1. Josh Rosen will almost certainly win the starting quarterback job
Everything we thought we'd see from Rosen -- arm strength, poise, ability to read defenses -- was on display in week one of spring practice, somewhat shockingly. Those were qualities we were hoping to see by the time fall came around, but already through three practices, he's showing the traits you'd expect from an older quarterback. He may -- and likely will -- have some lulls through the remainder of spring and into fall, but he's shown far more consistent quality through three practices than any of the other quarterbacks on the roster, and with his considerable potential beyond what he's even currently showing, we'd be more than a little shocked if he isn't the starter come Virginia.
2. UCLA finally has real offensive line depth
As we've mentioned a few times in practice reports, despite being down two starters from last year this spring (Caleb Benenoch and Scott Quessenberry, who are both out injured at the moment), UCLA's first string offensive line this spring would probably stack up favorably against any of the starting offensive lines UCLA has fielded in actual games at least the past three years. Between Conor McDermott and Simon Goines, UCLA has its most physically imposing tackle combo in quite some time, and then along the interior, UCLA has veteran talent in Alex Redmond, Jake Brendel, and Kenny Lacy. With Benenoch returning soon, and Quessenberry possibly back by the start of fall camp, and then adding in talented pieces like Poasi Moala, Zach Bateman, and Kolton Miller, UCLA has real, playable depth at every position on the offensive line. It's refreshing to see.
This is an odd spring, because it feels almost like a fall camp in terms of the talent on the field. Typically, spring is a weird waystation, where the team is without both its many graduated seniors and its incoming talented freshmen. This year, with so few seniors graduating last season, and four players from its talented 2015 class already enrolled and participating in spring practice, there really isn't a significant dropoff anywhere, with considerable depth at most positions. It's made for spirited practices so far, and a higher level of competition than we're typically accustomed to seeing at this stage of spring (by now, we'd be seeing walkons popping up in the first string at various positions as injuries start to mount). We'll see as the weeks go on if the present situation gives us a better ability to project how the team might function this fall.
4. The pass rush looks improved
One of the biggest issues UCLA had last year was the lack of a pass rush, outside of Deon Hollins. It's still one of the biggest concerns heading into fall, but so far this spring, we've been pleasantly surprised. First, Hollins himself looks like an improved, more versatile player, and if UCLA can afford to have him on the field outside of obvious passing situations, that'll increase his impact. He's covering well, for one, and he's also gained a little bit of weight, which could better serve him against the run. Second, Takkarist McKinley has gotten significantly bigger, with a stronger upper body especially that has allowed him to hold up to the rigors of playing full-time defensive end much better. His athleticism gives him an inherent advantage as a pass rusher, and with his increased strength, he's going to be harder for offensive tackles to negate. We've also seen more explosiveness from players like Eddie Vanderdoes and Matt Dickerson that leads us to believe we could see a slightly better interior rush than last year. And on top of all that, redshirt freshman Cameron Griffin, who sat out last year with a shoulder injury, looks really impressive physically at 6'4 and over 235 pounds, with great athleticism. He's still essentially learning how to play the game at this level, but if he puts it all together, or even puts some of it together, he could be an asset by the time the season comes around. With Kenny Orjioke still expected back by fall camp, we're tentatively expecting a significantly improved pass rush.
We had some legitimate concerns about the safety position coming into spring because, with Anthony Jefferson graduating and Randall Goforth still recovering from shoulder surgery, there weren't many proven options at the position. So far, through three practices, most of our concerns have been allayed to some extent. First, Goforth looks decidedly more healthy than we believed heading into spring, and, in fact, he seems to be itching to hit someone. If he can get through the spring unscathed, he should slide into the starting group right alongside Jaleel Wadood, who looks like an improved version of the player from last season who was, in his own right, very impressive. The depth behind those two does not look like as much of a potential disaster as it could have been either. Tahaan Goodman looks a little better than he did at the end of last season, but more importantly, players like true freshman Nate Meadors and converted linebacker Dwight Williams looks like they could have a chance to contribute. Meadors especially looks like he has the instincts and athleticism to play as early as this season, and if just he and Goodman can play credible snaps this year, that gives UCLA a quality two-deep at safety.
Position Changes of Note
*Najee Toran has moved to defensive end from offensive line.
*Colby Cyburt has moved to tight end from offensive line, playing the same position that incoming freshman Chris Clark is expected to play in the fall.
*Dwight Williams, as mentioned above, has moved to safety.
*Myles Jack has moved to inside linebacker after playing most of the last two years at outside linebacker.
*Mossi Johnson is now primarily in the slot behind Devin Fuller rather than behind Thomas Duarte.
*Randall Goforth is in a red jersey, but has only been a little limited in drills, running with the first string most of the time. He's mostly avoiding contact, though.
*Darren Andrews is doing individual drills but has been limited during team and contact drills.
*Simon Goines looks like he's back to mostly full health, but he did sit out the last half of team drills on Saturday.
*Benenoch, as we mentioned above, is still out, but he's suited up for practice each day, and should be good to start practicing as early as this week.
*Austin Roberts, recovering from ACL surgery, has been limited to individual drills.
*Steven Manfro, also recovering from ACL surgery, has also been limited to individual drills.
*Orjioke and Quessenberry are both out for spring, but Orjioke has been running on the sideline and actually looks like he's progressing well in his recovery.
Practice Schedule This Week
Mon. 4/6: 4:30 P.M.
Wed. 4/8: 7:00 A.M.
Thu. 4/9: 7:00 A.M.
Sat. 4/11: 9:30 A.M.