UCLA 2011 Spring Football Outlook
March 22, 2011
The Bruins begin the fourth season of the Rick Neuheisel Era set to enter the first year of play in the new Pacific-12 Conference. Colorado and Utah join the league this season and both will appear on the Bruins schedule (at Utah on Nov. 12; Colorado at UCLA on Nov. 19).
UCLA enters Spring Practice with some new faces on the coaching staff, a solid recruiting class and the return of plenty of familiar faces as 16 players on each side of the ball return who have previous starting experience.
A total of 45 2009 lettermen, including eight positional starters on defense (DL Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DL Cassius Marsh, DL Damien Holmes, LB Patirck Larimore, LB Sean Westgate, CB Sheldon Price, S Tony Dye, CB Aaron Hester) and eight on offense (WR Nelson Rosario, OL Sean Sheller, OL Mike Harris, TE Cory Harkey, QB Kevin Prince, F Morrell Presley, RB Johnathan Franklin, WR Taylor Embree) along with one of the best punters in the nation, give Neuheisel and his staff reason for optimism entering Spring drills.
In addition, three starters from the 2009 season are ready to return to action after sitting out last year. Center Kai Maiava (fractured ankle), offensive guard/tackle Jeff Baca (academic ineligibility) and defensive end Datone Jones (fractured foot) will each participate in Spring ball with hopes of returning the front lines for the Bruins in the Fall.
Defensively, two of the top tacklers in the Pac-10 in Dye (tied fourth) and Westgate (tied eighth), several of the Pac-10's top young defenders in Marsh, Odighizuwa, LB Jordan Zumwalt and S Dietrich Riley provide an exciting core group of players for the new defensive coordinator and his staff.
On offense, UCLA upped its rushing total from the previous season by an average of over 60 yards per game and produced a 1,000-yard rusher in Johnathan Franklin (1,127 yards). In all, the top seven rushers from 2010 are expected back. The top 10 receivers from a year ago also return, with Taylor Embree's 32 catches and 409 receiving yards leading the way. Tackles Harris and Sheller are returning starters along the offensive line which is also expected to add 2009 starting center Maiava and starting guard Baca back into the mix UCLA also has both starting quarterbacks - Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince - returning.
"Offensively, I was pleased with the growth of the ground game in 2010 and the mind set that comes along with it," said the Bruin head coach. "The return of Sheller, Harris, Baca and Maiava along the line, and all of our top running backs give us great promise going forward in this area. The passing game came alive down the stretch, but we need to make sure it flourishes all season long for us to maximize our success. Youngters like Ricky Marvray, Malcolm Jones, Anthony Barr, Greg Capella and Chris Ward all saw their first game action last year and I am anxious to see how that experience pays off this spring.
"Defensively, we are excited about our returning nucleus of starters, and the strides several of our young players like Owa, Marsh, Zumwalt and Riley have taken is such a short time. The return of Datone Jones to our defensive front should be a big plus. The experience gained by the linebacking crew will pay dividends this season. We have five defensive backs returning with starting experience and several others who have logged significant playing time who will battle all Spring.
"When it comes to special teams, we feel Jeff Locke is one of the nation's best punters and our punt coverage unit was ranked No.2 in the nation (net punting). We will look to identify our placekicker, holder and long snapper this Spring and continue to work to improve our return units."
"We were all disappointed with last year's results and I expect the level of competition at virtually every position during Spring drills to be off the charts. Our staff needs to make sure it brings out the best in each player."
Offensively, UCLA returns 16 players with starting experience. The receiving group boasts tight end Harkey (12 games started in 2010/23 career starts); wideouts Embree (11/31), Randall Carroll (1/1), Rosario (8/10), Jerry Johnson (1/1), Marvray (4/4); as well as F-backs Barr (4/4) and Presley (6/7). At running back, Franklin (10/18) and Derrick Coleman (2/4) are set to return. Along the offensive line Harris (10/28), Sheller (10/10), Maiava (0/12), Baca (0/21) are back. At quarterback, Prince (5/16) and Brehaut (7/7) each return.
