Sunday, September 23

Football roster sees spectrum of talent in incoming, returning players


Rising redshirt senior Adarius Pickett will lead a talented group of defensive backs for UCLA this season. Pickett recorded 85 tackles and an interception last season for the Bruins. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Rising redshirt senior Adarius Pickett will lead a talented group of defensive backs for UCLA this season. Pickett recorded 85 tackles and an interception last season for the Bruins. (Daily Bruin file photo)


UCLA football will have its full 2018 roster together for the first time when it hits the field for summer practice this week. Read about the roster and what to expect in this positional breakdown.

Quarterback

UCLA has six quarterbacks on its roster and none of them are a sure thing to be the week one starter.

Incoming freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a prototypical Chip Kelly quarterback with dual-threat abilities and could be considered the early favorite for the starting job. However, according to Kelly, graduate transfer Wilton Speight will also have a solid shot thanks to his 16 career starts at Michigan.

Outside of Speight, rising redshirt sophomore Devon Modster is the only the other quarterback on the roster with more than one game of college experience.

Modster stepped in for an injured Josh Rosen last season and performed well in limited time, but left much to be desired in the spring game this past April.

Running back

UCLA’s rushing offense ranked 115th out of 129 in 2017 and the personnel in the backfield has not undergone any major changes.

Rising seniors Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi will return as the top two running backs on the depth chart, but the Bruins have some interesting options behind them that could spice things up if the team struggles.

Incoming freshman Kazmeir Allen, a four-star recruit and high school track star, has the ability to add a dimension to the UCLA backfield that has not been present in recent years – speed.

The Bruins will run a spread offense under coach Kelly, which will open up the field for running backs and possibly allow Allen to make a push at earning some playing time right out of camp.

Wide receiver/tight end

The Bruins lost their top two receiving threats from 2017 in Jordan Lasley and Darren Andrews to the NFL, but they have a strong recruiting class on the way in.

Four-star recruits Kyle Philips and Chase Cota will be asked to fill the voids left behind by Lasley and Andrews, but some of the burden will be taken off by the return of standout tight end Caleb Wilson.

The rising redshirt junior recorded 38 receptions for 490 yards and a touchdown in five games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury against Colorado in September.

UCLA will also rely on the continued improvement of rising junior Theo Howard and rising redshirt senior Christian Pabico, who each got extra playing time last season due to injuries and suspensions.

Offensive line

The Bruins’ offensive line has a lot of questions that need to be answered.

UCLA lost 60 percent of its starting unit from 2017 after Kolton Miller, Scott Quessenberry and Najee Toranall left for the NFL, and it could prove difficult to replace the talent and experience of those three players by the start of the season.

The signing of Justin Murphy, a graduate transfer from Texas Tech, will soften the blow to some degree, but he will have to stay healthy in order to make an impact. He tore the same ACL in 2015 and 2016 and was forced to medically retire, but he felt good enough to give the knee another shot this season.

Rising redshirt junior Andre James is another name to watch on the offensive line as he enters his second full season as the starter at right tackle. He had an impressive spring and looked to be in outstanding physical shape.

Defensive line

UCLA’s defensive line is a young group with low expectations.

The Bruins finished 99th out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision schools with 22 total sacks in 2017. Of those 22, only five of them came from players who are still on the defensive line.

UCLA also had the worst-ranked rushing defense in the country last season, allowing 287.4 rushing yards per game.

However, one storyline to watch will be rising sophomore Moses Robinson-Carr’s transition from tight end to defensive lineman. Robinson-Carr is 6 feet, 4 inches tall and 280 pounds, making him one of the biggest players on the defensive line.

Linebacker

Despite the loss of Kenny Young, the linebacker position for UCLA is not short on talent.

The Bruins moved rising sophomore Jaelan Phillips from defensive line to linebacker where Kelly feels he will be more effective. The former five-star recruit recorded 3.5 sacks in seven games in an injury-riddled season.

Josh Woods will also have a chance to make noise in 2018 – not only as a starting linebacker, but as a senior leader. Woods, the only senior among the linebacker core, racked up 30 tackles and a sack in seven games last season.

Defensive back

The most experienced and deepest position on the UCLA roster is defensive back.

Led by rising redshirt senior Adarius Pickett, the Bruins have a handful of talented defensive backs who have shown promise in recent years.

Five of the six players who recorded an interception last season will return in 2018, including rising sophomore Darnay Holmes, who led the team with three. Rising seniors Nate Meadors and Octavius Spencer, as well as rising redshirt junior Colin Samuel, will also have the opportunity to compete for the void left behind by Canadian Football League-bound Jaleel Wadood.

Special teams

UCLA is in line to field the same special teams unit for a third straight season.

Rising junior long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker, who has been credited with every long snap since joining the program in 2016, will likely do the same in 2018.

Rising junior kicker JJ Molson is set to handle kickoff and field goal duties coming off a season in which he made 49-of-50 extra points attempts and 17-of-21 field goal attempts.

Rising redshirt senior punter Stefan Flintoft is also set to handle punting after ranking fifth in the Pac-12 with an average punt distance of 42.9 yards last season.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Ryan Smith is the 2018-2019 Sports editor. He was previously an assistant Sports editor in 2017-2018, and has covered women's basketball, men's water polo, baseball, men's golf and women's golf during his time with the Bruin.


Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.