UCLA 2003 Football Outlook

Aug. 25, 2003


Overview: Karl Dorrell, a former UCLA wide receiver and assistant coach, gets his first crack as a head coach as he takes over the Bruin reins. He finds that the cupboard is not bare, as UCLA returns 15 starters from last year's 8-5 team. And there is some young talent, attested to by the fact that four freshmen who started for the Bruins last year earned some sort of Freshman All-America notice. However, there are some weighty issues to be determined, foremost among them--who will start at quarterback?

Offense: Seven starters return for the UCLA offense, but coach Karl Dorrell faces a key decision in determining who will handle the quarterbacking chores. Veteran Cory Paus went down in game seven last year leaving it to true freshmen Drew Olson and Matt Moore to finish out the season. The fact each saw rather extensive action in the second half of the season should prove a blessing this year. It was reported to be a dead heat between Olson and Moore coming out of spring practice, so the competition will continue into the fall. Whichever quarterback emerges will have a bevy of talented and experienced 'skill' position players around him. Despite not starting until game five, freshman tailback Tyler Ebell just missed a 1,000-yard season as he ran for 994 yards and 10 TDs. The freshman earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors and enters 2003 as one of the league's top backs. Veteran senior Akil Harris adds depth at tailback. Big (6,3, 245) Manuel White will likely stay at fullback after splitting time between fullback and tailback the last two years. As a former Bruin wideout, Dorrell must love UCLA's returning pair of wide receivers, both of whom are among the league's top deep threats. Craig Bragg pulled in 55 receptions for 889 yards and eight TDs last year, plus led the league in punt returns at 16.0 yards a pop. Fellow wideout Tab Perry has averaged just a hair under 20 yards per catch over the last two seasons and doubles as a top-flight kickoff return man. A replacement must be found for departed All-Pac-10 tight end Mike Seidman, with Keith Carter and Marcedes Lewis the likely heirs. The bad news on the offensive line is that standout bookend tackles Mike Saffer and Bryce Bohlander are gone. The good news is three solid starters return to build upon. Guard Eyoseph Efseaff has developed into one of the top offensive linemen around and earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors last year. Steven Vieira will move from guard to tackle this year, and Mike McCloskey returns at center after starting there as a freshman last year. Paul Molicer and Ed Blanton will fight it out for the other starting tackle spot, with Shane Lehmann and Tyson Clayton competing for the vacant guard job.

Defense: The UCLA defense has seven starters back and looks to be a unit with a lot of speed, which should be perfect for the attacking, blitzing type of defense the new Bruin coaching staff envisions. The line boasts some experienced veterans, although depth in this area might be a question mark. Two top seniors anchor the line in tackle Rodney Leisle, back for another year after a foot injury knocked him out last season, and end Dave Ball, a second-team All-Pac-10 selection, who led the Bruins with 11 QB sacks last year. Twin brother Mat Ball will likely claim the other end position, with Asi Faoa in the mix, and senior Ryan Boschetti is the top candidate for the open tackle job. Two outstanding outside linebackers are back in Brandon Chillar, who will be a three-year starter, and Spencer Havner, who was The Sporting News Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year last season. Justin London is the top candidate to fill the vacated middle linebacker position. Three-time All-Pac-10 cornerback Ricky Manning is gone, but the other three starters in the Bruin secondary return. Junior corner Matt Ware has been a starter since the day he arrived at UCLA and is poised for a breakout year. Ben Emanuel II is at free safety and strong safety Jarrad Page was another of those Freshman All-Americas last year. Matt Clark is a good bet for the open cornerback job.

Kicking Game: Four-year punter Nate Fikse and his 41.9-yard average is gone and last year he handled the bulk of the field goals as well. Potential replacements are Justin Medlock at placekicker and Chris Kluwe at punter.

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