Defensively, UCLA also welcomes back 16 players with starting experience. The defensive line features returner Datone Jones (0/15), Nate Chandler (8/10), Justin Edison (3/3), Damien Holmes (6/6), Keenan Graham (6/6), Owamagbe Odighizuwa (6/6), Cassius Marsh (4/4). At linebacker, Bruins returning include Jordan Zumwalt (4/4), Sean Westgate (12/13) and Patrick Larimore (7/7) are back. Defensive backs Courtney Viney (1/2), Aaron Hester (11/12), Sheldon Price (9/20), Andrew Abbott (5/6) and Tony Dye (12/26) will be back.
On special teams, Locke ranked as one of the nation's best in 2010, earning All-America honors from rivals.com and second-team all-conference accolades. He ranked first in the Pac-10 and fifth nationally with his average of 45.84 yards per punt. UCLA placed second in the nation in net punting average (41.27). In addition, fourteen of Locke's kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
The schedule commences with a trip to high-scoring Houston from Conference USA followed by home games against San Jose State and Texas. The Pac-12 schedule opens with road games at Oregon State and Stanford. UCLA will be part of the new Pac-12 South in 2011 which features Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, USC and Utah. One team from the North and one from the South with meet in the first Conference championship game on the first Saturday in December. Four of the nine Pacific-12 conference games in 2011 will be played at the Rose Bowl, beginning with an Oct. 8 battle against Washington State. The slate also features a Thursday night nationally-televised game at Arizona. The USC game moves back to Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 26) at the Coliseum.
The Bruins return four quarterbacks with playing experience, including Kevin Prince (5 games in 2010, 16 overall) and Richard Brehaut (7) who each started games last season. Each will be looking to provide a consistent level of production and efficiency within the system.
Redshirt junior Kevin Prince (6-2, 230) opened last season as the starter and went on to start five games, including the big win at Texas. However, a knee injury sent him to the sidelines. He underwent knee surgery on Oct. 23 and missed the balance of the season. Prince will be limited to some individual throwing drills during Spring Practice while continuing the rehab process on his knee.
The strong-armed signal-caller completed 42 of 94 pass attempts for 384 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions in the five games in which he played a year ago. In 2009, Prince's 173 completions and 2,050 passing yards rank No. 2 on UCLA's all-time freshman list. He ranked seventh in the Pac-10 in total offense (202.64). In addition to his exploits in the air, Prince has netted 289 yards on the ground the last two seasons.
In 2009, he became just the second freshman quarterback in UCLA history to pass for over 300 yards three times (311 v. Cal, 323 at Oregon St., 314 at Wash. St.) in a season (Tommy Maddox in 1990). In fact, only Cade McNown, with six as a senior in 1998, and Tom Ramsey, with four as a senior in 1982, have produced more 300-yard passing games in a season.
True junior Richard Brehaut (6-2, 225) started seven games and played in nine contests overall in 2010. He completed 119 of 212 pass attempts (56%) with six touchdowns and seven interceptions. Brehaut entered UCLA for the 2009 Spring Quarter and went on to see action in six games off the bench that season, completing 11 of 17 passing attempts for 124 yards, no touchdowns and one interception as a true freshman.
Redshirt junior Nick Crissman (6-3, 226) was sidelined by shoulder injuries in 2008 and 2010. He saw his first game action, with 10 snaps in 2009, at Washington State. As a prep senior in 2007, he totaled 2,048 yards passing.
True junior Darius Bell (5-11, 230) transferred in from City College of San Francisco in time for 2010 Fall Practices. He made one appearance last season, coming on for an injured Brehaut in the second half of the Washington game. He will miss Spring drills due to February shoulder surgery but should be ready for Fall camp.
True freshman Brett Hundley (6-4, 225), entered UCLA in January, 2011 after playing the Under Armour Prep All-Star game. In his senior season at Chandler, AZ High School, he completed 139 of 225 passes for 2,348 yards and 20 touchdowns, two interceptions. In addition, he rushed for 856 yards and nine touchdowns and was rated among the top three prep prospects by at least one organization.
"Our quarterbacks must continue to improve their preparation, decision-making and performance at this position and I am confident that they will," said coach Neuheisel. "Kevin has been impressive at times and we expect he will continue to improve. We threw a lot at Richard in his first year as a starter and he responded well. His experience will certainly benefit him going forward. We want to make sure we take a good look at all our available candidates this Spring and gauge their progress."
