UCLA spring camp position review: Running backs

UCLA running back Nate Starks during football practice at UCLA on April 20, 2015. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff)

UCLA running back Nate Starks during football practice at UCLA on April 20, 2015. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff)

UCLA found backfield stability last season in the form of Paul Perkins, who broke out and became the first Bruin to lead the conference in rushing since 2001. As long as he’s healthy, the running game should churn along smoothly.

But what will make UCLA’s next quarterback even happier is the depth behind Perkins. One of the intriguing performances this spring camp came from Nate Starks, who had a promising albeit limited role as a true freshman last season. Starks only had 31 carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns, but those stats don’t accurately show how impressive some of those runs were. He also had his best game when UCLA needed him most, in a 17-7 win over Arizona. Against the Wildcats, Starks had five carries for 41 yards, including a 21-yarder on 3rd-and-11 deep in UCLA territory. He was also the primary back on the Bruins’ first fourth-quarter drive.

Last month, UCLA leaned a little harder on him. Perkins is the clear No. 1 on the roster, but Starks got a healthy share of first-team reps through camp too — and for the most part, proved he deserved them. Continue reading

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Three-star quarterback Matt Lynch commits to UCLA

UCLA has landed the quarterback of its 2016 recruiting class.

The Bruins received a verbal commitment from three-star prospect Matt Lynch, who is currently playing at Broomfield (Colo.) Legacy, just outside Denver. Bruin Report Online first reported the news of his commitment to UCLA.

The 6-foot-5, 182-pound passer had originally committed to Colorado State, but wavered when head coach Jim McElwain left for Florida. In December, he told the Bloomfield Enterprise that his status with the Rams was “up in the air.” His parents graduated from Colorado State.

Lynch threw for 1,210 yards, 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a junior. He would provide depth for the Bruins behind center, where freshman Josh Rosen projects to be a future starter.

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UCLA latest commitment is Owa Odighizuwa’s younger brother

UCLA’s roster will be without an Odighizuwa for just one season.

After tying for the team lead with 11.5 tackles for loss last fall, defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa was picked in the third round of the NFL draft last Friday. His younger brother, Osawaru, will soon try to replace the void at UCLA.

Osa Odighizuwa committed to the Bruins on Tuesday night, becoming the eighth name in their 2016 class and the second defensive lineman after five-star end Breland Brandt. Listed at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, the younger Odighizuwa is rated a three-star defensive end by Rivals.com, and one of the top five defensive tackles in the West by Scout.com.

He is also an accomplished wrestler who has won state and national titles, recently completing his second straight undefeated season in Oregon’s Class 6A heavyweight.

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UCLA spring camp position review: Offensive line

UCLA's offensive line during spring football practice at Spaulding Field on April 23, 2015. (Andy Holzman/Staff)

UCLA’s offensive line during spring football practice at Spaulding Field on April 23, 2015. (Andy Holzman/Staff)

The improvement of UCLA’s offensive line has been a recurring storyline for more than a year, so you’re allowed some skepticism as you read this: Despite allowing 128 sacks over the last three seasons, this could be one of the team’s strengths.

As usual, the caveat is that the line will need to stay healthy. But unlike the last few years, the unit has the sort of depth that can sustain a certain amount of attrition. Two starters are crucial: left tackle Conor McDermott, and center Jake Brendel. The former has had shoulder problems in the past, but was a game-changing left tackle through the second half of last season. He looked healthy and capable all of spring. Brendel is still the only full-time center UCLA has had in the Jim Mora era, and the one game he missed wasn’t pretty.

Injuries to either one could throw the line completely out of whack. But the other spots? Losing someone for a few games wouldn’t be a death sentence. Continue reading

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Brett Hundley calls fifth-round selection a ‘blessing in disguise’

Brett Hundley fell to the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft. The UCLA quarterback is pictured here during the Bruins' 38-20 win over USC on Nov. 22, 2014 at the Rose Bowl. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff)

Brett Hundley fell to the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft. The UCLA quarterback is pictured here during the Bruins’ 38-20 win over USC on Nov. 22, 2014 at the Rose Bowl. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff)

Brett Hundley fell all the way to the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft on Saturday, but ended up in a good developmental situation in Green Bay. The UCLA quarterback talked about joining the Packers on a teleconference with local reporters.

How do you feel about coming to Green Bay and sitting behind Aaron Rodgers?

It’s awesome. It’s awesome. It’s a funny thing. Johnathan Franklin, a big brother of mine, I used to ask him about Aaron Rodgers a lot. Just how he is in practice, how he is in the meeting rooms. Now I actually get a chance to be up and personal with it. it’s an awesome experience. Datone (Jones) is there as well. I’m ready to have some fun.

Are you disappointed you’re not in a place where you can start immediately

Yeah. I’m blessed to be in this position and to get picked by Green Bay. Obviously, you always have expectations of going No. 1 or going high in the draft. But you know, everything happens for a reason, and that’s how I look at it. If I’m supposed to be here, this is where I’m supposed to be, and I’m going to make the most of it.

How much pre-draft contact did you have with the Packers?

I talked to them at the combine and that’s about it.

Packers director of pro personnel Eliot Wolf said you made an impression at combine, calling you a football nerd. Is that accurate?

Yeah, very much so. I love football. It’s just who I am and what’s bred inside of me. I love being a quarterback. I love knowing everything about the game. I could sit here all day with you and just watch film and learn. I like knowledge, to put it like that. If I don’t know something, I want to know it. That’s the way I approach things. That’s the way I approach football. I think Green Bay is the perfect organization to learn as much as possible. And they have the best coaches to help me do that, and Aaron Rodgers. Continue reading

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