Friday, April 30, 2010
Spring Practice: Were key questions answered?
By Blair Angulo
Before the UCLA football team began its spring practices, we highlighted four questions that needed to be answered or those that at least needed to become a bit clearer heading into the summer. With the three-week session now over, we revisit them and decide whether or not they were indeed answered.
1. Who will fill the gaping hole left at defensive tackle?
Answer: no one -- but that doesn't necessarily mean David Carter and Nate Chandler did not have impressive springs.
"I feel like I have to progress more than I ever have before," Carter said at one point.
And Carter did show improvement, oftentimes plugging the interior and stopping the run game with his size. Chandler, meanwhile, earned rave reviews from coach Rick Neuheisel for handling his new position well. A converted tight end, Chandler has the athleticism to give the Bruins more speed up front.
Still, the guy they're trying to fill in for -- Brian Price -- was an early second-round selection in last week's NFL Draft. Replacing him will not be easy. And although Carter and Chandler should do a viable job, don't expect anything close to Price's dominance.
2. Will anyone snag go-to receiver spot?
Answer: no. But again, that's not necessarily a negative thing.
Quarterback Kevin Prince said it over and over again: he doesn't need a top target. He wants to spread the ball around.
His theory proved true when receivers Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree were joined by Josh Smith, Randall Carroll, Ricky Marvray, Jerry Johnson and Antwon Moutra -- who all showed promise at one point or another during spring.
"We have weapons now at the wide receiver spot," Embree said. "We have speed, we have people that can run good routes, people that can catch. For us, the biggest challenge coming in to spring was finding someone that could replace Terrence Austin."
Smith seems to be the prime candidate, even after missing a major portion of the spring due to a knee injury. Marvray was another standout who showed his speed and versatility as a slot-type receiver and kick returner.
"We know we have the ability to carry this offense and make big plays," Embree said.
3. Can the offensive line turn the corner?
Answer: unclear. This question remains unanswered simply because the unit suffered too many injuries to be judged accurately. Senior Micah Kia has yet to fully recover from the knee injury he suffered last season. Nik Abele, who was the atop the depth chart at left tackle to start the spring, suffered from neck issues and missed most of the practices due to precautionary reasons. Center Kai Maiava also went down in the last week with a knee strain, but that was after Ryan Taylor overtook him for the starting spot.
4. Will the defense be as good as it has been?
Answer: possibly. Chuck Bullough's defense turned up the intensity in the last week or so after seemingly being outplayed throughout the spring. If defensive end Datone Jones can be more of a sack threat (as he was during the Spring Game) and corners Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price do a respectable job in coverage, UCLA can potentially be as good -- if not better -- than it was last season.
Rahim Moore is still a ball-hawk. Linebacker Akeem Ayers, a Lombardi Trophy watch list nominee, has big-play written all over him. Middle linebackers Steve Sloan and Patrick Larimore have improved through competition. In all, the unit's speed will be improved.