The Bruins return their top seven rushers from the 2010 season. Three running backs, who carried the ball at least 55 times last season, two with starting experience, are included in that group. The competition figures to be intense right through the fall. The fullback position is wide open.
Redshirt junior Johnathan Franklin (5-10, 198), a second-team All-Pac-10 selection, started 10 games last season and appeared in all 12 contests. He led the Bruins in rushing with 1,127 yards, the 10th-best season mark in school history, and almost doubled his output as a freshman. He was fifth in the Pac-10 and 28th in the NCAA with his average of 93.92 yards per game. He also led the team with eight touchdowns and was ninth in the Pac-10 in all-purpose yards (99.17).
Franklin became UCLA's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 (Chris Markey) and posted the highest Bruin rushing total since Skip Hicks ran for 1,282 yards in 1997. After adding five 100-yard games in 2010, Franklin has now gone over the century mark seven times in his career. He did it in three straight contests last season (the last player to do so was Maurice Jones-Drew in 2004) and rushed for a career-high 216 yards against Washington State (most since Jones-Drew went for 322 in 2004).
True senior Derrick Coleman (6-0, 233), who offers a good speed and size combination, has been the team's second-leading rusher in each of the past three seasons (487 yards in 2010, 244 in '09; 284 in '08). He saw action in all 12 games, making two starts, and ran for a career-high 185 yards versus Washington State.
True sophomore Malcolm Jones (6-0, 227) saw action in 11 games off the bench last season and rushed for 200 yards. His best effort came when he rushed for 52 yards in the game against Stanford.
Redshirt freshman Jordon James (5-11, 193), a highly regarded speedster from Corona, CA HS, battled injuries early last year and ended up utilizing a redshirt season. James was impressive in practices and will look to join the rotation with a strong effort this Spring.
"We have a lot of talent and depth in the backfield and we will watch them continue to push each other each day at practice in the battle for playing time," Neuheisel said. "Johnathan showed he has the ability to be a prime time player for us, but must eliminate mistakes that can undo the good he can provide. Derrick has become a more productive player for us each year in the program. Malcolm's year of experience should pay off for him this Spring. and I'm anxious to watch what Jordon can do. "
The wide receiver position returns four wide receivers who made at least 15 catches each in 2010.
True senior Taylor Embree (6-3, 205) has enjoyed three straight highly-productive seasons. He made 11 starts last season and led the team with 32 catches for 409 yards. As a sophomore, he led the team with 45 catches, after ranking second, with 40 receptions, as a freshman.His career total of 117 receptions ranks No. 11 on the all-time school list. Embree ranks 14th on the all-time school receiving yards list (1,548).
True senior Nelson Rosario (6-5, 218), who started eight of the nine games in which he appeared, once again finished the season on a high note. He finished second on the team with 29 receptions and 309 receiving yards. Rosario made 15 catches for 172 yards in the last three contests of the season.
Two speed receivers will be looking to expand their roles on the team. True junior Randall Carroll (5-10, 186) appeared in all 12 games and made one start in 2010. He hauled in 15 passes for 242 yards on the season (16.1 avg.), including a pair of scoring plays --- 68-yards against Arizona and 46-yards at Arizona State.
Redshirt sophomore Ricky Marvray (5-11, 190) saw action in 11 games with four starts last season. He ranked third on the team with 20 catches last season for 188 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His first career reception went for a 29-yard touchdown late in the game at Kansas State. Marvray made a one-yard scoring grab in the win at Texas.
Two players with good size and speed also figure to compete for spots in the receiver rotation. Redshirt junior Jerry Johnson (6-4, 213) came off the bench in eight games in 2010, and made five catches for 57 yards. Johnson fractured his left ankle and missed the last four games of the season. He will not participate in Spring Practice due to surgery on the ankle.
Redshirt senior Josh Smith (6-0, 209) appeared in 10 games off the bench a year ago as a receiver and return man. He caught 11 balls fro 127 yards and one touchdown (49-yards v. Arizona) in his first season with the Bruins after transferring from Colorado. Smith ranked eighth in the Pac-10 with a 22.59 kickoff return average on his 32 returns and 13th in all-purpose yards (91.90).
