Pac-10 spring practice preview: UCLA
2009: 7-6 (3-6)
UCLA opened spring practice on Thursday coming off a seven-win campaign and a victory over Temple in the EagleBank Bowl. Despite the Bruins’ youth, head coach Rick Neuheisel’s expectations for his team are as high as ever as the squad enters its third year under his leadership.
UCLA will need to replace six starters on defense — including three who earned first-team all-conference honors — led by defensive tackle and potential first-round pick Brian Price. Linebacker Reggie Carter, cornerback Alterraun Verner and the Bosworth Brothers — defensive end Korey and linebacker Kyle — will also be missed.
The Bruins boast a lot of young talent on a defensive line that loses three starters, but the youth may not fully blossom until 2011. As a result, the competition this spring for playing time will be intense, and it’ll be even more competitive in the fall with the arrival of a talented freshmen class that includes five signees.
Junior defensive end Datone Jones, who added weight and checked in around 270 pounds this spring, is being counted on to be the Bruins’ top pass rusher in ‘09. He had 11 tackles for loss and four sacks in his first year as a starter. Redshirt freshman Keenan Graham and sophomore Iuta Tepa are likely early leaders for playing time, as well, barring big fall seasons for the freshman class. Senior Reggie Stokes will miss the spring with an injured knee, and his status for the fall is undetermined.
UCLA must replace both tackles, and the hope is that David Carter could emerge as the leader inside after showing promise in spurts last season. Redshirt junior Nate Chandler, a former highly touted tight end recruit, has been moved inside in what could be a spring-only experiment. Filling the void in production of Price will certainly be a group effort — not just from the defensive tackles, but the entire front seven. Strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers will be used as a rusher more often — and may see time at middle linebacker — and the five frosh linemen will get every opportunity to earn playing time in the fall, especially stud end Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Ayers made 75 tackles — including 14