2004 UCLA Football Outlook
July 22, 2004
A year ago, UCLA won six of its first eight games, ranked 18th nationally and second in the Pac-10 in total defense, produced a unanimous All-American and began building the foundation for the program's future successes.
UCLA returns 13 starters from the 2003 team - eight on offense and five on defense, plus both kickers - to form the nucleus of the 2004 Bruin squad. On offense, the returnees include split end Craig Bragg, an All-America candidate who led the Bruins with 73 receptions a year ago; tailback/fullback Manuel White, who was the team's leading rusher when he was injured in the season's eighth game; quarterback Drew Olson, who started nine of the team's 13 games; and all five offensive linemen -- tackles Steven Vieira and Ed Blanton, guards Eyoseph Efseaff and Paul Mociler and center Robert Chai. On defense, the returnees include linebackers Justin London and Spencer Havner, who made 98 and 82 tackles, respectively, and will both contend for post-season honors; safeties Ben Emanuel and Jarrad Page, who made 80 and 55 tackles, respectively; and cornerback Matt Clark. Punter Chris Kluwe and place kicker Justin Medlock also return for the 2004 season.
Other key returnees include tailback Maurice Drew, the team's leading rusher and kickoff returner; tight end Marcedes Lewis, the team's second-leading receiver; wide receiver Junior Taylor, who ranked fourth on the squad in receiving; fullback Pat Norton, who started several games; center Mike McCloskey, who started in 2002 and the first five games of 2003 before sustaining a season-ending injury; and defensive linemen C.J. Niusulu and Kevin Brown.
Key losses from last season include all four starting defensive linemen -- unanimous All-America end Dave Ball, Mat Ball, Ryan Boschetti and Rodney Leisle -- linebacker Brandon Chillar, the Pac-10's leading tackler; and Matt Ware, a talented three-year starter at cornerback. Offensively, three starters -- tight end Blane Kezirian, wide receiver Ryan Smith and tailback Tyler Ebell -- are gone.'We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but the staff and the players in our program are excited about our future,' said head coach Karl Dorrell. 'Last year was about building a foundation and although we suffered some setbacks late in the year, we feel we are going in the right direction.
'Defensively, our players did a great job of picking up a new system a year ago. Although we will be younger on defense this season, especially up front, I feel we have the players in our program who can execute this defense successfully and coaches who can maximize our players' potential.
'Offensively, we have made some changes that we feel will allow us to make tremendous strides from last season. I am confident that with the new coaches we have hired and the fact that our players have a year's experience in the system will allow us to be more productive. I expect all aspects of our offense to be much improved,' said Dorrell.
UCLA will again face a challenging schedule. The Bruins open the season at home against Oklahoma State and then travel to Illinois. On Sept. 18, they open Pac-10 play at Washington and then have a bye before hosting San Diego State on Oct. 2. Their final seven games will be league contests.
In Pac-10 play, the Bruins will travel to Washington, California, Arizona State and Oregon and host Arizona, Stanford, Washington State and USC. Overall, UCLA will face five schools that played in bowl games. Three of the last four conference games will be played at home against Stanford (Oct. 30), Washington State (Nov. 6) and USC (Dec. 4) with a game at Oregon on Nov. 13.
Eight starters, plus several other performers who have started games, give the Bruins an excellent level of experience in many key areas. However, improvement is needed in all areas so the unit can be more productive in 2004.
Junior DREW OLSON (6-3, 220) enters the 2004 season as the team's No. 1 quarterback. A year ago, he gained valuable experience, starting nine of the 12 games in which he played. On the year, he completed 173 of 325 passes (53.2%) for 2,067 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His 173 completions ranked 12th on the UCLA single-season list while his 2,067 yards ranked tied for 12th overall and fourth-most by a Bruin sophomore. At one point during the season, the Bruins won four straight games and five of six with Olson under center.
In his two seasons, he has started 14 games and has completed 226 of 429 passes (52.7%) for 2,769 yards and 13 touchdowns, ranking 10th in career completions and 14th in career yardage. He possesses outstanding leadership qualities and demonstrated continued growth in his knowledge of the offensive system during Spring drills.