Redshirt sophomore Shaquelle Evans (6-1, 199) should also insert himself into the mix this season. A transfer from Notre Dame who made three receptions for the Irish as a true freshman in 2009, Evans had shoulder surgery last Fall after joining the program and will participate only in non-contact drills during Spring Practice.
Redshirt sophomore walk-on Jerry Rice, Jr. (5-11, 186) will also look to add depth at wide receiver.
"This group has a nice combination of experienced talent and youthful potential," said the head coach. "Taylor and Nelson continue to be our most consistent performers. Randall and Ricky each stepped up last year and can become big-play receivers for us with continued development. Jerry was coming on as well before his injury sent him to the sidelines. Josh has the speed and elusiveness but needs to add consistency to become a difference-maker for us."
The Bruins have a couple of experienced players returning at tight end and a trio at the F-back (motion) position.
At tight end, true senior Cory Harkey (6-5, 273) is a big, athletic player who started all 12 games in 2010. He can be a force at the point of attack and caught 14 balls for 140 yards.
Redshirt junior Joseph Fauria (6-7, 258) joined the Bruins in the Fall of 2009 after transferring from Notre Dame, where he played in three games as a freshman in 2008. He made three catches on the season for 21 yards and two accounted for touchdowns.
Redshirt junior walkon Kevin McDermott (6-3, 250) figures to add depth at this position. He has also served as the back-up long snapper and will compete for that job. Two other walkons, redshirt sophomore Andrew Yelich (6-3, 230) and redshirt sophomore Jordan Barrett (6-2, 257), a transfer from UNLV who sat out last season, will also compete for reps during the Spring.
Redshirt freshman John Young (6-4, 265), from Loyola HS, will also look to get in the mix after sitting out last season due to injury. Redshirt junior walkon Austin Hill (6-5, 252) will also look to catch the coaches' attention this Spring.
At F-back, true junior Morrell Presley (6-4, 245) appeared in 11 games (six starts) last season, making five receptions. Presley enrolled at UCLA for the 2009 Winter Quarter. He played in six games that season (one start), catching six passes for 43 yards.
True sophomore Anthony Barr (6-5, 238) is a fine all-around athlete who made an impact in his first season with the team. He appeared in all 12 games, starting four, and finished the year with nine receptions for 66 yards and six carries for 29 yards.
Speedy true junior Damien Thigpen (5-8, 183) saw action in eight games last season. He carried once for 22 yards, caught one pass for nine yards and returned nine kickoffs for a 21.3 yards average. He also recorded five tackles while on special teams coverage units.
"I am excited about our group of tight ends and F-backs," said Neuheisel. "Cory has done a nice job for us. Joseph gives our quarterbacks a large target as a receiver. Morrell, Anthony and Damien all bring something different to the F position and we will use the Spring to figure out how to better take advantage of their abilities."
The offensive line brings plenty of quality starting experience to the table. The unit returns two players who started 10 of 12 contests a year ago and two others who started in 2009, but sat out last season.
Redshirt senior Mike Harris (6-5, 334) has 28 career starts under his belt after starting at right tackle in 10 contest last season. He will look to build on his two previous seasons as a starter.
Redshirt senior Kai Maiava (6-1, 318) will look to rejoin the starting unit after missing last season due to an ankle injury. He started all 12 regular-season games at center in 2009. Maiava transferred from Colorado where he started nine games at guard in 2007.
Redshirt senior Sean Sheller (6-5, 315) is set to return after starting 10 games last season at left tackle. Sheller, who battled injuries for much his UCLA career, appealed for and was granted a sixth season of eligibility. He returned to the offensive tackle position in 2010 after spending 2009 on the defensive line.
Redshirt junior Jeff Baca (6-4, 304) was forced to watch from the sidelines last season due to academic ineligibility. He will be looking to work his way back into the lineup after posting 21 career starts in the 2008 and 2009 campaigns.
True sophomore guard Chris Ward (6-5, 325) made his debut in the win at Texas and saw action in three games last season, including most of the second half against USC. He figures to contend for a starting job this season.
Redhshirt sophomore center Greg Capella (6-4, 310) saw his first game action in the win at Texas last season and will compete for playing time at center.
