UCLA spring camp position reviews: Defensive backs

UCLA Bruins defensive back John Johnson (7) during a NCAA college spring football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Saturday, April 24, 2015. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News)

UCLA cornerback Johnny Johnson runs with the ball during the Bruins’ “Spring Showcase” at the Rose Bowl on April 24, 2015.
(Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Like UCLA’s offensive line, the secondary is a unit that has grown significantly during the Jim Mora era. Back in 2012, the Bruins were maligned for their pass defense, one that ranked eighth in the Pac-12. In the last two years, they haven’t ranked lower than fourth.

With every starter returning, there’s plenty of depth in the defensive backfield, one that has emphasized positional versatility to facilitate the use of shifting schemes and to better secure against injuries. This fall, the X-factor will be whether or not any one player makes the leap into becoming a dominant, shutdown corner.

The best candidate is likely still senior Fabian Moreau, who looked fantastic in spring and fall camp last year before a very uneven 2014 season. The former running back was burned repeatedly through the first half of his junior campaign, but eventually found more a rhythm as the year wound to a close. Position coach Demetrice Martin said in April that Moreau often appeared to be in great position for a play, then explicably stopped running all the way through. The Florida native has since made an effort to work on his ball skills and fix that habit. Continue reading

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UCLA spring camp notes: Bruins wrap up last day at Spaulding Field

» For someone who has yet to play a down at UCLA, Asiantii Woulard’s career as a Bruin has seen its share of ups and downs. He committed late to the Bruins in the 2013 cycle, reputed to be a talented athlete but raw passer. Then, he opened eyes during the first week of preseason camp, making himself look like an underrecruited gem. And then, he faded — eventually hitting a wall that kept him from even being a backup last season.

So he deserves some credit for making a bit of noise this spring. Woulard had a rough start to spring camp, a stretch of the quarterback competition that was seized early by the precocious Josh Rosen. But halfway through, he finally broke out — completing what Jim Mora later called the best Woulard had looked in a UCLA jersey. (It’s worth mentioning that, on that day, Rosen still looked the best of the four quarterbacks.)

Since then, the 6-foot-3 quarterback has put together a decent — albeit still uneven — finish to his spring. Thursday’s morning practice was a microcosm of that. During 11-on-11s, Woulard made the best throw of the day by any UCLA passer: a bomb to Kenny Walker on a go route that he placed perfectly beyond cornerback Fabian Moreau. But a few minutes later, Woulard threw into the flat for what would have been a bad pick — had Johnny Johnson not let it bounce off his hands. Overall, however, the former four-star recruit is definitely trending up.

Taking into consideration everything that’s happened this spring, Josh Rosen still looks like the best choice to start at quarterback. Continue reading

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UCLA spring camp notes: Nate Starks looks like No. 2 tailback

— One of UCLA’s biggest questions in the past two offseasons surrounded the running back position, which lost all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin after 2012.

Paul Perkins answered that in a big way as a redshirt sophomore, becoming the Pac-12’s leading rusher with 1,575 yards (121.15 per game). His presence, as well as that of an entirely intact offensive line, will certainly make it easier for whichever quarterback ends up replacing Brett Hundley this upcoming season.

But who’s looming behind him? After UCLA’s first spring practice in pads, Nate Starks looks like the clear-cut No. 2 running back. As a true freshman in 2014, the Colorado native was fourth on the team with 141 yards — behind Perkins, Hundley and senior Jordon James. He’s picked up where he left off and appears to be the team’s second-best runner now.

While head coach Jim Mora agreed that Starks currently has the inside track on the backup role, he insisted there is still “great competition there.” One player he said has “flashed” through three practices is Craig Lee, a speedy four-star recruit in 2013 who has yet to play a down for the Bruins. Continue reading

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Alamo Bowl notes: UCLA ends 10-win season with new milestones

» With its 40-35 win over Kansas State in Friday’s Alamo Bowl, UCLA has now reached 10 wins for the ninth time in school history. The Bruins are now riding just their third-ever streak of back-to-back 10-win seasons, with the first two coming in 1997-98 and 1987-88.

Including K-State, UCLA played 10 teams that earned bowl berths, tying them for second-most in the country. The only exceptions were Virginia, Cal and Colorado.

» In his career finale, quarterback Brett Hundley didn’t have his best passing game, finishing 12 of 24 for 136 yards and a touchdown. He started the game 10-of-12 before a run of seven straight incompletions. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said afterward that Hundley’s right hand was still a bit sore from the finger injury that forced him out of UCLA’s loss to Stanford in November.

But Hundley did plenty of damage with his legs, running 11 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns. The Bruins followed the blueprint that TCU used to beat K-State, 41-20, on Nov. 8. Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin also only threw for one touchdown, but ran for three scores and 123 yards. Boykin’s proficiency on the ground also helped open up lanes for tailback Aaron Green, who had 171 yards.

“Brett went to town with his legs, for sure,” said receiver Jordan Payton.

Hundley improved his UCLA career records to 75 touchdown passes and 11,713 total offensive yards.

» Paul Perkins ran for a career-high 194 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 carries, including a 67-yard scoring run with 2:20 left in the game that gave UCLA a 40-28 lead. His rushing total was the third-most in Alamo Bowl history, and earned him the game’s offensive MVP award. Continue reading

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UCLA safety Randall Goforth to undergo shoulder surgeries

UCLA safety Randall Goforth will miss the season after separating both shoulders earlier this year. He is pictured practicing in San Bernardino on Aug. 5, 2014. ( John Valenzuela/The Sun)

UCLA safety Randall Goforth will miss the season after separating both shoulders earlier this year. He is pictured practicing in San Bernardino on Aug. 5, 2014. ( John Valenzuela/The Sun)

UCLA will lose safety Randall Goforth for the season to shoulder injuries, leaving the Bruins without one of their four returning starters.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Goforth will have the first of two shoulder surgeries this week. The junior had separated his left shoulder during preseason training camp, then separated his right shoulder in UCLA’s 42-35 win over Memphis on Sept. 6.

Since Goforth played in fewer than three contests, he should be eligible for a medical hardship waiver if he sits out the rest of the season. Continue reading

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