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 a 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 excellent level of experience in many key areas. However, improvement is needed in all areas so the unit can be more productive in 2004.
The Bruins have two scholarship quarterbacks plus one returning squad member who will take part in Spring Practice.
Junior Drew Olson (6-3, 220) enters Spring Practice 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 that UCLA single-season list while his 2,067 yards ranked tied for 12th. 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 has continued to grow in his knowledge of the offensive system.
Junior David Koral (6-3, 220) enters Spring ball as the only other quarterback on scholarship. He 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 versus Van Nuys Grant, and 57 touchdowns as a junior.
Third-year sophomore walk-on Brian Callahan (6-0, 190) will also be competing for a job during Spring Practice. A very intelligent young man who possesses a vast football background, he served as a backup a year ago but did not appear in a game.
In August, PATRICK COWAN (6-4, 200), who earned All-Region honors at St. John Bosco High, will join the program. He is the brother of sophomore wide receiver Joe Cowan.
"This is a key position for us," said head coach Karl Dorrell. "We believe that Drew has a bright future for us. 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 collegiate quarterback.
"We are also looking forward to working with David during the Spring. This will be our first opportunity to evaluate him on our practice field and we feel he will give us some quality experience. 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 Spring drills 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. 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.
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 also 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 against Washington State in December of 2002. By the end of the year, he was practicing at full speed and should get a long look from the coaches during Spring Practice.
Redshirt freshman Derrick Williams (5-10, 205) will also have a chance to compete for playing time during the Spring. 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 and is status for spring has not yet been determined. 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 speed and 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 are looking forward to working with Jason and Derrick during the Spring.
"Norton is really our only experienced fullback and he has worked hard to become a fine blocker. One of our Spring goals will be to develop some 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 Spring Practice.
Leading the way is All-America candidate Craig Bragg (6-2, 205), a fifth-year senior. 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. 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 Junior Taylor (6-1, 205) is UCLA's other experienced wide receiver and should play an important role in 2004. However, he will miss 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. On the year, 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 will use Spring drills to gain experience and play themselves into this season's receiver rotation.
Two sophomores are at the top of the list. 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. 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.
In addition, three redshirt freshmen will also be competing for playing time. Antwuan Smith (5-11, 190), who enrolled in January of 2003, will be participating in his second Spring Practice. He possesses good speed and route-running ability but has not appeared in a game since the 2001 season as a prep senior. 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 an outstanding upside and will be looking to impress the coaches this Spring. 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. 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 will have a great opportunity during Spring Practice to establish themselves for the future."
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 (he will not participate in Spring drills). 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 put this season in question. 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 during Spring drills.
In August, TONY LEE (6-4, 250), who earned All-Region honors at Serra High in Gardena, CA, will join the program. 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 Coach Embree 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 take a close look at J.J., Matt and Will. We are hopeful that Keith will be able to help us this season, but we won't know that until Fall camp. One of our Spring goals will be to develop depth behind Marcedes."
Six starters from a year ago return for the 2004 season and it will be up to new line coach Tom Cable to mold them into a dependable unit.
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. 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 his current position. 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 12 of 13 in 2003. Vieira is a solid performer who, along with Efseaff, figures to provide leadership on the line.
The battle at center figures to be an interesting one. Redshirt junior Mike McCloskey (6-5, 285) started 18 straight games at the 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.
Third-year sophomore Robert Chai (6-3, 280) stepped in a year ago following McCloskey's injury and started the final eight games of the year. Despite nagging knee miseries, he played virtually every snap down the stretch. McCloskey and Chai figure to compete for the starting job throughout the Spring. Redshirt junior Ed Blanton (6-9, 340) started all 13 games at right tackle a year ago. He possesses outstanding size and has worked hard to improve his strength and footwork and figures to benefit by working with Coach Cable throughout the Spring.
Fifth-year senior Paul Mociler (6-6, 300) started 10 of 13 games at right guard a year ago. Down the stretch, he shared the position with Kevin Brown, who has moved back to defense. Mociler will have the first opportunity to win the job, but he will be pushed by talented newcomer Marc Villafuerte (6-3, 300). A true sophomore, Villafuerte transferred to UCLA in January from Santa Ana College and figures to contribute during his first year in the program.
Fourth-year junior Robert Cleary (6-7, 305) is the only other lineman to appear in a game. He saw very limited action a year ago as a reserve guard/tackle but will get a chance to show a new line coach what he can do.
Redshirt freshman P.J. Irvin (6-4, 300) figures to receive plenty of work during his first Spring Practice as a Bruin. He is athletic and needs to continue to develop his strength and technique to contribute in a reserve role. He earned 2002 All-America acclaim from Prep Star magazine at Agoura High School.
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. Frankly, we did not do a very good job in this area a year ago and it affected the entire offense. I believe that with the six returnees 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 must be 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 Leslie) 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.
