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 “UCLA spring camp position review: Running backs” »

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 “UCLA spring camp position review: Offensive line” »

UCLA post-spring position outlook: Special teams

Spring football is done, and over three months still stand between us and the start of UCLA’s third season under Jim Mora — one that comes with national title aspirations and accompanying media glare. This blog has covered the status of each position group moving forward. Last in the series is …

Special teams

Recently, special teams hasn’t been a major concern for UCLA. Over the last two seasons, the team blocked 12 kicks and punts — an FBS total matched only by Rutgers. Last year, it ranked top-20 in both opponent punt and kick returns; in four of the five years prior, the Bruins ranked outside the top 40 in the former and the top 100 in the latter.

A key difference looms heading into this fall: Jeff Ulbrich is no longer the UCLA special teams coordinator.

Promoted the defensive coordinator, Ulbrich will continue coaching inside linebackers but surrenders lead oversight of the unit that helped extend his own professional career. Outside linebackers will be charged to new assistant Mike Tuiasosopo, who also holds the title of special teams coach. Continue reading “UCLA post-spring position outlook: Special teams” »

UCLA post-spring position outlook: Linebackers

Spring football is done, and over three months still stand between us and the start of UCLA’s third season under Jim Mora — one that comes with national title aspirations and accompanying media glare. This blog will cover the status of each position group moving forward. Next up …

Linebackers

Myles Jack is already UCLA’s all-everything superstar, and did nothing this spring to suggest that his sophomore effort will far short of the already sky-high expectations. He continued to excel in coverage, and will play behind the ball when the team deploys a nickel formation. After finishing with just one sack last season, he’s also spent extra time focusing on his pass rushing moves.

He won’t practice at running back until the season starts, but that only gives him more time to cement his role as the Bruins’ defensive leader.

The question marks facing the team in its post-Anthony Barr era lie elsewhere. Continue reading “UCLA post-spring position outlook: Linebackers” »

UCLA post-spring position outlook: Defensive line

Spring football is done, and over three months still stand between us and the start of UCLA’s third season under Jim Mora — one that comes with national title aspirations and accompanying media glare. Over the next week, this blog will cover each of the Bruins’ position groups. Next up …

Defensive line

The star power is there. Just look at Owamagbe Odighizuwa, the former five-star recruit who doesn’t look like he’s missed a step after hip surgeries. Or Eddie Vanderdoes, another five-star defensive end who more than lived up to the billing as a Freshman All-American. Or Kenny Clark, the mammoth nose tackle whom defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich already called one of the team’s best players.

The unit’s only significant loss was defensive end Cassius Marsh, who finished second on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and even chipped in a two-yard touchdown catch. Tackle Seali’i Epenesa and sack specialist Keenan Graham also graduated, but both saw their roles dwindle to varying degrees toward the end of the season. Continue reading “UCLA post-spring position outlook: Defensive line” »