Redshirt sophomore Stan Hasiak (6-5, 301) sat out last season due to academic issues. He figures to compete for playing time at the guard positions this season. A youngster with potential, he appeared in three games in 2009, missing the latter half of the year due to personal medical issues.
Redshirt junior Connor Bradford (6-5, 278), who split last year between offense and defense, returns to the offensive side of the ball and will offer depth at tackle.
Redshirt junior Brett Downey (6-7, 305), who earned a scholarship last season, saw his first game action in 2009 at Washington State. He has impressed the coaches with his hard work and will get a long look at tackle this Spring.
Redshirt freshman Wade Yandall (6-4, 329) enrolled at UCLA last Spring. He impressed the coaches in practices and with his work on the scout teams in 2010 and figures to compete for playing time at guard or tackle in Spring drills.
Redshirt sophomore Casey Griffiths (6-5, 292) figures to compete for playing time at guard this season but will miss Spring drills due to issues with his back. He spent last season getting bigger and stronger after transferring from American River City College last summer.
Redshirt freshman Kody Innes (6-4, 285) stood out in his work last season on the scout team and will compete for playing time at center this year.
"The offensive line has grown and developed together the last few seasons," Neuheisel said. "We have some veterans with starting experience to form the nuclues and some young, talented guys eager to get a look. We will identify our best unit and combinations this Spring and work to solidify the line for the upcoming season."
UCLA returns eight starters on this side of the ball plus many talented youngsters who will compete for playing time and starting jobs during Spring Practice.
This unit returns six players with starting experience and will add a healthy Datone Jones to that mix. Several youngsters are primed to take their game to the next level after gaining a year of experience.
Redshirt junior end Datone Jones (6-4, 272) will look to rejoin the starting line after missing last season due to a foot injury. In 2009, he started all 13 games and ranked third on the squad in quarterback sacks (4.0) and fourth on the team and 12th in the Pac-10 with his 11.0 tackles for loss. On the year, he made 30 tackles and earned Sophomore All-America honorable mention.
Redshirt senior tackle Nate Chandler (6-5, 298) saw action in 12 games and made eight starts at tackle and end a year ago, making 21 tackles. Chandler made the switch to defense last season after contributing at tight end and offensive tackle during his first three years in the program.
Redshirt senior Justin Edison (6-4, 292) saw action in 12 games and made three starts at tackle in 2010. He was credited with nine tackles and one tackle for loss.
True sophomore tackle Cassius Marsh (6-4, 295) was named to the Rivals.com 2010 Pac-10 All-Freshman team for his efforts. He saw action in 11 games, making four starts, and finished with 23 tackles.
True sophomore end Owamagbe Odighizuwa (6-4, 264) was also named to the 2010 Rivals.com Pac-10 All-Freshman team. He appeared in 10 games, making six starts, and accounted for 10 tackles, including three sacks.
Redshirt junior end Damien Holmes (6-3, 265) appeared in all 12 games last season, making six starts. He finished second among the defensive linemen and ninth overall on the team with 28 tackles.
Redshirt junior tackle Donovan Carter (6-1, 305) saw action in 11 contests along the defensive front. He made seven tackles after moving up front from a linebacker position in 2009.
Redshirt sophomore end Keenan Graham (6-2, 250) appeared in 12 games and made six starts in 2010. He made 18 tackles, including two sacks, after redshirting in 2009. He is expected to miss Spring Practice due to hip issues.
Redshirt sophomore end Iuta Tepa (6-1, 259) was injured in game three of the 2010 season and will work his way back in the rotation after undergoing shoulder surgery. Tepa saw action in five games on defense or special teams in 2009.
True sophomore tackle Seali'i Epenesa (6-2, 323) saw action in seven games in 2010 and totaled two tackles.
True freshman end Sam Tai (6-4, 264) enrolled at UCLA in January, 2011 and will see his first action as a Bruin this Spring. He made 70 tackles and 15 sacks as a prep senior.
"One of our Spring Practice goals is to develop the defensive line and take it to the next level," said Neuheisel. "Last season, a lot of our players saw their first significant action. Now we have some experience to build upon and this has become one of the most competitive positions on the field for us. Datone is healthy and can be one of the top ends in the Pac-10 and our leader in this area. The growth of our younger players like Holmes, Marsh, Owa, Tepa, Graham and Epenesa is going to be exciting to watch."
