection, he ranked second on the team with his 12 tackles for loss and returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns to tie an NCAA record for linebackers.
Redshirt junior BENJAMIN LORIER (5-11, 218) had an impressive Spring after excelling in the off-season conditioning program. Lorier transferred from Cal State Northridge prior to the 2002 season and has worked his way into the mix at an inside linebacker slot behind Havner.
True sophomore Justin London (6-1, 240) emerged from Spring practice as the starter at the other inside linebacker spot which had been vacated by the loss of Marcus Reese. London, a quick and aggressive playmaker, 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.
Redshirt senior Dennis Link (6-2, 218), a quick all-around athlete, has been a dependable reserve throughout his five years at UCLA and made 10 tackles in 2002. He is in line to back up both London and Havner on the inside.
Fourth-year junior Tim Warfield (6-2, 232) will also compete for playing time at the inside linebacker slot behind London. 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.
Junior Patrick Pierre-Louis (6-0, 218) redshirted last season after transfering from Glendale Community College. He has battled a series of injuries the past two years. When healthy, he could compete for playing time behind Havner.
Freshman WILLIAM SNEAD (6-4, 215) joins the Bruins from Skyline High School in Oakland. He will compete for playing time at the strong side linebacker position.'Linebackers play an important role in this defensive scheme,' said Dorrell. 'Brandon and Spencer are among the best linebackers in the Pac-10 and we are going to do whatever we can to take advantage of their skills. During the Spring, Justin emerged as the leader at the open inside linebacker slot and can be a real playmaker for us. We will have a mix of experience and youth behind these three.'
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 career.
Leading the way is junior Matt Ware (6-3, 213), who has started all 24 games of his career. A great athlete with the talent to play any position in the secondary, he is set to start at cornerback this season. A year ago, he opened 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.
Fourth-year junior Ben Emanuel II (6-3, 205) 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 true sophomore strong safety Jarrad Page (6-1, 210) 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 and proved to be a very physical player. He started the final 10 games of the 2002 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.
Three other talented safeties will compete with Emanuel and Page for playing time. Redshirt senior free safety Kevin Brant (6-0, 195) 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. Freshman strong safety Eric McNeal (6-2, 205), one of the top prep players at his position in 2001, showed his considerable talents in Spring Practice after redshirting last season. He should get a chance to gain experience this season as he challenges Page for playing time. As a high school senior, McNeal made 80 tackles and seven interceptions at Serra High in Gardena, CA.
Glenn Ohaeri (5-9, 196) came on strong during Spring practice. He spent most of the Spring at a safety position and will also be in the mix as a nickel back. Ohaeri earned playing time last season as a true freshman, mostly on special teams. He is aggressive and possesses the athletic ability to play anywhere in the secondary. 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.
Junior MATT CLARK (5-9, 170) emerged as the leader for the starting assignment at the cornerback position opposite Ware. Clark has quick feet and the speed to close on the ball. He was one of just three true freshmen to letter in 2001. In 2002, he was one of the top reserves at cornerback, appearing in nine games and making seven tackles.
Redshirt sophomore Marcus Cassel (6-0, 180) had a very impressive Spring and will challenge Clark for the starting spot into the Fall. He understands the scheme well and is very consistent with his technique. Except for spot duty on defense, his action has been primarily on special teams. As a senior in 2000, he made 60 tackles and two interceptions at St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, CA.
Redshirt freshman Jebiaus Brown (6-0, 184) is also in the mix at this cornerback position. He will look to gain experience this season as he continues to battle for a starting spot. Brown, who possesses good coverage skills, made 55 stops and three interceptions in his senior season at Milpitas, CA High.
Senior Keith Short (5-10, 185) had a very good Spring and could see playing time behind Ware at cornerback or as a nickel back. He 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.
Joe Garcia (6-0, 188), another redshirt freshman, will also contend for playing time at cornerback. In 2001, he earned prep All-America honors while making 68 tackles, three interceptions and 13 pass breakups at Los Alamitos (CA) High.
Four true freshmen will join the mix in the Fall. Cornerback candidate TREY BROWN (5-11, 185), who attended Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, KS, is the son of former Bruin running back great Theotis Brown. CHRIS HORTON (6-2, 190) was an outstanding safety at De La Salle High School in New Orleans where he made over 100 tackles as a senior. MIL'VON JAMES (5-11, 185) is a fine all-around athlete with good speed who played cornerback at Fremont High School in Los Angeles.
DENNIS KEYES (6-2, 190), a Super Prep All-American and the Daily News Player of the Year, made 88 tackles as a safety at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, CA and also scored 35 touchdowns on offense last season.
'It was very interesting to watch this group compete during the Spring. They were able to grasp the new scheme quickly and executed it well,' Dorrell said. 'We have three returning starters who each have at least two years remaining to help us raise our level of performance and consistency in the secondary. We also have some talented youngsters who just need to continue to add experience.'
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, 195) emerged from the Spring as the 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 practices a year ago and again this Spring. 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) will take over the punting job Fikse performed for four seasons. Last year, he kicked once for 44 yards. 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, 195), a fifth-year senior, could 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, 212) could be the answer, but he missed Spring Practice due to off-season shoulder surgery. Redshirt freshman Riley Jondle (6-3, 200) and senior defensive lineman David Tautofi (6-2, 265) also enter the Fall as candidates for the snapping duties.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, 190) 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, 180) ranked fifth in the league with his average of 11.4 yards on 24 returns.
Senior Tab Perry (6-3, 220) 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. Senior running back Akil Harris (6-0, 210) and junior cornerback MATT CLARK (5-9, 170) also figure to be in the mix and have some experience returning kicks.
'Special teams are an extremely important part of our football team,' Dorrell said. 'We spent a great deal of time working on this area during the Spring. It gave us an excellent chance to evaluate our special teams units as we head into the Fall where we will have some decisions to make. We have some very talented return specialists and will work to put our best weapons on the field.'
TOMORROW | 5:00pm PTLive
TOMORROW | 7:00pm PTLive