UCLA has actually made some inspired personnel adjustments under Jim Mora. Anthony Barr switching to outside linebacker, Fabian Moreau switching to cornerback, and Anthony Jefferson moving to safety have all been moves that have paid off considerably. There are plenty of other smaller changes that have reaped benefits as well, and while we nitpick personnel evaluation at times, this staff is far and away better than any we’ve had experience with at UCLA.
That said, how about some more nitpicks? Below are some changes that we could see paying dividends for UCLA down the line. While not every move is going to pay off, we think each of these might be worth the experiment because it could drastically increase each player’s potential impact on the team, and allow UCLA to maximize their time in Westwood.
1. Nate Iese: From Fullback to Outside Linebacker/Fullback/Tight End
Coming out of spring practice, we thought that Iese (pictured above) might be a fundamental aspect of the offense, and potentially an explosive one, with great size, strength, and catching ability. He looked so good in spring that it was a pretty realistic expectation. For whatever reason, he didn’t factor into the offense all that much throughout the year, either through design, a lack of plays, or just the way coverages went. We think he can be a dynamic offensive player, so we’re not proposing switching him out of his position completely. In fact, as we've said in numerous recruiting analyses, UCLA could use a big, traditional tight end-type on offense, and instead of looking to the high school ranks it very well might have that on its current roster with Iese. We'd like to see Iese have more balls thrown his way, and beyond just a simple slip route or as a dump-off. Perhaps get him some plays as an F or, really, he's such a potential weapon the offense should just plainly design more opportunities for him to catch the ball further down the field from his fullback spot, matched up against smaller defensive backs.
We're also proposing, too, that Iese be utilized as a true two-way player. Iese, if you remember, came into UCLA as a defensive player, looking like a potential fit at the outside linebacker/defensive end position. Given how much he’s physically developed in the last year, and given the need for outside linebacker types on this team, it’d make obvious sense to give him some work on that side of the ball. What’s more, it’s not like the situation with Myles Jack, where playing him at running back really does sacrifice energy and snaps on defense. Iese already doesn’t play the full game on offense, so splitting his time between defense and offense wouldn’t necessarily sap too much of his energy on either side of the ball.
2. Takkarist McKinley: From Defensive End to Outside Linebacker
We’ve been big proponents of McKinley since seeing him explode an Arizona State player on kickoff return coverage in his first game as a Bruin back in September, and we think he might have been a bit underutilized this year, though we completely get the argument that he just didn’t know that much of the defense. He slotted in at defensive end, essentially backing up Owamagbe Odighizuwa, in his first year in the program, and it might simply have been that the assignments were a little bit easier to learn at that position than at outside linebacker. But given his athleticism, size, and speed, we’d love to experiment with the idea of him playing something much closer to the Anthony Barr role in this defense than the Odighizuwa role. Rather than bulking up into the 260 pound range, McKinley could get into the 240 pound range, maintaining his considerable athleticism, and be well-suited, size-wise, to the Barr role. He’s a potentially dynamic pass rusher, so we wouldn’t want to see him pigeon-holed early into a defensive end position.
3. Adarius Pickett: From Cornerback/Running Back/Cornerback to Safety
Pickett has already played two positions in his short time at UCLA, corner and running back, so what’s one more switch? Even though he showed natural ability when he was moved from corner to running back in fall camp, Nate Starks’ emergence at running back relegated him back to the defensive backfield. He was a cornerback originally, but his man coverage skills weren't fantastic, while he was better pursuing forward, and his body has gotten considerably thicker. With some lack of depth at safety, too, he's a much better fit at safety, and his physicality and strength can be more of an advantage there. Even though we can't get the image of him at running back from fall camp out of our minds, he might have more of a future at safety. There are some safety depth issues, too, and he could see the field fairly quickly there, with the rotation bigger than that of running back. We even think he might have a chance at being a starter at safety down the road.
4. Priest Willis: From He's a Corner to He's a Safety
Yeah, we said it. Willis looked like he was making strides at various points this year, but was relegated to mostly special teams by the end of the year, and it’s a question whether he can develop the consistency to be a reliable option for UCLA at cornerback. It's looking like Marcos Rios has actually moved ahead of him in the corner depth chart. While we’re completely uncertain that safety is the right answer for Willis, we don’t think a switch could hurt at this point, particularly with the lack of great safety depth. Willis himself said in spring that he actually might be more comfortable at safety, so it’ll be interesting to see if this is something that could happen by the spring of 2015.
5. Aaron Sharp: From Quarterback to Receiver
Jim Mora said this week in a post-practice interview that Aaron Sharp was working as a receiver on scout team, but that Sharp is still a quarterback. We'll have more on this after Signing Day…:)
Five Position Changes For 2015
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