Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Wide Receiver – UCLA Bruins
The UCLA Bruins are ready for a fresh start on offense as the 2009 season approaches. Head coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow have been tirelessly working to improve the explosiveness of skill position talent in Westwood ever since they were hired.
After a dismal 2008 campaign, Chow and Neuheisel hit the recruiting trail hard. Their efforts seem to be paying off, especially at the wide receiver and tight end positions. As a result, the Bruins will feature an intriguing mix of youthful promise and veteran talent in the receiving corp this fall. Incoming quarterback Kevin Prince should have some weapons to work with, and Norm Chow may finally have a chance to fully showcase his heralded pro-style offense.
The top three receivers from last year’s squad are back, including sure-handed sophomore Taylor Embree.
The 6-3 194 pound Embree burst onto the scene last season, setting school records for receiving yards (531) and receptions (40) among freshmen wideouts. His 531 receiving yards led all Bruins in 2008 and his 40 catches were second on the team. Embree’s fantastic freshman season garnered national attention as he was named second team Freshman All-American by The Sporting News. He played in all 12 games, and started eight.
Embree is a possession-receiver in the best sense of the term. The Overland Park (KS) native is an exceptionally gifted route-runner and possesses rare instincts that allow him to separate from defenders. Those instincts could make the cerebral sophomore Kevin Prince’s emergency option whenever a play breaks down.
Embree does not shy away from contact, and routinely ran dangerous “across-the-middle” routes last season. He uses his big frame very well, and has tremendous hands that seem to catch everything, especially for first downs. Embree enters the season as one of the premier offensive threats for the Bruins.
Joining Embree as a starter will be senior Terrence Austin. Austin led the team in receptions as a junior with 53. He finished second on the team with 461 receiving yards and one touchdown. The 5-11 173 pound flanker is a multi-talented athlete that can hurt the opponent in a variety of ways. He set a school record last season with 1,878 all-purpose yards, which broke Maurice Jones-Drew’s mark of 1,863. Austin also became the first Bruin ever to eclipse 1,000 yards on kickoff returns (1,109).
Austin is very effective on reverses and trick plays, giving the ultra-creative Norm Chow a speedy playmaker to utilize in 2009. Last season, Austin had 13 carries for 90 yards (6.9 YPC). Teammates and coaches alike have praised the Long Beach Poly (CA) product for his leadership qualities, and he was voted as one of the team captains at the end of spring. Austin will be a key contributor for the Bruins in 2009.
One of the Bruins biggest targets is sophomore Nelson Rosario. The 6-5 214 pound receiver played in nine games last year, catching 11 passes for 169 yards. He has tremendous leaping ability, finishing third in the 2009 Pac-10 Championships for the long jump.
Rosario also has very soft hands, making him an ideal red-zone target. In his first game as a college wideout against Tennessee, Rosario made a clutch 14-yard grab that helped keep the Bruins game-winning drive alive. The Oceanside (CA) native will be Taylor Embree’s primary backup, and should be on the field a lot more than he was in 2008.
Senior Gavin Ketchum gives the Bruins another experienced receiver. At 6-5 210 pounds, he is an excellent blocker with good hands as well. Last season, he played in 11 games catching six passes for 61 yards. For his career, the Oak Park (CA) native has 27 receptions for 322 yards and two touchdowns. He will start the season as Terrence Austin’s main backup.
There is a lot of excitement surrounding true freshman Randall Carroll. The day Carroll enrolled at UCLA, he became one of the fastest players in the conference. The 5-11 184 pound speedster won back-to-back CIF state track titles in 2008 and 2009 for the 100 and 200 meters. He recorded the fastest 100 meter time in the state in 17 years with a lightning-quick 10.30 at the Del Rey League finals earlier this summer.
The Inglewood (CA) product also excelled on the football field while at Cathedral High School. Rivals.com gave him 4-stars and rated him the #4 athlete of the 2009 class. He was a U.S. Army All-American selection and SuperPrep All-American as well. As a senior at Cathedral, Carroll caught 31 passes for 564 yards and four touchdowns as well as running for 543 yards and two scores. He could be the Bruins x-factor on offense this season.
Senior Ryan Moya will be a primary contributor at the tight end position this fall. The 6-3 247 pound Moya was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2008, and made an impressive recovery after missing all of the 2007 season. He finished last season with 38 catches for 364 yards and three touchdowns.
Moya is a versatile player that can catch and block equally well. As a result, the El Dorado Hills (CA) standout will spend a lot of time lining up at the H-Back position in Norm Chow’s offense. He has battled a few nagging injuries and was held out of spring drills, but should be healthy for the fall.
Moya will share time at tight end with senior Logan Paulsen. The 6-5 268 pound Paulsen was a Mackey Award candidate last season before missing basically the entire season with a foot injury. He is a tremendous blocker with great receiving skills as well, catching 42 passes for 526 yards and one touchdown in his career.
Paulsen is an exceptional leader and his teammates selected him as one of the squad’s team captains for 2009. The veteran from West Hills (CA) has started in 26 games, and will look to have a productive final year with the Bruins. If he can prove that he has recovered from the foot surgery, Paulsen will be an integral part of the offense this season.
The most exciting young player on the UCLA offense besides Carroll is true freshman Morrell Presley. The 6-4 222 pound tight end could be the Bruins’ best pass-catcher at the position since Mercedes Lewis. Scout.com gave him 5-stars while Rivals.com gave him 4-stars. Presley’s size allows him to be a physical blocker, but his real strength is as a receiver. He has been timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40, and could be used as a mismatch option this season.
Other receivers and tight ends that could see time are: freshmen Ricky Marvray and Jerry Johnson, and sophomores Antwon Moutra, Cory Harkey and Nate Chandler.
There are certainly plenty of receiving options for this UCLA coaching staff to choose from. In fact, on paper it looks like a very exciting unit that could make some noise this season. QB Kevin Craft and the offensive line were so dreadful last year that the receivers never really had a chance to shine. A repeat scenario is obviously possible, but if Prince has time to find some of these talented athletes, the Bruins may surprise the conference with their offense.
I think Embree has all-conference ability and should enjoy a very productive sophomore year. Austin is an exciting return man, and is a great receiving compliment to Embree with his ability to stretch the defense. The two veteran tight ends are also solid players and will help Prince a lot as blockers and receivers.
If you are a Bruin fan, start getting excited about Carroll and Presley. It looked like both freshmen were headed to USC for most of the recruiting process, but having them in Westwood is going to be huge for the next few years.
Even if the passing offense doesn’t click this season, there is a solid foundation to build around with young players like Embree, Rosario, Carroll, and Presley.