UCLA: Five Questions

Football: Bruins fishing for good catch

March, 28, 2011
3/28/11
5:16
PM PT
You've probably seen college football highlights, specifically touchdowns, and wondered, "Why can't UCLA do that? Others make it look so simple."

Julio Jones' back-shoulder grabs, A.J. Green's leaping snags, Jeff Maehl's catch-and-runs -- they're all examples of recent, and common, occurrences that most likely found their way into a highlight reel last season.

But can you vividly remember one UCLA touchdown catch? Maybe Randall Carroll's 46-yarder at Arizona State? Or Ricky Marvray's score at Texas? Tight end Joseph Fauria's late, meaningless touchdown against USC?

Perhaps the countless drops were more memorable.

UCLA has potential to replace the bad memories with good ones -- all of its receivers and tight ends from a year ago are back. There's experience, namely with seniors Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree. There are also building blocks in place, with the aforementioned Carroll (true junior) and Marvray (redshirt sophomore) waiting in the wings.

Embree led the way last year with 32 catches, but none were for touchdowns. Rosario had only one scoring catch. Carroll, Marvray and Fauria each had two. Christian Ramirez (graduated) and senior Josh Smith had one apiece to give the Bruins a whopping total of nine for the season.

Nine touchdown catches in 12 games is probably not going to get it done, let alone get the Bruins into a bowl game.

There were 26 players in college football who had at least 10 touchdowns by themselves. Green, the Georgia standout who many expect to be the first receiver taken in next month's NFL Draft, matched UCLA's total with nine. Oregon's Maehl had 12. Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon (20) and Texas Tech's Lyle Leong (19) each doubled the Bruins' combined output.

Coach Rick Neuheisel has said he wants more balance in the offense, so the Bruins' aerial numbers should rise next season. But which, if any, receiver will have a breakthrough year?

Will the starting quarterback, whoever that is, have a go-to guy?

Note: This is the last of our five issues leading up to Tuesday's opener. Question 1: Will Brett Hundley threaten for starting gig? Question 2: How will the replacements fare? 3. Football primer: The defense; 4. Football primer: The offense.

Football: How will replacements fare?

March, 24, 2011
3/24/11
10:40
AM PT
With Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore headed for the NFL, UCLA football fans will have to get used to some new names.

The front-runner to fill Ayers' outside linebacker spot? Glenn Love, a redshirt senior who has plenty of special teams experience but has yet to make a defensive start. The leader to replace Moore at free safety? Dalton Hilliard, a junior who, like Love, has zero career starts to his name.

None of that should really matter, though. Love and Hilliard won't be docked for inexperience simply because there is none behind them. For example, the three players listed beneath Hilliard on UCLA's tentative depth chart -- Alex Mascarenas, Tevin McDonald and Brandon Sermons -- have three career tackles between them. So even though Hilliard (right knee surgery) will miss spring practice, the starting role doesn't figure to be determined until fall.

Love's situation appears even more favorable. He is ahead of redshirt freshman Aramide Olaniyan, true freshman Aaron Wallace and redshirt junior David Allen (two tackles on special teams last season).

"We want Glenn to have a chance to win a job," coach Rick Neuheisel said during a teleconference with reporters Wednesday. "Akeem has left and we wish him well, but Glenn being a senior, being a guy who does everything right in the program, I want him to have a chance to win that job. His body is built for a Sam linebacker. He certainly has cover ability. Now it's just about the physical portion of the job and being instinctive."

Instincts were a major reason why Ayers and Moore had the success they had. All of Ayers' memorable interceptions -- think of his defensive touchdowns against Oregon and Temple -- were a result of his reflexes. He sensed something coming and reacted immediately. It's a big reason why draft pundits believe he will have success at the next level.

Love, a former safety, didn't make the switch to outside linebacker until last season. His mental development will be key over the next four weeks.

Note: This is the second of our five questions leading up to the March 29 opener. Question 1: Will Brett Hundley threaten for starting gig?
The door is wide open.

One quarterback hasn't completely healed and will be limited to non-contact participation during spring practice. Another signal caller has spent some of his offseason behind the plate, calling fastballs and sliders at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium. Two other candidates underwent shoulder surgery -- one will be limited, one will miss the four-week period entirely.

With that being said, it's safe to assume that true freshman Brett Hundley will get his share of opportunities when the Bruins open spring practice on March 29.

Only one other quarterback, rising junior Richard Brehaut, will be a full-go at Spaulding Field. Brehaut has endured a busy schedule the last few months, alternating between football cleats and baseball spikes, pigskin and cowhide. How his body responds to the rigors of both sports remains to be seen.

At the very least, Hundley will have a chance to impress new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson. It'd be a different scenario if Norm Chow was still on campus -- Chow would know the capabilities of each quarterback, injured or not. Johnson's mind is a clean canvas. Hundley, who just completed his first batch of courses, will have an array of colors and brushes to choose from.

The others will be restricted to monochrome.

Two-year starter Kevin Prince, who is still recovering from right knee surgery, is expected to participate in individual drills only. Johnson won't be able to fully gauge his ability until fall camp. The same goes for the oft-injured Nick Crissman (right shoulder surgery), who has two pass attempts in three years. Darius Bell (left shoulder surgery) will be out entirely but is expected to be ready for fall camp.

There's hype and hope with Hundley. Fans and students see him as "the savior" of the reeling program. He's a fresh start.

On the field, Hundley is more than just a scrambler -- he won the passing competition at the Under Armour All-American Skills Challenge. He was pegged as the No. 6 quarterback in the 2011 class and is the first UCLA quarterback recruit to earn a five-star ranking.

Hundley will have the opportunity to open eyes and raise eyebrows this spring. Regardless of Hundley's production, coach Rick Neuheisel will probably hold off on naming his starter until Prince is fully functional.

But for now, the door is wide open.

Note: This is the first of five questions leading up to the March 29 opener.

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2014 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
B. Hundley368259301921
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
P. Perkins23013786.07
B. Hundley1485483.78
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
J. Payton6389614.27
D. Fuller574287.51
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense199.4268.5467.9
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring32.927.55.4