The Rights (And Wrongs) of Spring, Pt. 1

* 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.

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UCLA NFL Draft Chart

Akeem Ayers
Ht: 6-3
Wt: 255
Projected: 1st
The Skinny: Even despite a questionable combine performance, it’s hard to imagine Ayers not going in the first round. The ball-hawking linebacker is rated 27th overall in the Scouts Inc. Top 32 and performed well enough on UCLA’s pro day to likely keep him in the first round. Most mock drafts currently place Ayers anywhere from No. 21 to Kansas City to 32 for the Green Bay Packers.

Rahim Moore
The Skinny: Despite lofty statistics and a quality pre-draft performance, Moore lacks two things that NFL scouts drool over: size at safety and speed at corner. Many teams have made inquiries into his cornerback abilities, but Moore’s numbers as UCLA’s starting free safety – nation-leading 10 interceptions in 2009, 77 tackles in 2010 – show versatility and range. Moore should end up early-to-mid second round.

David Carter
Defensive Tackle
Ht: 6-5
Wt: 293
Projected: 5th-undrafted
The Skinny: One of the big surprises out of the East-West Shrine Game was the performance of Carter, who wowed scouts during the week of practice and might have pushed himself into the draft. Carter started only one his senior year but became a vocal leader and was one perhaps the team’s only defensive linemen last year. Carter was featured on as a potential draft sleeper, and some have him as high as the fifth round.

Kai Forbath
Ht: 5-11
Wt: 197
Projected: 6th-undrafted
The Skinny: Forbath enters the draft hoping to have answered the many questions tossed his way, questions about his range, his kickoff abilities and his durability. Plagued by a nagging groin injury for much of the year, Forbath’s production slipped from his Lou Groza Award-winning 2009 season. But a booming leg and tremendous consistency when healthy – not to mention a tie for the UCLA career field goal record – should put him in the draft.

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Quick chat with Rahim Moore

Had a chance to speak with Rahim Moore today as he prepares for the NFL Draft this weekend. As always, a great conversation with the former mouthpiece of the Bruins:

Jon Gold: How are you feeling today man, you ready for this?
Rahim Moore: “Aw man. I’m excited man. I’m nervous, but it’s a good nervous.”

You say you’re nervous, but you know you’re going to be drafted high, know you’re going to be a millionaire, know you’re going to be playing int he NFL – are you nervous just to find out where you’re going, or because of the whole life change?
RM: “It’s both – the nervous thing is about being ready to chomp up the whole lifestyle. I’m not going to be the regular Rahim anymore. I’m an NFL player. It’s here. I know I have to grow up and be a man. This Thursday, my whole life changes.”

Any target draft area?
RM: “I know I’ll be in a good place, a high pick. But it was tough for me trading a Baldwin Park Pop Warner helmet to a Dorsey helmet, and to trade my Dorsey helmet for my UCLA helmet. This could be the last time I put on a new helmet.”

A lot of players look at the draft as a culmination of all their hard work. The ones who succeed realize it’s just the first step. What does this day mean to you?
RM: “I’ll be happy, crying, but the minute I get drafted, an hour later, I’ll be trying to find a weight room. I’m going to be happy, but this is only the beginning. Now I’m a target, now I’m a rookie. You have to be able to show what you’re about. Some people get patient, ‘Yeah I made it.’ I haven’t made a tackle, I haven’t made a dollar.”

Any feeling about where you’ll end up?
RM: “I’ll watch the draft, and the No. 1 team can drop down to the 25th team and pick you up. Sometimes people think you’re going some place and you go nowhere near there. A lot of teams love my character, my passion for the game. It’s kind of like gambling. Should I get him now? Should I trade down for him? It is scary. My main thing is, if you pick me you won’t regret it. I became one of Coach Neuheisel’s players. He didnt regret me. I cherished him and he cherished me. I’m going to be that same guy at Dorsey, same guy at UCLA. It’s kind of scary. But when it is all said and done, it’s in God’s hands. Now it’s all about character and how you carry yourself. I know that my hard work will pay off.”

So you’re leaving for New York tomorrow, what are your plans?
Moore: “Check into my hotel and then go get a workout in. Tomorrow I’m going to prepare for a game, head over to Dr. Pine’s office, work out. Take my mom to Times Square, go to Aldo store, get some shoes. But I’m going to be off tomorrow. I’m going to be praying for the moment. I’m going to be quiet. I’m going to be doing a lot of thinking. Thinking about how all this started. I was at Army Bowl, and the two who came out of there were me and Patrick Peterson. I’m going to sit there and see these guys I’ve done it all with. Go to the ESPN party, spend some time with my family, and no lie, around 4 or 5, I’ll probably take a jog around the whole city. Put my jogging suit on and get a run in. Got to get on that Mayweather tip.”

What is that exact moment going to be like?
Moore: “Oh man. I’ll probably think about the first time someone called me an insignificant, an average L.A. person, a no one in life. I’m going to think about that, and how much it hurt me, and how much it changed my life when I was 7 years old. I’m going to think about those late nights, gowing up in L.A., seeing a lot of things. This feels like a dream. Everyone calls me Rahim the Dream. The dream means the draft. The dream means being successful, being the best man I can be. My mind is going to go blank. I’m going to be sweating. I’m going to be sitting there, and I’m going to tell the team, thank you so much. They’re going to feel my pain. When I get there, I realize, Jon, this is the last line of football. After this, there’s no more football. There is no NFL 2. This is the highest level. I have to give it all I got. The more I get asked questions, the more I visualize that and feel that.”

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UCLA Spring Chart

WHAT WE LEARNED: UCLA’s margin-for-error is slim, but the payoff could be big. Injuries on the offensive line caused a disjointed effort in the spring game, but the running game looks electric and the defensive is inspired. If the Bruins can stay relatively healthy in the fall – and get improved quarterback play – this is a bowl team.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: After the departure of Brian Price left a gaping hole in the UCLA defensive line last season, things are looking up once more in the front four. The return of defensive end Datone Jones cannot be understated, and junior Damien Holmes had a fantastic spring. In the middle, Cassius Marsh is blossoming into a potential star, and the Bruins are counting on improved play from the veteran trio of Nate Chandler, Justin Edison and Donovan Carter.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: The Spring Game showed just how precarious the UCLA offensive line situation is, as the absence of seniors Sean Sheller and Kai Maiava and junior Jeff Baca was striking. With those three in the lineup – and joined by sophomore guard Chris Ward and senior tackle Mike Harris – the line is among the best in the conference. But precious little depth exists, and the Bruins need all hands on deck.

COMING THIS FALL: The UCLA coaches made it loud and clear following the spring game – the quarterback position is up for grabs. Junior Richard Brehaut has a leg up on junior Kevin Prince, if only because Brehaut’s right knee is healthy, unlike Prince, who missed all of spring ball after major knee surgery. Freshman sensation Brett Hundley is nipping at both of their heels, though, and he’s coming fast.

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