UCLA

 

QUARTERBACK - Ben Olsen. 2005 stats: 2-4, 11 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs. New starter.

Formerly the #1 high school QB recruit in 2002, Ben Olsen signed with BYU and then went on a two-year Mormon mission. Upon returning he transferred to UCLA where he backed up Drew Olsen (no relation) last year. After pushing Drew for the starting spot in the fall, Ben hurt his hand and effectively sat out the year, only attempting four passes while Drew led UCLA on multiple 4th-quarter comeback wins. Now the starter, Ben has the size and arm strength to be a terrific college quarterback. However, after taking the two year mission away from football and then sitting on the UCLA bench for a year, Olsen might be rusty out of the gate. If he can get into a groove early, he should have a very solid year. Depth: Behind Olsen, there isn't much in the way of experience. Pat Cowan is the backup, but hasn't thrown a pass for the Bruins yet. He's big at 6'5" and even faster than Olsen, but likely won't be called into games unless Olsen can't go.

 

RUNNING BACK - Chris Markey. 2005 stats: 110 attempts, 561 yards, 3 TDs. New starter.

Chris Markey didn't have much to do playing behind Maurice Drew last year, but he had a great bowl game where he ran for 161 yards (although Northwestern did have the one of the worst run defenses in the country). Of more importance might be the 1,223 all-purpose yards that Markey totaled last year (561 rushing, 231 receiving, 383 kick return, 48 punt return). That kind of versatility will help Markey make an impact all over the field. Depth: Helping Markey out will be Kahlil Bell, who put up 316 rushing yards on 52 carries last year as UCLA's 3rd string running back. Now the 1-B to Markey's 1-A, Bell should see the ball a lot more and join Markey to form a talented Bruin running back duo. Michael Pitre is the returning starting fullback and mainly is a blocker but he should see the ball in the occasional short yardage situation.

 

WIDE RECEIVERS

Joe Cowan. 35 receptions, 469 yards, 3 TDs. Returning stater.
Junior Taylor. 6 receptions, 109 yards, 2 TDs. Returning starter.

The Bruins return every single wideout from last year, but they lose tight end Marcedes Lewis and running back Maurice Drew, who were their #1 and #3 receivers. Brother of backup QB Pat, Joe Cowan was their #2 receiver and he will be back. At 6-4, he will be a tough matchup on jump ball plays and with 34 games played under his belt, is not new to the field. Veteran Junior Taylor (right) returns from a knee injury that knocked him out early in his senior year (a la Rhema McKnight) and will add more leadership and experience to the Bruins receiving corp. Depth: Marcus Everett missed the first two games of 2005 with an injury, but was still the 4th leading receiver on the team. He'll be fighting Junior Taylor for a starting spot early in the season. Sophomore Gavin Ketchum played in every game last year and if he continues to develop, Gavin and his 6-4 frame could play a bigger role this season. Incoming freshman Terrance Austin was a one-time ND recruit and has plenty of speed and quickness.

 

TIGHT END

 

J.J. Hair. 1 reception, 5 yards, 0 TDs. New starter.

J.J. Hair gets the honor of replacing Mackey Award winner Marcedes Lewis, UCLA's leading receiver last year. Hair is more of a blocking tight end as his three career receptions might indicate. How he'll adapt to becoming more of a target in the passing game will dictate his success in the starting lineup. Depth: Both Ryan Moya and Logan Paulsen are faster than Hair and provide more of a receiving threat. If they can prove competent at blocking, they might find increased roles in the offense by the ND game.

OFFENSIVE LINE

 

ST - Brian Abraham. Returning starter.
SG - Shannon Tevaga. (#23 G) Returning starter.
C - Robert Chai. (#33 C) New starter.
WG - Chris Joseph. Returning starter.
WT - Aleksey Lanis. New starter.

The Bruins offensive line situation is still a work in progress with a few players on the verge of gaining or losing a starting spot based on their work in fall camp. Shannon Tevaga (left) is the really the only sure thing so far as he enters his third year starting on the UCLA offensive line. The other guard, Chris Joseph, was knocked out of the season after the 4th game last year and also missed the spring. If his knees hold up, he'll be a tough run blocker for the Bruins. Center Robert Chai also missed the spring due to knee surgery and although I listed him as a new starter, he did start the final four regular season games for UCLA after the original starter, Mike McCloskey, went down with an injury. Brian Abraham started nine games last year before leg injuries limited his play at the end of the season. Aleksey Lanis is a huge tackle at 6-6, 330 pounds and the redshirt freshman has plenty of high expectations from Bruins fans. Depth: Battling Lanis and Abraham for a starting tackle spot will be Noah Sutherland, who subbed in for the injured Abraham late last season. JUCO transfer Nick Ekbatani will provide depth and physical presence at guard while Nathaniel Skaggs is a backup policy if Chai's knees force him out of the game.

