UCLA escaped the Inland Empire relatively unscathed. Most of its starters are healthy, as are the team’s myriad rotation players. The most notable players sidelined — center Jake Brendel (MCL) and receiver Devin Lucien (head) — are both expected to return soon.
Without a major shakeup anywhere on the depth chart, what did the Bruins learn from their annual two-week training camp at Cal State San Bernardino?
The defense will survive its losses
Head coach Jim Mora said last month that one of his main concerns heading into his third season was replenishing the team’s pass rush. The Bruins lost All-American Anthony Barr, who became the No. 9 overall NFL draft pick, as well as defensive end Cassius Marsh and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt — selected in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively.
The best remedy might be an improved defensive line. UCLA is absolutely stacked up front, with likely pros in senior Owamagbe Odighizuwa and sophomores Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark. Odighizuwa is a physical specimen who looks fully recovered from multiple hip surgeries, and could lead the team in sacks.
Clark anchors the defense at nose tackle, while Vanderdoes will be moved around more on the line to better take advantage of his abilities. Former five-star recruit Ellis McCarthy could also play a major role if he can lose some weight and help preserve his knees.
But most of those players were known quantities after spring. The real surprise was true freshman Kenny Young, who is a potential difference-maker for this defense. The four-star recruit from Louisiana only needed about a week of practice to steal most of the practice reps at inside linebacker, and looks like the perfect complement to returning starters Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks. At outside, junior Aaron Wallace looks like a starter with some run-stopping ability, while sophomore Deon Hollins can be a fearsome pass rusher.
The secondary has a chance to be the best in the conference, with junior Fabian Moreau blossoming into a true lockdown corner.
Keep watching the running back depth chart
There probably isn’t a superstar in the group (unless you count the carries Jack will surely get), but the offensive backfield holds a bit of intrigue.
Senior Jordon James is clearly the best pass blocker of the group, which should be enough for him to reprise the starting role after an able injury sidelined him for much of last year. And just like last year, redshirt sophomore Paul Perkins is right behind him on the depth chart.
The rest of the names get more interesting. Steve Manfro will likely have his utility role as a pass-catching back. Freshman Adarius Pickett looked impressive after switching from corner, and could become the team’s third-best tailback. And freshman Nathan Starks offers his 6-foot frame as a change of pace, though a redshirt year is possible barring injuries.
Redshirt freshman Craig Lee, however, has been somewhat disappointing. The former four-star recruit still isn’t familiar enough with the playbook and is a work-in-progress as a blocker.
The 2013 recruiting class was absurd
Watching UCLA’s 2014 class adjust to college level helped crystallize just how special the 2013 class was — one that put 18 true freshmen on the field, nine of whom started at least one game.
Don’t expect anything similar this season. Sure, this most recent set of newcomers has its gems — most notably the aforementioned Kenny Young — but by and large, it’s full of players who will play now and star later. It’s a long way off, but look for players such as defensive end Matt Dickerson and receiver Alex Van Dyke to be very good in a year or two.
GIF via @puntingiswinning