Here are the five biggest spring football questions for the offense:
* Can Richard Brehaut blossom at the helm…or does Brett Hundley sneak up on him?
With Kevin Prince and Darius Bell out for spring ball, and Nick Crissman on a “pitch count,” Brehaut and Hundley are going to get the reps at quarterback. Brehaut, the returning starter, at the helm for seven games, results mixed, and Hundley, the freshman wunderkind. All eyes will be on Hundley, but the flashlight will be just as bright on Brehaut, who appeared to be coming on at the end of last season, with 551 yards and four touchdowns vs. two interceptions in his last two games.
* Will a reliable wide receiver please stand up?
Perhaps the Bruins’ most perplexing unit in 2010, which featured dozens of drops but some impressive connections late in the year. New offensive coordinator Mike Johnson has said that he will enter spring ball with a clean slate, and that could open the doors for some wideouts who were lower on the depth chart last season. With the entire cavalry returning – Seniors Nelson Rosario, Taylor Embree and Josh Smith, juniors Randall Carroll, Jerry Johnson (out for spring ball) and sophomores Ricky Marvray and Shaquelle Evans (transfer from Notre Dame, out for spring ball – there is once again high hopes for the unit. Will they be dashed again?
* Is this actually a good offensive line?
No single unit has befuddled UCLA as much as the offensive line over the last few years, but a couple of returning players – and one important bonus – should give Bruin fans hope that there is finally an intimidating unit up front. With Jeff Baca and Kai Maiava back in the fold, Sean Sheller getting a sixth year from the NCAA, Mike Harris returning for his senior year with 28 starts and Chris Ward coming off a solid freshman season, UCLA has much to be excited about. But, as is always the case, a couple injuries or academic casualties, and everything unravels. The offensive line is a fickle beast.
* Whereto, F-backs?
Three of UCLA’s most talented players – Morrell Presley, Anthony Barr and Damien Thigpen – all exist in the quagmire that is the F-back position. The position was underutilized last season, and Neuheisel has said that he needs to figure better ways to utilize that talent. He even talked about putting Barr in the backfield at times. If one of the players emerges as a true threat in spring ball, though, expect the coaching staff to really amp up the usage in the fall.
Can the Mastro-mind fine-tune an already good running game?
The UCLA running game took a massive leap to a No. 32 national ranking last season, but the feeling is that there was a lot left out on the table. Junior Johnathan Franklin has 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns, with five 100-yard games, last season, but he was inconsistent at times and had fumbling issues. Derrick Coleman busted out to the tune of 279 yards and four touchdowns against Texas and Washington State, but had just 208 yards in his other nine games, and Malcolm Jones tailed off at the end of his freshman season with just 21 yards in the last three games. And now the Bruins add pinball Jordon James into the mix.