With the conclusion of Saturday’s spring game, UCLA officially wrapped up spring practice for 2014. With the team not getting back into action until August, here’s what we learned from spring camp and what to keep an eye on come fall.
Redshirt junior Brett Hundley put off the NFL and returned for what will almost certainly be his last spring at UCLA. The possible Heisman candidate had a strong couple of weeks, looking sharp throughout camp.
The same can’t be said about redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard, who was up-and-down and struggled in the spring game. Meanwhile redshirt sophomore Jerry Neuheisel “caught the eye” of coach Jim Mora and had a very consistent spring leading credence to Mora’s insistence that there is a genuine competition underway for the backup quarterback job. Woulard, who possesses great potential, could ultimately earn the role, but it will certainly be something to watch out for come fall camp.
Under the direction of new running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu, the UCLA backfield had a strong spring – even with sophomore linebacker Myles Jack not seeing any action on offense. While redshirt senior Jordon James figures to be the starter, the Bruins may have as many as four backs that receive regular playing time. Redshirt sophomore Paul Perkins had a solid camp and should build off a good freshman campaign, while redshirt junior Steven Manfro -– who is also likely to see action at kick returner – provides a good receiving threat out of the backfield.
Redshirt freshman Craig Lee wowed with his speed and explosiveness, but needs to refine his pass blocking and “still has a few more strides to make” before he reaches the level of the other three, according to offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Four-star recruit Nathan Starks arrives in fall and may challenge for snaps.
Though the Bruins lost Shaquelle Evans, the team’s leading receiver of the last two years, wideout figures to be one of the strongest positions on the team, with several players having strong camps. Juniors Devin Lucien and Jordan Payton received most of the starting reps on the outside and will head into fall camp as the presumptive starters there.
Junior Devin Fuller, a mainstay in the slot the previous two years, was slowed by a strained back, paving the way for camp sensation Mossi Johnson. The freshman shined throughout spring practice and developed a strong relationship with Hundley. Redshirt freshman Eldridge Massington also drew praise, while fellow deep threat redshirt sophomore Kenny Walker, who returned from back surgery, had a strong camp as well.
Sophomore Thomas Duarte missed the final week of practice with a sprained ankle, but performed well the first three weeks and will once again man the Y position in Mazzone’s spread offense. UCLA will add some size in the fall with the arrivals of freshmen Alex Van Dyke, Austin Roberts and Jordan Lasley.
Once again, as it was all last season, the offensive line was a game of musical chairs for UCLA this spring. Mora announced that former tackle Torian White was dismissed from the team following the first practice, while junior tackle Simon Goines missed all of camp. Fellow 2013 starter sophomore guard Alex Redmond, who had surgery on his thumb in the winter, participated lightly throughout most of camp.
UCLA added Miami redshirt senior transfer Malcolm Bunche, who was routinely praised for his size, versatility and experience. Though he was a tackle at Miami, the plan was for Bunche to play guard but instead he saw plenty of time at tackle due to injuries. Sophomore Caleb Benenoch, who was noticeably stronger and more in shape, was the standout of spring ball along the offensive line, while redshirt freshmen tackles Kenny Lacy and Poasi Moala drew praise as well. The team welcomes tackle Colton Miller in the fall.
While UCLA was without sophomore defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes, redshirt senior Owamagbe Odighizuwa had arguably the strongest camp of any player, capping it off with a standout performance in the spring game, routinely applying pressure to the quarterback. Sophomore Kenny Clark and junior Ellis McCarthy anchored the inside as the Bruins lined up in more four-man fronts this spring. While defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was noncommittal about what his base defense would be, he praised Clark as “one of the best football players on this team” and as a player the team could “build this thing around.” Come fall, look for the return of Vanderdoes and the addition of three recruits, including four-star defensive lineman Ainuu Taua.
The unit struggled with injuries early on in camp and uncertainty throughout. The Bruins entered spring having to replace two starters from a year ago in Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt. Redshirt junior Eric Kendricks missed all of spring due to injury, leaving more playing time for several players.
Freshman Zach Whitley perhaps the jewel of UCLA’s most recent recruiting class, started strong but struggled as camp progressed. An inside linebacker in high school, the team unsuccesfully tried Whitley out at outside linebacker – the experimentation was short-lived as Whitley moved back to the inside.
Meanwhile, Jack picked up right where he left off after a sensational freshman year, lining more on the inside than he did a year ago. Sophomore Deon Hollins also stood out with his pass rushing ability off the edge, while junior Kenny Orjioke saw most of the reps with the first team in Barr’s spot. One of UCLA’s thinnest units will receive a needed boost in August with the return of Kendricks and the addition of incoming recruits Kenny Young, Cameron Young and Dwight Williams.
All four starters returned to what figures to be a strong group. Cornerback Fabian Moreau drew the highest praise of any defensive back as Mora stated the junior could have an “All-American” year. Freshman Adarius Pickett had a nice showing in the spring game recording an interception, while sophomore safety Tahaan Goodman repeatedly provided a physical presence in the secondary. After struggling his freshman season, sophomore corner Priest Willis worked his way into the team’s nickel package and said that he felt more confident than he did last season. Freshmen Denzel Fisher and Jaleel Wadood will join one of UCLA’s deepest groups in August.
Junior Ka’imi Fairbairn had a strong spring camp, routinely hitting from long range. Sophomore Sean Covington missed a 33-yard field goal in the spring game but had a solid showing throughout camp at punter. Meanwhile Ishmael Adams reminded everyone that he is a force to be reckoned with in the return game, taking a return 50 yards before he was touched and the play was called dead.
Compiled by Jordan Lee, Bruin Sports senior staff.