Junior DAVID KORAL (6-3, 220) gained valuable experience with the offensive scheme during Spring Practice and should be more familiar with it when Fall camp begins. Koral entered UCLA in January, transferring from Santa Monica College. In 2003, he completed 155 of 281 passes (55.2%) for 2,202 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions and was ranked the No. 8 junior college quarterback in the nation. As a prep senior at Palisades High in 2000, he was ranked No. 6 among quarterbacks in the West and earned All-America honors from PrepStar magazine. He passed for 4,057 yards and 44 touchdowns as a senior and threw for 4,902 yards, including a national prep record 764 yards in a game versus Van Nuys Grant, and 57 touchdowns as a junior.
Third-year sophomore walk-on BRIAN CALLAHAN (6-0, 190) will compete with Koral for playing time behind Olson. A very intelligent young man who possesses a vast football background (his father is the head coach at the University of Nebraska), he served as a backup a year ago but did not appear in a game.
PATRICK COWAN (6-4, 200), who earned All-Region honors at St. John Bosco High, joins the program in August. As a senior in 2003, he threw for 1,101 yards and five touchdowns. He is the brother of sophomore wide receiver Joe Cowan.'Drew is the key for us,' said head coach Karl Dorrell. 'We believe that Drew has a bright future. We need to do a better job of putting him in position to be successful and he must continue to learn the nuances of our offense. He gained valuable experience a year ago and we expect him to continue his maturation and become an outstanding quarterback. We were very happy with his growth in all areas during Spring drills.
'David played well during the Spring considering it was his first on-field exposure to the offensive system. We expect him to be more comfortable with it and give us a second capable performer this season. Brian understands the offense extremely well and he will have a chance to compete for a backup role 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.Fifth-year senior MANUEL WHITE (6-2, 245) enters Fall camp as the team's top running back. He is listed as the No. 1 tailback and will also see extensive action in UCLA's one-back formation and at fullback. White combines the quickness of a tailback with the size and power of a fullback and is extremely effective in the Bruins' offensive system. In addition, he is an outstanding pass receiver out of the backfield.
In 2003, White started the first eight games (five at tailback or single back, three at fullback) before being sidelined by a fractured right scapula in the Arizona State game. At the time of his injury, he was the team's leading rusher. He finished with 379 net yards and three touchdowns and also averaged 10.1 yards on 10 receptions. UCLA was 6-2 in games in which he started and 0-5 in games in which he did not play.
Sophomore MAURICE DREW (5-8, 200) was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2003 season. Despite his compact size, he is a very strong runner with outstanding speed. He appeared in all 13 games, starting twice, and finished his freshman season as the team's leading rusher with 582 yards and five touchdowns. The first freshman since DeShaun Foster (1998) to lead the team in rushing, his 582 yards ranked No. 3 in school history among true freshmen.
In addition, Drew also averaged 26.6 yards on 20 kickoff returns to rank second in the Pac-10 and 14th nationally. He recorded touchdown returns of 99 yards versus USC and 91 yards against Oklahoma.
Junior JASON HARRISON (5-10, 205), another talented tailback, missed the 2003 season while recovering from two ligament surgeries on his right knee which was injured in a game against Washington State in December of 2002. By the end of the year, he was practicing at full speed and showed during the Spring that he is ready to make a contribution.
Redshirt freshman DERRICK WILLIAMS (5-10, 205) is another talented runner who gained valuable experience during Spring Practice. More of a power runner, he did an outstanding job on the scout team last season and the coaches feel he has a bright future. Williams, a Super Prep All-American from St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, CA ran for 1,104 yards in 2002.
Fifth-year senior PAT NORTON (6-2, 240) is the only experienced scholarship fullback on the roster other than White. He has continued to develop into an outstanding blocker and started four of the 10 games in which he appeared.
Two redshirt freshmen, MICHAEL PITRE (5-11, 245) from El Modena High School in Orange, CA, and JIMMY STEPHENS (6-2, 230) from Bishop Montgomey High School in Torrance, CA, will compete for playing time behind Norton. Pitre missed all of last season with a neck condition but practiced well throughout Spring drills. He showed the ability to gain tough yards inside as well as block. Stephens worked hard on the scout team a year ago and figures to make a contribution in 2004.