 

DEFENSIVE LINE

Bruce Davis.
28 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 FF. New starter.
Kevin Brown. (#14 DT) injured last year. Returning starter.
Brigham Harwell. (#16 DT) 35 tackles, 4 sacks, 11.5 TFL,2 PBU. Returning starter.
Justin Hickman. (#36 DE) 31 tackles , 5.5, 8 TFL,1 FR. Returning starter.

UCLA fought through a number of injuries and now returns a very deep defensive line with not much dropoff from the starters to the backups. Kevin Brown is a big force in the middle, but an ankle injury forced him to miss nearly all of last season. He tweaked his other ankle in fall camp, but should be back to full speed soon. Joining him in the middle is likely Brigham Harwell, a very fast defensive tackle who started out at end before being moved inside. Harwell was second on the team in sacks last year and started 11 of the 12 Bruin games. On the ends, Bruce Davis and Justin Hickman (left) return and look to improve upon their collective 7.5 sacks last year. Depth: The real reason behind the strong Bruin line is their depth. Playing last year as a 265 pound undersized freshman, sophomore Chase Moline was pushed around a bit, but he's gained 20 pounds and valuable experience for this year. Kenneth Lombard started three games last year and also might be in line for a starting spot come October. He's still a bit undersized at 270 pounds, but very quick for a tackle. Nikola Dragovic was another lineman lost for nearly the whole year last year due to injury after starting the first four games. Like Harwell and Lombard, it's possible he might take back a starting spot by the time of the ND game. (see a pattern here?) William Snead is a fast pass-rushing defensive end who started five games last year and gives UCLA another option on the end. Overall, the Bruins have a very solid 8-man rotation and one of the deepest defensive lines in the country.

 

LINEBACKERS

SLB - John Hale.
20 tackles, 1 PBU. 1 FR. New starter.
MLB - Christian Taylor. 43 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FR. New starter.
WLB - Reggie Carter. New starter.

UCLA was hit hard by graduation at the linebacker position and fields three new starters in 2006. They also field the smallest starting linebacker corp on the ND schedule, smaller even than ND's relatively light Thomas-Crum-Thomas lineup. The most productive Bruin starter is Air Force transfer Christian Taylor (left), who only started one game last year in a backup role but was 6th on the team in tackles. He's not that big for a middle linebacker at 6-0, 222 pounds, but is a very physical player. Sophomore John Hale is the most experienced returning linebacker who started 7 games last year. He started games at both the outside and middle linebacker positions, but will start out on the outside for now. Sophomore Reggie Carter hasn't played yet but he's a highly touted recruit and probably the fastest of the three Bruin linebackers. If he can adjust to college ball quickly, he could be the best 'backer on the team come the ND game. Again, another smallish linebacker at 218 pounds. Depth: Still fighting Carter for the starting WLB spot is Eric McNeal, who is actually even lighter at 208 pounds. 215 pound Aaron Whittington is backing up Hale, but is actually starting the first game against Utah while Hale serves out a suspension. Whittington started two games last year but did miss the final four games with a leg injury.

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB - Trey Brown. 53 tackles, 1 INT, 10 PBU. Returning starter.
CB - Rodney Van. 22 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR. New starter.
FS - Dennis Keyes. (#27 - FS) 57 tackles, 2 sacks, 8 TFL, 6 PBU. 1 FR, 2 FF. Returning starter.
SS - Chris Horton. 26 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PBU. New starter.

Trey Brown is the veteran of the Bruin secondary after starting all 12 games at cornerback last year. His 10 passes broken up is a pretty impressive number and Brown should be even better with an additional year of experience. Rodney Van was a backup last year but did get into every game and play at least 20 snaps seven times. Still, now that he's starting he will have to prove to opposing offensive coordinators that he's not a weak link in the secondary. Free safety Dennis Keyes (left, top) started nine games at the position last year and the hard hitting safety is one of the leaders of the Bruin defense. Chris Horton had a wrist injury that kept him out of the first half of the 2005 season and limited his play for the rest of the year. Now that he's recovered, he will take over the starting strong safety spot and add a solid run-stopping ability to the Bruin defense. Depth: Michael Norris saw some time last year as a backup and expects to do the same again this year. He might be the choice when UCLA goes into the nickel. If not Norris, then freshman Alterraun Verner. Verner isn't very big at 5'10, 160 pounds, but the coaching staff is high on his potential. Depth at safety isn't experienced at all as all four backup strong and free safeties are either freshman or sophomores.