UCLA football is officially back.
In the Daily News this past weekend, I covered a few of the questions that UCLA answered in spring and will look to answer starting today.
With training camp kicking off at Cal State San Bernardino at 3 p.m., here are five players to watch out for through the next couple of weeks.
Linebacker Kenny Orjioke, Jr., 6-4, 235
Head coach Jim Mora said the prime objective for UCLA’s defense will be replacing the pass-rushing void left by Cassius Marsh and Anthony Barr. The latter’s most natural successor is Orjioke.
Still just 19 years old, the junior has off-the-charts athleticism but hasn’t quite turned that into on-the-field stardom. That started to change this past spring, when he started blowing past blockers on a more regular basis. He’ll be fun to watch if he keeps it up this fall.
Offensive tackle Simon Goines, Jr., 6-7, 330
This 20-game starter might be the biggest question mark on what should be a very solid offensive line.
For all his talent, Goines hasn’t been able to escape knee problems through his UCLA career. Mora said the right tackle will be healthy for training camp, but added that the junior isn’t starting right now. If Goines doesn’t work his way back up to the top of the depth chart, look for either sophomore Conor McDermott or redshirt freshmen Poasi Moala and Kenny Lacy to fill in.
Defensive end Kylie Fitts, So., 6-4, 275
Fitts (and his high school coach) made some news when he flipped from USC to UCLA in order to enroll early. So far, though, the four-star prospect hasn’t contributed much.
Part of that is his injured hand, which required surgery late last fall. He also sprained his ankle in the spring. Meanwhile, the depth chart is getting more crowded. Fellow sophomore Eddie Vanderdoes is already a budding star, while incoming true freshmen Matt Dickerson and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner should vie for playing time too.
Receiver Alex Van Dyke, Fr., 6-4, 200
UCLA only loses one starting receiver, and relative newcomers like Mossi Johnson and Eldridge Massington are vying for their share of snaps. So no, it won’t be easy for a true freshman to fight for catches.
But Van Dyke has a big frame and is the son of a former two-time All-American/second-round NFL draft pick. And at Pac-12 Media Days, he was often the first true freshman mentioned to reporters.
Safety Jaleel Wadood, Fr., 5-11, 165
No one could have asked more of Wadood’s career at St. John Bosco: player of the year honors from both the Los Angeles Times and Long Beach Press-Telegram; the school record in touchdown catches; a CIF Open Division state championship.
So what if, at 5-foot-11, he doesn’t have all the metrics? Coaches wanting “winners” and “football players” is well-worn cliche, but Wadood fits that mold perfectly.
“He can play both sides of the ball,” Mora said at Pac-12 Media Days. “He’s dynamic as a playmaker on offense. He’s fearless as a defensive back. He played safety. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’ll throw his body in there.”