The Bruins return an exciting nucleus at the linebacker position, including three players with significant starting experience under their belts.
True senior Sean Westgate (5-11, 223), a standout performer on special teams his first two seasons, moved into the starting lineup in 2010 and finished second on the team with 90 tackles. He ranked eighth in the Pac-10 with 7.5 tackles per game and earned honorable mention all-conference honors.
Redshirt junior Patrick Larimore (6-3, 253) appeared in seven games at middle linebacker last season, all starts, before being sidelined with a shoulder injury that required surgery (he will not participate in Spring Practice). Despite sitting out five games due to the injury, he still finished tied for fifth on the team with 41 tackles and tied for third on the squad with 5.0 tackles for loss. He led the team with three forced fumbles. He earned national honors for his efforts in the win over Texas.
True sophomore Jordan Zumwalt (6-4, 230) was named to the Rivals.com 2010 Pac-10 All-Freshman team. He appeared in 11 games, making four starts. He ranked eighth on the team with 32 tackles and tied for fourth on the squad with 3.0 sacks. He played in the middle down the stretch a year ago but projects as an outside 'backer in 2011.
Redshirt senior Glenn Love (6-4, 219) made the switch from strong safety to linebacker last Spring. A big hitter, he played in all 12 games a year ago and was credited with 16 tackles. He added one sack. He will compete for a starting berth and playing time at one of the outside spots.
Two redshirt freshmen will attempt to force themselves into the rotation at the outside spots this season. Aramide Olaniyan (6-2, 208) of Woodberry Forest, VA, caught the eye of the coaches while working on the scout teams this past season. He earned prep All-America honors as a senior. Eric Kendricks (6-1, 226) of Fresno, CA is a quick learner and impressed during his work in practices and on the scout teams last season. He was an All-Region performer as a prep senior.
Redshirt sophomore Isaiah Bowens (6-1, 235), one of the top linebackers in the West as a prep senior, is an outstanding prospect who will get a chance to show what he can do in the middle of the defense during Spring Practice.
Redshirt junior David Allen (6-2, 224) is a special teams standout who recorded two tackles in 2010. He will look to add depth at outside linebacker this year.
Redshirt sophomore Todd Golper (6-0, 240), will look to get back into the mix after redshirting in 2009 and sitting out most of 2010 due to injury. Redshirt freshman Jared Koster (6-1, 208) saw limited action on special teams before going down with an injury in the Houston game. He will be limited to non-contact drills during Spring.
Two newcomers will also try to make an impression during Spring Practice. True freshman Aaron Wallace (6-3, 230) from Rancho Bernardo HS in San Diego, enrolled at UCLA this past January. True sophomore RYAN HOFMEISTER (.6-2, 220), who played last season at Riverside City College, has enrolled for Spring Quarter.
Redshirt freshman walk-on Phillip Ruhl (6-0, 225) will compete to add depth in the middle.
"We had several players as this position, who had little or no previous starting experience, come through for us in a big way last season," Neuheisel said. "The future looks bright here and there are still several more talented young players anxious to get in the mix. Sean had a very productive season for us. Patrick was a force in the middle prior to his injury and Jordan came on and played with a passion and skill level normally seen in a much more experienced player. We feel that Glenn can come on to make a big contribution and we are looking forward to working with our talented youngsters during the Spring."
The Bruins return three starters in the secondary plus several talented reserves who gained valuable experience in 2010.
True senior All-American candidate Tony Dye (5-11, 205) returns after starting all 12 games at strong safety a year ago and leading the team with 96 tackles. His 8.0 tackle per game average ranked tied for fourth in the Pac-10. He also led the team with nine pass break ups.
Redshirt junior Aaron Hester (6-1, 209) started 11 games in 2010 and led the team with three interceptions. He totaled 26 tackles was credited with four pass break ups.
True junior Sheldon Price (6-2, 178) started nine games last season. He was credited with seven pass break ups and 26 tackles.
