Q and A with Don Kramer
What are going to be some of the bigger changes with Rich Neuheisel as coach in terms of recruiting and schemes, compared to Karl Dorrell? Can you also talk about the addition of Norm Chow?
The biggest differences will be on the recruiting front and the offensive side of the ball. The defense under DeWayne Walker won't change, and neither will the special teams. Where Dorrell typically went after "low-hanging fruit" on the recruiting front, Neuheisel has the guts to go after the nation's best recruits.
The offensive attack will change significantly under Neuheisel and Chow. No more West Coast Offense, which was FAR too complex to be used at the college level. Chow will have control over the offense, but Neuheisel will coach the QBs on mechanics and will call some critical plays once in a while.
With no real dominant running backs returning in the Pac-10, can Kahlil Bell finish the year as the Pac-10's leading rusher? He rushed for 795 yards on 142 carries in 2007 with a staggering 5.6 yards per carry.
No. The offensive line in front of him doesn't have the horses to allow him to produce that much. UCLA will need to throw the ball through the air, probably in the horizontal passing game this year, and probably about 60 percent of the plays. This is what happens without an experienced and deep OL.
We won't know how well he's recovered from the knee surgery until the year starts. Bell is a "tweener," not a HUGE back and not a burner.
Can this be the year quarterback Ben Olson breaks through and proves that he is worthy of the hype he got coming out of high school and when transferring to UCLA? He has only thrown 12 touchdown passes as a UCLA Bruin.
Great question—wish I knew the answer to that. Olson has yet to prove he's capable of adjusting to the speed of the college game...which has always been his major weakness. Is it realistic to believe he can stay healthy throughout an entire season? Yes, it's realistic. But it'll be a challenge with a somewhat suspect OL in front of him.
Can you talk about the front seven? Reggie Carter, Korey Bosworth, and Kyle Bosworth appear to be the core of this unit. What other players played well in spring ball and are expected to make an impact?
I don't agree that the LBers will be the core of the unit. The DTs, in the form of Brian Price and Brigham Harwell, are EASILY the strongest unit on either side of the line of scrimmage for UCLA. Add Carter to that as the MLBer...and the defensive front "Up-the-Middle" is the strength of the defensive unit. It's the defensive unit "On-the-Edges" that will get attacked by opposing offensive coordinators, at least on the ground.
The defensive backfield has an entirely new look. Can you talk about the replacements and the expectations for this inexperienced unit?
Alteraun Verner is easily the strength of the DBs and has the potential be an All Pac-10 performer. FS is a wild card with Aaron Ware there. Who knows if he'll live up to the lofty standards his brother set? Bret Lockett is a tiny bit more of a known commodity, but this will still be his first year as a starter.
Michael Norris is EASILY the weakest link in the chain on defense, and he's the most likely to lose his starting position out of any kid on the team, IMO. I'm thinking he gets replaced VERY early on by one of the freshmen or Courtney Viney, possibly as early as the second game.
Whoever plays there...you can COUNT on the fact that opposing offensive coordinators will make that CB position the main point of attack against the UCLA defense. Walker will be challenged on the best way to help out the guy(s) playing that position.
Where does this squad finish in Pac-10 play?
The schedule, as always, is critical. At first glance it looks like a tough schedule. However...due to the young nature of the team...it's a good thing that three out of the first four games, and six out of the first nine, are at home or the Rose Bowl. But sandwiched in the middle are two very difficult road games @ Oregon and @ CAL. Those last two games @ ASU and home vs. USC should be just brutal as well.
How much will they have improved, and how well will they have avoided injuries prior to those games? I'm not that optimistic. This is a rebuilding year by any yardstick...and they'd better be no worse than 6-4 after the first ten games if they're going to make a bowl game of ANY kind.
I'm guessing they finish tied for sixth in the Pac-10 this year and finish 6-6 overall. We'll see what happens.