Sophomore Junior Lemau'u (6-3, 270) enters Spring drills in competition for playing time at the tackle position. A year ago as a true freshman, he saw limited playing time at end. The staff feels he has the size and strength to contribute on the line's interior. A member of the 2002 Prep Star Dream Team, he made 89 tackles and had 15 sacks at Long Beach, CA Poly High School.
Redshirt sophomore Robert Garcia (5-11, 275) appeared in a few games as a reserve in 2003. 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 good impression last year as a member of the scout team. Garcia and Sutherland, along with redshirt freshman walkon Scott Kearney (6-1, 275), will try to catch the attention of the staff during Spring drills.
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. He possesses good size and speed and will compete for a starting position. Redshirt freshman Bruce Davis (6-3, 240), who will be competing with Harbour, showed flashes of his potential as a pass-rushing end on the scout team and will get a long look from the coaching staff. 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, will also figure in the competition.
At the right end position, junior Kyle Morgan (6-3, 260) enters Spring drills as the frontrunner. 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 Nikola Dragovic (6-3, 245) will also compete for playing time at the right end 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 the right end spot.
Three freshmen -- end BRIGHAM HARWELL (6-1, 255) and tackles CHRIS JOHNSON (6-3, 270) and KEN 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 will have to be almost completely rebuilt, but we are confident that the young men in our program are up to the challenge," said Dorrell.
"C.J., Kevin and Junior, our top three returnees at the tackle spot, all 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 and we feel tackle is Junior's best position.
"The end positions are wide open and we expect great competition at both spots. Kevin has a little game experience and Bruce showed the ability to get to the quarterback during practices a year ago. It will also be our first chance to see Kyle and Justin and we are excited about the two of them. Noah and Nikola will also be participating in their first Spring and we want to see what they can do."
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 will shift from the outside position to the 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, will anchor the Bruin defense in 2004 and should contend for post-season acclaim.
Junior Wesley Walker (6-3, 230) enters Spring listed No. 1 at Havner's inside 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 William Snead (6-4, 230) will compete with Walker 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. Third-year sophomore Xavier Burgess (6-2, 240), who saw limited action a year ago, also figures in the competition.
Fifth-year senior Tim Warfield (6-2, 240) again figures to be the primary backup at the 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) will compete for playing time behind Havner at one of the inside linebacker spots. 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.
Redshirt freshman Aaron Whittington (6-2, 205) also figures in the competition for playing time at this spot. He has outstanding pass-rushing skills that the staff will try to take advantage of from a linebacker spot. Redshirt senior Patrick Pierre-Louis (6-0, 225), if healthy, could provide depth in this area. He has battled a series of injuries the past two years and has yet to see action since transferring from Glendale City College.
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 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, and they give us great flexibility for coverage or blitzes. During the Spring, we need to identify a third starter and get him working with Spencer and Justin as a unit. We also need to develop our depth."
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 one of the top safety tandems in the nation. 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.
Third-year sophomore Eric McNeal (6-2, 215) figures to be the top reserve at strong safety. 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 freshmen Chris Horton (6-1, 195) and Dennis Keyes (6-1, 195), two talented young safeties, will also compete for playing time during their first Spring Practice. 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. Keyes, a Super Prep All-American and the L.A. Daily News Player of the Year, 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. 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. Junior Nnamdi Ohaeri (5-10, 200) enters Spring drills as the frontrunner for the open cornerback position. 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.
Several other players will be competing for playing time at cornerback. Redshirt junior Marcus Cassel (6-0, 185) is the most experienced of the candidates. For the last two years, he has seen spot duty on defense and contributed on special teams and should be ready to take the next step.
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. As a senior at Los Angeles' Fremont High, he made over 95 tackles.
Two redshirt sophomores -- Jebiaus Brown (6-1, 190) and Joe Garcia (6-0, 185) -- are also in the mix at cornerback. Brown missed most of last year due to a concussion, returning to practice late in the campaign, while Garcia spent the season practicing with the scout team. Brown, who possesses good coverage skills, made 55 stops and three interceptions in his senior season (2001) at Milpitas, CA High. Garcia earned prep All-America honors while making 68 tackles, three interceptions and 13 pass breakups at Los Alamitos (CA) High in 2001.
Redshirt freshmen Trey Brown (5-10, 195) enters Spring drills at left corner behind Clark, but should also figure in the competition for playing time on the other side. The defensive scout team Player of the Year in 2003, he is a hard worker who impressed the coaches a year ago. 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.
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 and I feel 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 is to identify a fourth starter and to develop some of our young players who can provide important depth."
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. 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. Junior Joe Tomasello (6-0, 220), who was ineligible last season as transferring from junior college, will push Jondle for the position.
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. Other players will also receive an opportunity during the Spring.
"We feel special teams will be an area of strength 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 our coverage units and cecome one of the best units in the Pac-10."