Several walk-ons could add depth at this position, including redshirt junior STEVE SEIGEL (6-1, 235) and redshirt sophomores KRIS KILEY (6-0, 240) and MARK MANGELSDORFF (6-2, 225).
CHRIS MARKEY (5-11, 195), who earned All-America honors at Jesuit High in New Orleans, will join the competition this Fall. In 2003, Markey rushed for 2,745 yards, the most ever by a prep back in the New Orleans area.
'We return some quality performers in our backfield,' said Dorrell. 'I am confident that our running game will be much improved from a year ago.
'Manny (White) is an outstanding all-purpose back. He can play both tailback and fullback and is equally as comfortable in one-back formations. He possesses both the speed and the power to move the pile and he catches the ball very well out of the backfield. He will play a major role for us.
'Maurice is an exciting player to watch and he is only going to get better with more experience. He has great speed and his lower body strength gives him the ability to break tackles and accelerate in the open field. White and Drew give us experience in the backfield and we expect Jason and Derrick to provide quality depth at tailback.
'Norton is really our only experienced fullback and he has worked hard to become a fine blocker. Michael gives us another option at the position and Jimmy gives us added depth at this spot.'
This area has a mixture of quality experience and young potential and it should be interesting to watch the development during the 2004 season.
Leading the way is All-America candidate CRAIG BRAGG (6-2, 205), a fifth-year senior who will play the flanker position this season. The only player in UCLA history to make at least 50 receptions in two different seasons, he enters his senior year with 157 catches for 2,362 yards and 15 touchdowns and should conclude his career as the school record holder in receptions and receiving yards (he needs just 23 receptions and 659 receiving yards to rank No. 1 on both UCLA career charts). Twelve of his 15 scoring receptions and 14 of his 18 career scores of any kind have measured at least 33 yards.
In 2003, he led the Bruins in receiving for a third straight year (no one has ever led the team in four straight seasons). He made 73 receptions to rank third (tied) on UCLA's single-season list, for 1,065 yards (No. 5 in school history) and five touchdowns.He enters his senior season with a streak of 36 games in which he has made at least one reception and 31 games in which he has made at least two catches.
JUNIOR TAYLOR (6-1, 205) is UCLA's other experienced wide receiver and should play an important role in 2004. The true junior missed all of Spring drills due to a hernia operation (Feb. 26). Blessed with fine speed, Taylor scored a touchdown the first time he touched the football as a Bruin on a 49-yard reverse. In 2003, he started two of his 13 games and ranked third on the squad in receiving yardage (302) and fourth with his 24 receptions.
Behind Bragg and Taylor, the Bruins have a host of youngsters who gained experience during Spring Practice and will compete for spots in this season's receiver rotation.
Two sophomores are at the top of the list and will compete with Taylor for the starting job and playing time at split end.True sophomore JOE COWAN (6-4, 205) gained valuable experience a year ago, playing more extensively down the stretch. On the year, Cowan, who reminds some observers of former standout Danny Farmer, made seven receptions, including one touchdown. He played very well during the Spring.
Third-year sophomore IDRIS MOSS (5-11, 175) possesses the speed necessary to develop into a big-play receiver. In limited snaps a year ago, he made four receptions and his average of 23.0 yards per catch was the highest on the team. Moss was the most improved wide receiver during the Spring and should compete with Cowan throughout the season.
Two redshirt freshmen will also be competing for playing time at the receiver positions. MATT SLATER (5-11, 190) spent last season practicing with the regulars, although he never appeared in a game. Slater, who possesses sprinter speed, made 39 receptions for 707 yards as a senior at Servite High School in Orange, CA in 2002. ALEX GHEBRESELASSIE (6-2, 195) also has a fine upside and will be looking to break into the rotation this season. A 2002 Prep Star All-American at Bonita Vista High School in Chula Vista, CA, he averaged close to 20 yards per catch during his prep career.
Three freshmen -- BRANDON BREAZELL (6-0, 170), MARCUS EVERETT (6-1, 190) and RYAN GRAVES (6-1, 180) -- will join the competition in August. Breazell earned All-Region acclaim while making 57 receptions for 1,043 yards and 16 touchdowns at Edison High in Fresno, CA. Everett earned All-America honors at West Hills (CA) Chaminade High, making 61 catches for 1,359 yards and 16 touchdowns. Graves made 62 receptions for 1,271 yards and 15 touchdowns and earned All-America status at Venice (CA) High.
