* Franklin’s Bends: While the potential of Jordon James and Malcolm Jones is undeniable – and we’ll get to them later – it really is clear who the first option is at running back, and why: Johnathan Franklin proved during spring ball that he can be a game-changing back. His burst is markedly different from last season, and last season he had 1,127 yards. His was a relatively quiet 1,100-yard performance, downplayed because of bigger names in the conference – LaMichael James, Shane Vereen, Jacquizz Rodgers – and because the offense as a whole was so poor. I’ve followed his progress intently, and so much of his maturation is because he’s just now starting to learn the intricacies of the position, the little bends and jukes that carry you in and out of the hole. But the big difference is the burst from the hole, the way he just skipped past guys at times. We didn’t see a lot of Franklin, but there’s enough to believe that he’s primed for a big season.
* An Upfront Affront: As has been heavily discussed, the offensive line needs a lot of work. The amount of attrition up front is just stunning, and this unit has the chance to be a real difference-maker, even looking forward. But the line cannot afford, just really cannot afford, more than one injury at a time up front. Reminds me of 2009, when only Eddie Williams missed significant time. If whole, this is a top-4, top-5 line in the conference. If not…watch out.
* DB Sweetly:The defensive backfield appears deeper than anticipated, particularly with the emergence of Tevin McDonald and Alex Mascarenas. The corner spots seem to be in pretty good hands – though I still wonder why Courtney Viney doesn’t get more action, even a starting nod – and will only get better with the return of Anthony Jefferson. I hear more about him from random UCLA reporters and fans than perhaps anyone on the defense.
* Hands Up?: The wide receiver position remains an enigma, plagued by indecisiveness and mistakes. Yes, wide receivers can be indecisive. The decision, though, is not where to go, but how hard to go for it. The best wide receivers dig into the ground with their front foot and plant and go and then go beat the corner to the ball. I don’t see that fight yet, aside from Ricky Marvray and sometimes Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree. Actually, no, Morrell Presley has that instinct, but he just needs better hands.
But when you hear Mike Johnson talk about confidence, he’s not talking about just the idea of believing that you are good enough to catch a pass coming your way. There’s a reason that the wide receiver position is the diva position in the NFL. You have to have some swagger, some juice, and for one reason or another, UCLA’s group just doesn’t have that. Even in how they look in practice, jerseys untucked, sloppy, too casual. I had a talk with a former Bruin recently about how UCLA wideouts need to just look and act crisper on the field. That’s why Johnson is in.