Spring Ball Preview: Special Teams

As part of my UCLA spring ball preview, we break down the position groupings. With a new coaching staff, the competition should be fierce in the spring, as few players did much too cement starting roles going into spring ball. The Bruins are going to more of a base spread offense and a base 3-4 defense – though they will mix packages and personnel frequently – so take into account the changes. This is only a spring preview, so only freshmen who are participating – T.J. Millweard and Marcus Rios – will be listed.

Special Teams

Looking Back
Jeff Locke 64 punts for 2,838 yards (44.3 average)
Jordon James 3 kickoff returns for 56 yards (18.7 average)
Ricky Marvray 2 kickoff returns for 34 yards (17.0)

Projected Depth Chart
K: RS SO Joe Roberts
PK: RS SR Jeff Locke
KR: ?
PR: ?!?

Coming In / Heading Out
In: FR Ka’imi Fairbairn
Out: Kip Smith (transferred)

It wasn’t too long ago that UCLA truly put the special in special teams. But that terrible cliche isn’t just referring to the kicking game, but the returns as well. Terrence Austin was a steady if unspectacular presence and before him, guys like Maurice Jones-Drew essentially set the standards for the position.
To say the Bruins’ special teams cratered last year would be an insult to meteorites. After kicker Kip Smith showed up to camp out of shape, a kicking “battle” ensued, only Jeff Locke couldn’t handle the double-duties himself, switching back to punter when the team dipped into its deepest reserves, plucking Tyler Gonzalez from obscurity. With no scholarship kickers currently on the roster – freshman Ka’imi Fairbairn comes in the fall – the Bruins are still in a state of flux, unless Joe Roberts can seize the position with a big spring.
The return game is in even more perilous shape than the kicking game, though, after stalling out for two straight years. Case in point: The 2012 UCLA Spring Guide contains this gem in the special teams section: “The spring practices will be used to determine the kick returners.” That’s how wide-open it is. Jordon James, Ricky Marvray, Andrew Abbott, Damien Thigpen and a host of others will be in the mix.