Two other experienced players -- redshirt senior Courtney Viney (5-8, 167) and redshirt junior Andrew Abbott (5-10, 181) -- are also in the mix for starting jobs and playing time at cornerback. Viney saw action in 12 games last season and made one start while racking up 13 tackles. Abbott, who was awarded a scholarship prior to the 2010 season, ranked seventh on the team in tackles with 34, including two for loss. He made five starts last season and appeared in all 12 contests.
Several safeties will compete for playing time as well as the vacant free safety spot. True junior safety Dalton Hilliard (6-0, 189) saw action in nine games on defense and special teams. He totaled 22 tackles on the year, including one for loss. However, he will not participate in Spring Practice due to off-season surgery to clean out loose bodies from his knee.
True sophomore safety Dietrich Riley (6-0, 205) of La Canada, CA saw action in 11 contests off the bench in 2010 and was impressive at times. He was credited with 21 tackles on the year, including one for loss.
Redshirt sophomore safety Stan McKay (6-1,198) appeared in all 12 games, mostly on special teams, and made two tackles. Redshirt sophomore safety Alex Mascarenas (5-10, 188) saw action in eight games, primarily on special teams, and made two tackles. Redshirt freshman safety Tevin McDonald (6-0, 194) from Fresno, CA, impressed the coaching staff with his play during practices and will look to get in the mix.
A pair of youngsters will be looking to earn playing time at cornerback. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Sermons (5-11, 185) sat out last season to recover from a knee injury. He played in nine games in 2009, mostly on special teams. Redshirt freshman Anthony Jefferson (6-1, 183) from Los Angeles, CA is an excellent athlete who broke a foot at California and missed the remainder of the season. He will miss Spring Practice but should be ready for Fall camp.
Two non-scholarship performers, redshirt junior Jeff Dickmann (5-9, 190) and redshirt freshman Librado Barocio (5-8, 175), will add depth at cornerback while two other walkons, redshirt freshmen Josh Barut (6-0, 188) and Dylan Price (5-9, 208) will compete at safety.
"The secondary is another area of our team where there will plenty of competition for playing time," said the fourth-year Bruin coach. "Tony has improved each year in the program. At corner, Sheldon and Aaron each seemed to make more plays as the season unfolded.Veterans like Courtney, Dalton and Andrew along with youngsters like Dietrich, Alex and Stan, Brandon, Anthony and Tevin will continue to push for playing time. Everyone will earn their spot on the field in competitive environment."
This group is headed by redshirt junior punter Jeff Locke (6-1, 210) who established himself as one the nation's best with another outstanding season in 2010. However, there will be a need to find a new long snapper, placekicker and holder.
Locke has enjoyed plenty of success in first two seasons as the starting punter. In 2010, he led the Pac-10 and ranked fifth in the nation with a 45.8 average. The Bruins' net punt average of 41.3 ranked second in the nation. A year ago, Locke was one of the 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award (only freshman on the list). In addition, he has handled the kickoff chores in his first two seasons on the field, recording 34 touchbacks overall. He will not participate in Spring Practice due to off-season hip surgery.
Redshirt freshman kicker Kip Smith (6-0, 218), who earned All-America honors at Legacy High in Bloomfield, CO as a prep senior, will get first crack at taking over the placekicking chores from record-setting four-year starter Kai Forbath.
Walkon redshirt junior tight end Kevin McDermott (6-3, 250) has served as the backup at long snapper the past two seasons and is the leading candidate at the position. He will get a long look this Spring.
Redshirt senior receiver/kick returner Josh Smith (6-0, 209) served as the main kickoff returner in his first season on the field as a Bruin in 2010. The transfer from Colorado ranked eighth in the Pac-10 with his 22.59 kickoff return average and 13th in the conference in all-purpose yards (91.9). Smith also caught 11 passes as a receiver.
True senior Taylor Embree (6-3, 205) returned 15 punts for a 6.9 average last season, which ranked him sixth in the Pac-10.
"Jeff has quickly become one of the elite punters in the nation," Neuheisel said. "We will look for Kip to step right in as our placekicker. This Spring we will put our placekicker, long snapper and holder candidates through the paces and see who has the best chemistry. Josh and Taylor gave us solid production in the kick return game last season and we will work to improve those units in the Spring as well."
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