'Craig is one of the best receivers in the conference,' Dorrell said. 'He has the speed to create and go the distance and he also makes the tough catch over the middle. We will try to take advantage of his abilities by moving him to the flanker position. He is as hard a worker during practice as anyone on the team. He will set a great example for the young receivers.
'We really need Junior to take his game to another level. It is important to have another go-to receiver to take some of the coverage away from Craig, and Junior has the talent and experience to become that player.
'I am also excited about the potential of our young receivers. They all had their moments during Spring Practice, especially Joe and Idris, and we are looking forward to helping them develop throughout the season.'
Despite the loss of starter Blane Kezirian, the Bruins are blessed with a very talented returnee at this position.
Junior MARCEDES LEWIS (6-6, 250) started seven of 13 games a year ago, most in double-tight end formations. He demonstrated the potential to be a game-altering performer with continued development thanks to his uncanny combination of size, speed and soft hards. On the year, he ranked second to Craig Bragg with 30 receptions for 377 yards and three touchdowns. 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.
Fourth-year junior KEITH CARTER (6-4, 255) could add valuable depth to the position if he is healthy enough to play. During Spring Practice a year ago, he suffered a dislocated and fractured right hip in a motorcyle accident. It appeared he might return near the end of the 2003 season, but additional surgery ended that hope and his status for this year will not be determined until right before the start of Fall camp. In 2002, Carter earned extensive playing time in each of the last 10 games (four starts) as both a second tight end and fullback/H-back, making five receptions.
Redshirt sophomore J.J. HAIR (6-5, 245), who saw limited action last season, is the most experienced of the candidates to add depth at the position. In his final two seasons (2000 and 2001) at Capistrano Valley High, Hair totaled 43 receptions for over 700 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior college transfer MATT RANEY (6-3, 245) will battle Hair for the duties as the second tight end. As a sophomore at Phoenix College, he made 27 receptions for 402 yards and was rated the No. 10 junior college tight end in the nation. WILL PEDDIE (6-5, 255), a third-year sophomore walk-on, will compete for playing time.
TONY LEE (6-4, 250), who earned All-Region honors at Serra High in Gardena, CA, will join the program in August. Lee, who could also see action on the offensive line, will begin his career at tight end.
'We are excited about the potential of Marcedes Lewis,' Dorrell said. 'He has the tools to develop into an impact player and we think we can help him take his game to a new level. He had a good sophomore season, but we think the sky is the limit for Marcedes.
'Unfortunately, we don't have much experience behind him. We will continue to work with J.J., Matt and Will to give us a second option at the position. We are hopeful that Keith will be able to help us this season, but we won't know that until Fall camp.'
Six starters from a year ago return for the 2004 season and new line coach Tom Cable plans to use the five best players, meaning some possible position switches. This season, UCLA will use a system employing strong and weak side performers as opposed to left and right side players.
The group is led by fifth-year seniors EYOSEPH EFSEAFF (6-3, 300) and STEVEN VIEIRA (6-6, 300). Efseaff, a tough, hard-nosed competitor, is one of the better offensive guards in the West and enters the Fall listed No. 1 at strong guard. He has played virtually every snap at left guard for each of the last three seasons and has started 36 of his 37 career games, including each of the last 25. He earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention a year ago after being a second-team performer in 2002 and a second-team Freshman All-American in 2001.
Vieira is also entering his fourth season as a starter and his second at tackle. This year, he will play weak tackle. He moved to left tackle a year ago and did a credible job while learning the position on the fly despite experiencing problems with both knees. He enters his senior year having started 30 of his last 32 contests, including all 13 in 2003. Vieira is a solid performer who, along with Efseaff, figures to provide leadership on the line.
Redshirt junior ED BLANTON (6-9, 340), who started all 13 games at right tackle a year ago, will man the strong tackle spot. He possesses outstanding size and has worked hard to improve his strength and footwork. He showed steady improvement during Spring drills until suffering a sprained knee in the final week but he will be ready to go for Fall camp.
