Never the most highly recruited, biggest, strongest or fastest receiver for the UCLA Football Bruins, this wideout now enters 2017 as the old man and leader of this positional group.
The UCLA Football receivers were the subject of scrutiny last season given how many drops this group was responsible for. Despite all of the ups and downs of the season offensively, one player who was consistent returns to give this offense a little boost.
Darren Andrews was a two-star receiver coming out of high school according to 247sports.com. Thought to be too small and with too low a ceiling, Andrews received some middle of the road offers but was able to secure a UCLA Football offer through old family friend and then WR coach Eric Yarber.
After playing in 2013, Andrews missed 2014 with a reoccurring knee issue.
Many players would have folded after that. That knee injury in 2014 was the second time Andrews injured that knee. It isn’t just physically difficult to come back from an injury like that but to come back from it mentally twice is just as taxing.
It wouldn’t be too much for Andrews.
Most of Andrews’ success came in the slot where he was able to use his shifty style of play to create separation in space and quickly become a favorite of Josh Rosen in his freshman year.
Fast forward to the 2016 season and a change of offense ended up stunting Andrews early. Yes his position stayed the same and even though he had more catches, yards and scores than in 2015 his leap in production was stymied by scheme in my opinion.
Firstly the Bruins lacked the offensive line skill to protection to handle five and seven step drops meaning deep shots in the passing game became harder and harder to come by.
It didn’t help that the Bruins couldn’t run the football either. With both of those issues combining it meant defenses could essentially stack the box against both the run and pass if they wanted to.
That all added up to less space underneath where Andrews is the most successful. In the first six games before Rosen went down with an injury, Andrews averaged seven catches per game for 53 yards a game and one total score. However the only game he had over four catches in was when he had nine against Arizona.
After Rosen’s injury the offense began to revert to more of the spread based concepts that were successful in 2015. The reason that offense was successful is because it didn’t ask the offensive line to hold blocks when it was obvious they couldn’t.
In the final five games, he recorded no catches against Cal, Andrews averaged five catches per game for an average of 77 yards per game and three scores.
This year the UCLA Football offense looks to be mixing in some of the spread concepts and power concepts for this year. By being able to move the pocket the Bruins should be able to manufacture passing yards without putting Rosen behind a porous line. Gaining success through the air in this fashion will force defenses to respect the roll out which should lead to more yards gained when these formations are used to run the ball.
The space that creates is where Andrews is going to live in 2017. The drag, the shallow cross and the quick out will be where you’ll find him most often but don’t be surprised him work the intermediate zone with great success as well.
That’s where I see Andrews having big success next year. The media and fans talk about the star power in this receiving corps and how its ready to break out. We also talk about how a walk-on may start and what that means for the program. No one is talking about the low star guy who might now be the most reliable receiver on the team.