Thursday, May 19, 2011
Hope & concern: UCLA
By ESPN.com staff
Every team has hope heading into the offseason. And every team has concerns.
Ergo, we're going to run through the conference and look at the chief matters -- on the up and downside -- for each Pac-12 team.
Next up: UCLA
Biggest reason for hope: The defense is going to be sneaky good.
The Bruins' defense lost two elite players to the NFL draft -- outside linebacker Akeem Ayers and safety Rahim Moore -- and the unit was mediocre to bad in 2010, which provided a push out the door for coordinator Chuck Bullough. So what suggests improvement in 2011? Well, for one, the Bruins have a potential All-Pac-12 end in Datone Jones, who was expected to be a dominant presence last fall until he broke his foot. Further, a number of young defensive linemen looked like they were growing up this spring, while some older players seemed to find their rhythm. End result: It looks like UCLA will be able to throw seven or eight D-linemen at opposing offenses, which is a good start. There's also intriguing talent at both linebacker (not a ton of depth, though) and in the secondary (far more at safety, though), with those levels led by middle linebacker Patrick Larimore and safety Tony Dye. Further, new coordinator Joe Tresey runs an aggressive attacking scheme that is probably going to be easier on the athletic, young talent that isn't salty with experience. Is this unit going to transform into the conference's top defense in 2011? Probably not. But it will be good enough to keep the Bruins in a handful of games even when the offense struggles.
Biggest reason for concern: No idea who the quarterback will be. And whether he'll stay safe.
It's not good to have nagging questions at quarterback. It's even worse to have nagging questions at both QB and offensive line, which is what the Bruins have. Whether some Bruins fans want to admit it or not, UCLA's best chance to win next fall is a healthy Kevin Prince, who was a capable passer in 2009 and did a solid job running the new pistol option game in 2010 -- recall the effort in the win over Texas -- before he got hurt. Now hear this: Prince with 12 regular-season starts would lead the Bruins to a bowl game. That happening also probably requires the offensive line playing better than expected, because only a healthy Prince is going to produce every Saturday. And there is hope on the offensive line. If the Bruins trot out their best five guys, the line will be at least average. These are, of course, two big "ifs."