The competition at center figures to be an interesting one. Fifth-year senior PAUL MOCILER (6-6, 300), who started 10 of 13 games at right guard a year ago, emerged from Spring Practice as the top contender at this position. The most improved player among the linemen during the Spring, he has played all of the line positions during his Bruin career.
Third-year sophomore ROBERT CHAI (6-3, 280) stepped in a year ago following Mike McCloskey's injury and started the final eight games of the year. Despite nagging knee miseries, he played virtually every snap down the stretch. Chai, who missed the final two weeks of Spring with a sprained knee, will compete for the starting job at center and will also get a chance to play guard.
Redshirt junior MIKE McCLOSKEY (6-5, 285) started 18 straight games at the center position prior to fracturing his left ankle against Washington. In 2002, he won the starting center job in Fall camp and never relinquished it, starting all 13 games and earning second-team Freshman All-America honors for his efforts. McCloskey, who missed all of Spring Practice due to complications from pleurisy, will compete for the starting center job and could also see action at guard.
Talented newcomer MARC VILLAFUERTE (6-3, 300) figures to see action at strong tackle and strong guard. A true sophomore, Villafuerte transferred to UCLA in January from Santa Ana College and made steady improvement during Spring Practice. He will compete for playing time, and possibly a starting job, at those two positions.
In addition to competing for the starting center position, third-year sophomore ROBERT CHAI (6-3, 280) will also compete for starting honors at weak guard. Fourth-year junior ROBERT CLEARY (6-7, 305), who can play both tackle and guard, will compete for playing time at weak guard. A year ago, he saw very limited action as a reserve guard/tackle but did well during Spring drills.
Redshirt freshman P.J. IRVIN (6-4, 300) gained valuable experience during his first Spring Practice and will compete for playing time at the guard positions. He earned 2002 All-America acclaim, from PrepStar magazine, at Agoura High School.
Several non-scholarship players, including redshirt freshman center BRIAN RUBINSTEIN (5-11, 255), fifth-year senior CHARLES THOMPSON (6-3, 315) and redshirt freshman JAMAAL RHODES (6-3, 310), could also add depth on the line.
Six prep seniors -- BRIAN ABRAHAM (6-6, 260), SCOTT GLICKSBERG (6-4, 285), CHRIS JOSEPH (6-4, 255), AARON MEYER (6-3, 285), NATHANIEL SKAGGS (6-4, 255) and SHANNON TEVAGA (6-3, 295) -- will have the opportunity to compete for playing time when they arrive in August. Tevaga and Abraham earned prep All-America honors while Glicksberg, Joseph, Meyer and Skaggs were All-Region selections.
'This is a priority area for us,' said Dorrell. 'For our offense to function effectively, we must protect our quarterback and clear the way for our running backs. I believe that with the six returners we have and the addition of coach Cable, we will be much more effective as a unit. We expect Eyoseph and Steven, both of whom have started for the last three years, to enjoy the best season of their careers and provide needed leadership to the unit.'
In UCLA's first season with this coaching staff, it ranked 18th nationally and second in the Pac-10 behind only Oregon State in total defense. In addition, it allowed just 27 defensive TDs, tied for No. 1 in the Pac-10, and just 15 passing touchdowns, best in the Pac-10.
This area has been rebuilt virtually from the ground up due to the departure of six seniors, including all four starters (Dave Ball, Mat Ball, Ryan Boschetti and Rodney Leisle - all in NFL camps) and two key reserves (Asi Faoa and David Tautofi). UCLA will be depending on several talented but inexperienced performers on the line in 2004.
Junior C.J. NIUSULU (6-2, 285) is the most experienced of the linemen and figures to man one of the tackle positions. A strong, aggressive youngster, he saw extensive action as the first tackle off the bench. He appeared in all 13 games and accounted for 26 tackles, including 5.0 for losses.
Sophomore KEVIN BROWN (6-2, 290), a very athletic lineman, is the frontrunner for the other tackle position. Last year as a true freshman, he was contributing regularly on the defensive line when, for the good of the team, he agreed to move to offensive guard. He started the same week as the move and ended up starting three of his six games on offense. He has returned to defense for the 2004 season and figures to have a major impact.
Redshirt sophomore ROBERT GARCIA (5-11, 275), appeared in a few games as a reserve in 2003, played well during Spring Practice and enters Fall camp listed second behind Niusulu.Redshirt freshman walkon SCOTT KEARNEY (6-1, 275) could add depth at the position.
Redshirt sophomore KEVIN HARBOUR (6-4, 260) is the only defensive end on the squad to have appeared in a game, earning limited snaps in five contests a year ago. His status for the 2004 season is in doubt due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that underwent reconstructive surgery on May 12.
Redshirt freshman BRUCE DAVIS (6-3, 240) enters Fall camp as the front runner at right end. A year ago, he showed flashes of his potential as a pass-rushing end on the scout team and played well during Spring drills. The son of Bruce Davis, Sr., who played for UCLA from 1975-78, he came to Westwood from Clear Creek High School in League City, TX. Redshirt sophomore JUSTIN HICKMAN (6-1, 270), who made 60 tackles a year ago at Glendale (AZ) College, figures to battle Davis for the starting job and playing time.At the left end position, junior KYLE MORGAN (6-3, 260) enters the Fall as the front runner. Strong and athletic, Morgan, who starred at Pearl River College in Poplarville, MS, and was rated the No. 5 junior college defensive end in the nation, could become a fixture at the position for the next two seasons. He signed with Miami out of high school.
Redshirt freshman NOAH SUTHERLAND (6-4, 265) was one of the South's best players while at Kellam High School in Virginia Beach, VA, and made a very strong impression last year as a member of the scout team. He is in competition with Morgan. Redshirt freshman NIKOLA DRAGOVIC (6-3, 245) will also compete for playing time at that position. Dragovic spent last season on offense, working on the line and at fullback, but the staff feels he is better suited for defense. Another redshirt freshman, walkon PHILIP RAUSCHER (6-4, 265) will try to inject himself into the picture at tackle.
Three freshmen -- end BRIGHAM HARWELL (6-1, 255) and tackles CHRIS JOHNSON (6-3, 270) and KENNETH LOMBARD (6-1, 275) -- will also have the opportunity to earn playing time when they arrive in August. Harwell, the most decorated of UCLA's high school signees, recorded 68.5 career quarterback sacks at Los Altos High and could contend for a starting job at end. Lombard, a prep All-American, made 68 tackles at St. John Bosco High while Johnson earned All-Region honors at John Curtis Christian High in River Ridge, LA.
'This area has been completely rebuilt and we are confident that the young men in our program are up to the challenge,' said Dorrell.'C.J.and Kevin, our top two returnees at the tackle spot, both have experience. C.J. did a fine job as our top reserve a year ago and Kevin was making great progress when we moved him to offense. I think those two give us a good tackle tandem.
'The end positions are wide open and we expect great competition at both spots. Not having Kevin Harbour is a blow for us, but we will overcome it. Bruce showed the ability to get to the quarterback during practices a year ago and played well during Spring ball. The Spring was our first chance to see Kyle and Justin and we are excited about their potential.'
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 again feature one outside and two inside linebackers.
Third-year junior SPENCER HAVNER (6-4, 240), a two year-starter, is one of the more versatile linebackers in the nation and a candidate for post-season honors. He has shifted from the outside position to the weak inside spot vacated by Brandon Chillar. Last season Havner ranked third on the squad with 82 tackles, including 6.5 for losses. He tied for the team lead with three interceptions, averaging over 42 yards per return, and he also blocked two field goals against California. A first-team Freshman All-America selection in 2002, he made 96 tackles and returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns to tie an NCAA record for linebackers.
True junior JUSTIN LONDON (6-1, 235) enjoyed a very productive first season as a starter in the middle of the Bruin defense. He ranked second on the squad with 98 tackles and his average of 7.5 per game ranked eighth in the Pac-10. He tied for second on the team with 8.5 tackles for losses and also tied for the team lead with three interceptions. London, who possesses a great combination of speed and strength and is equally adept at stopping the run and the pass, will anchor the Bruin defense in 2004 and should contend for post-season acclaim.
Junior WESLEY WALKER (6-3, 230) enters Fall camp listed No. 1 at the outside spot, but he will have plenty of competition for the starting job. A good all-around athlete who appeared in every game, he made 15 tackles a year ago.
Redshirt freshman AARON WHITTINGTON (6-2, 205) figures to compete with Walker for playing time on the outside. He has outstanding pass-rushing skills that the staff will try to take advantage of from a linebacker spot. Redshirt freshman WILLIAM SNEAD (6-4, 230) also will compete for playing time at outside 'backer. As a senior at Skyline High in Oakland, CA in 2002, he earned All-Region acclaim while making 96 tackles, including 11 sacks and 36 tackles for losses.
Fifth-year senior TIM WARFIELD (6-2, 240) again figures to be the primary backup at the middle inside linebacker slot behind London. He appeared in 12 of 13 games a year ago, contributing on defense and special teams. Sophomore DANNY NELSON (6-1, 240), a transfer from Arizona Western College, will also compete for playing time. He earned JC All-America honorable mention in 2003.
Redshirt senior BENJAMIN LORIER (5-11, 220) is pencilled in at the weak inside position behind Havner. Lorier played well during Spring drills and could also earn some time at the outside linebacker spot. A year ago, he earned most of his playing time on special teams but made seven tackles in place of an injured Chillar in the Silicon Valley Classic.
FRED HOLMES (6-1, 235), an All-Southeast selection from John Curtis Christian High in River Ridge, LA, will join the squad in the Fall.'Linebacker is an area of strength for us,' said Dorrell. 'They will provide the leadership in this defense and we have a great pair in Justin and Spencer. Both of them rank among the best in the Pac-10. We still have some competition for the starting outside spot. One of the goals during Spring drills was to build some depth and I feel good about our linebacking depth entering the season.'
The Bruins have three returning starters in the secondary, including a pair of two-year starters at safety. The key will be replacing three-year starting cornerback Matt Ware. In 2003, the Bruins led the Pac-10 in fewest touchdown passes allowed.
Fifth-year senior BEN EMANUEL II (6-3, 220) has started 24 of the 25 games in which he has played over the last two seasons and is the most experienced of the Bruins in the secondary. In 2003, he ranked fourth on the squad with 80 tackles in his 12 games and his average of 6.7 tackles per contest ranked third. He enters his senior year as the team leader with seven career interceptions.
True junior JARRAD PAGE (6-2, 215) teams with Emanuel to give the Bruins an outstanding safety combination. In 2002, he earned first-team Freshman All-America honors, becoming a starter in his fourth game as a Bruin. 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. In 2003, he started all 12 games in which he played. He finished the year with 55 tackles, including 5.5 for losses, and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, returning one for a score.
However, they are both in close races for starting positions. Third-year sophomore ERIC McNEAL (6-2, 215) gained valuable experience at strong safety during the Spring while Page was with the Bruin baseball team and could push for a starting position. In 2003, he earned most of his playing time on special teams but made seven tackles, including two for losses, in the Silicon Valley Classic. As a senior at Serra High in 2001, McNeal made 80 tackles and seven interceptions.
Redshirt freshman CHRIS HORTON (6-1, 195) injected himself into the picture at free safety with an outstanding Spring Practice. He played well throughout the four-week session and will push Emanuel for playing time. As a prep senior in 2002, Horton was an All-Region selection and made over 100 tackles at De La Salle High School in New Orleans.
DENNIS KEYES (6-1, 195), another talented redshirt freshman, will also compete for playing time at strong safety. Keyes, a Super Prep All-American and the L.A. Daily News Player of the Year in 2002, made 88 tackles as a safety at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys.Senior MATT CLARK (5-9, 190) is the veteran among the cornerbacks and the starter on the left side. Last season was his first as a starter and he was in the lineup in all 12 games in which he played. On the year, Clark, who possesses good one-on-one coverage skills, was tested often as a rookie starter and finished with 53 tackles.
Redshirt sophomore JEBIAUS BROWN (6-1, 190) and redshirt junior MARCUS CASSEL (6-0, 185) enter Fall camp in a heated competition for the starting right cornerback job. Brown, who has fine physical tools, missed all of last year due to a concussion, returning to practice late in the campaign. Brown, who possesses good coverage skills, made 55 stops and three interceptions in his senior season (2001) at Milpitas, CA High.
Cassel, the most experienced of the candidates, also played well during Spring drills. For the last two years, he has seen spot duty on defense and contributed on special teams and appears to be ready to take the next step.Junior NNAMDI OHAERI (5-10, 200) also figures in the competition at right cornerback. Ohaeri missed all of the Spring due to off-season knee surgery. He is an aggressive performer who possesses the athletic ability to play anywhere in the secondary. Last season, he played extensively as the nickel back and also contributed on special teams. He finished with 22 tackles, including nine in the Silicon Valley Classic, which he started in place of Emanuel.
True sophomore MIL'VON JAMES (6-0, 200) earned playing time on special teams coverage units a year ago because of his speed and coverage ability. He also figures in the competition at right cornerback after a productive Spring. As a senior in 2002 at Los Angeles' Fremont High, he made over 95 tackles.
Redshirt freshman TREY BROWN (5-10, 195) enters Fall camp in competition for playing time on the left side behind Clark. The defensive scout team Player of the Year in 2003, Brown is a hard worker who impressed the coaches a year ago and made some big plays during Spring Practice. The son of former UCLA standout running back Theotis Brown, he earned All-Region honors at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, KS.
Redshirt sophomore JOE GARCIA (6-0, 185) is also in the mix at left cornerback after spending the 2003 season with the scout team. Garcia earned prep All-America honors while making 68 tackles, three interceptions and 13 pass breakups at Los Alamitos (CA) High in 2001.
Three talented high school seniors -- MICHAEL NORRIS (5-11, 175), RODNEY VAN (6-1, 185) and BYRON VELEGA (5-10, 180) -- will also have the chance to compete for playing time when they join the squad in August. Van earned All-America acclaim while making 84 tackles at Long Beach's Poly High while Velega, his prep teammate, earned All-Region honors while making 60 tackles and four interceptions. Norris was an All-Area selection at Oakland's Skyline High.
'I felt that this area played well most of last season, but we still need to raise our level of consistency,' said Dorrell. 'In Ben and Jarrad, we have a talented pair of safeties, but they must continue to lead by example on every play. I also feel that Matt did a good job in his first year as a starter. All three are a year more experienced and I expect their on-field performances to reflect that experience. Our challenge in the Spring was to identify a fourth starter and to develop some of our young players who can provide important depth. While we have yet to settle on that other starting corner, I am excited about the strides several of our young DBs made this Spring.'
What was an area of uncertainty entering the 2003 season is a strength entering this year.
Fifth-year senior CHRIS KLUWE (6-5, 215) did a fine job in his first season as the Bruins' punter and should be a prime candidate for the Ray Guy National Punter Award. He ranked fourth in the Pac-10 and 26th in the nation with his average of 42.9 yards per kick. Kluwe set school records for punts (91) and yardage (3,908) and placed 19 of his kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line. In addition, he also served as holder on place kicks, a job he should perform again in 2004.
In his first year as the UCLA place kicker, redshirt sophomore JUSTIN MEDLOCK (6-0, 195) did well enough to lead the Bruins in scoring with 68 points. He made 14 of 19 field goals, including 14 of 15 in one stretch, and all 26 of his points after touchdowns. He also handled the kickoff chores.
Redshirt sophomore RILEY JONDLE (6-3, 205) performed well in his first season as long snapper for punts and field goals.
Redshirt senior CRAIG BRAGG (6-2, 205) ranks third on UCLA's list for career punt returns while averaging almost 10 yards per attempt. He will be the frontrunner for the job again in 2004, although several young players will be auditioned during Spring Practice.
Sophomore MAURICE DREW (5-8, 200) ranked second in the Pac-10 and 14th in the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 26.6 yards per attempt. He also returned two for touchdowns -- 99 yards at USC and 91 yards at Oklahoma.
In the Fall, freshman AARON PEREZ (6-2, 200) will join the Bruin kickers. A prep-All-American at Charter Oak High in 2003, he averaged 42.7 yards as a punter and placed 11 kicks inside the 20-yard line.
'We feel special teams will be a solid area for us this year,' Dorrell said. 'We have experienced kickers and return men who have performed well in the past. We must continue to work on becoming one of the best units in the Pac-10.'