Photo by Steve Cheng

UCLA Football Freshmen Assessment

Aug. 29 -- Who could play, who is an injury away, and who looks destined to redshirt?

The Intent is To Play Them by Dave Woods

Josh Rosen, Quarterback. The freshman quarterback was named the starter this week, and barring injury or dreadful play, he will start every game this season. From what we’re told, he’s the first ever true freshman starter for an opener at UCLA. We’ve talked about Rosen for years here, but there’s every reason to believe he can have some significant measure of success this year. He’s obviously extremely talented and has an advanced feel for a true freshman, and he’s also surrounded by the best supporting offensive cast that UCLA has fielded since the late 1990s. The stage is set for Rosen to have a very solid freshman season.

Bolu Olorunfunmi, Running Back. Olorunfunmi was one of the biggest surprises of fall camp. We initially pegged him as a near-certain redshirt candidate on the eve of fall camp, but instead, he looks like he’ll have a legitimate shot of being the third-string running back. He showed great balance, toughness, and surprising quickness during fall camp. His ability to deliver blows out of the backfield rather than take hits is something that Kennedy Polamalu covets. The only thing limiting him at this point is his ability to catch the ball. If he can continue to improve in that facet, he has eventual starter potential at UCLA.

Stephen Johnson, Wide Recever. Johnson has elite speed, something that is coveted on any team and especially UCLA, which is long on big possession receivers but short on speed and quickness. Johnson looked like a potential game-breaker in fall camp, both catching the ball out of the backfield and in the slot. He has Mossi Johnson ahead of him in the slot, but we imagine there will be a concerted effort to get him touches this season to see what he can do with his speed.

Stephen Johnson

Sotonye Jamabo, Running Back. Jamabo was used in a wide variety of ways in San Bernardino: catching the ball out of the backfield, running the ball out of the backfield, lining up in the slot, and even playing little Wildcat quarterback. The intent, obviously, is to use him this season. We liked him best when he was catching the ball out of the backfield, since it got him into space easier and allowed him to build up a head of steam before the ball got to him. He needs to continue to improve his running style, as he looked a little tentative approaching the line during the two weeks in San Bernardino, but he has very good athletic potential and will definitely see the field this year.

Chris Clark, Tight End. We’re stretching a little bit on this one, since we’ve really only seen a couple of practices with Clark as a full participant. But we’ll take Jim Mora at his word that the UCLA coaching staff didn’t bring Clark here to redshirt. He is a very good pass-catcher out of the tight end position, and as he continues to fill out physically (and recover from mono) he should be an effective blocker as well. He has the potential to be an answer in the red zone for UCLA.

Rick Wade, Defensive End. We wouldn't call Wade a stone-cold lock to play, but he was in the two-deep for stretches of fall camp and came to camp much more physically ready than people might have expected. We imagine he will play a similar number of snaps as Matt Dickerson or Jacob Tuioti-Mariner played a year ago.

On Two-Deep and an Injury Away From Playing by Dave Woods

Fred Ulu-Perry, Guard/Center. Ulu-Perry is one of the most impressive freshman offensive lineman we’ve seen in a while, looking more advanced than Simon Goines, Caleb Benenoch, and Alex Redmond all did as true freshmen — and each of those guys started their true freshmen years. Ulu-Perry could absolutely fill in if there’s an issue at either guard spot, and if Jake Brendel suffers any kind of injury, Redmond will likely slide over to center, which would put Ulu-Perry at right guard. He’s going to be the first off the bench if there’s any injury on the interior of the offensive line, so more than likely he’ll play at some point this year, since there’s always at least some minor injury.

Keisean Lucier-South, OLB/DE. Lucier-South had some flashes of brilliance during fall camp, where he looked very tough to deal with off the edge. He’s still undersized, looking like he could afford to add 15 more pounds onto his frame, but his quick first step and pass-rushing technique makes him an intriguing prospect. This isn’t so much that he’s an injury away from playing as he is a really-bad-pass-rush-and-UCLA-needs-help away from playing. If the Bruins don’t succeed

Nathan Meadors/Octavius Spencer, Safety. We’ve included them both here since they’re competing for that fourth safety position that is always an injury away from having to play. They’ve both shown uncanny instincts for true freshman. Spencer might be a slightly better athlete, but Meadors might have a slightly better feel (which could have come from having been in the program since spring ball). If one of Randall Goforth, Jaleel Wadood, or Tahaan Goodman gets hurt, one or both of these guys could see action.

Nate Meadors

Almost Certainly Will Redshirt by Tracy Pierson

Dechaun Holiday, Cornerback. He had a very good fall camp and, in any previous year, would probably be in the two-deep and in the category of one injury away from playing. But UCLA’s secondary has some depth now, and Holiday, while looking promising and like a potential starter down the line, is third string. We still aren’t completely sold that he ends up at cornerback, even though his performance in San Bernardino made us more of believers.

Colin Samuel, Cornerback. He also had a promising fall camp, probably not as good as Holiday’s, but still promising. He, like Holiday, is a big guy, but a little narrower and leaner than Holiday. Samuel probably was behind a bit in his coverage skills and will need to improve to get on the field, but this is not like in year’s past when you weren’t sure a newcomer could play at UCLA. This is a case of a very promising prospect who could be a starter at UCLA but there is some depth in front of him in his true freshman year.

William Lockett, Safety. Lockett was looking like initially he might be the one new defensive back with some questions of whether he could play at this level, but when we really watched him more the last week in San Bernardino we were impressed. He showed some pretty good natural cover skills.

Zach Bateman, Offensive Line. The JUCO transfer struggled in spring and then was buried in fall and never really found some traction. He was working at third-string tackle, and a little bit of guard. Toward the end of camp he started to look more comfortable, and we still think he’d be better suited inside. Even with the OL a bit thin, with Simon Goines’ return uncertain, Bateman will have to really come on to get to the point that offensive line coach Adrian Klemm would have him as a two-deep option.

Josh Woods, Linebacker. He has some considerable promise, with some very good natural athleticism. He came in early for spring but looked really a long ways away physically, and then definitely put on some weight and muscle by San Bernardino. He was still running with the 3s by the time they broke camp, mostly because he’s still a ways away from being physically ready to play.

Andre James, Offensive Line. The four-star prospect, who was expected to be the future right tackle, really struggled in his first few days in camp. But he definitely persevered and you could see him already making strides by the end of San Bernardino. The speed of the game – specifically the speed of UCLA’s pass rushers -- were getting the best of him, but he started to get more technical with his feet and hands. We think if there were a number of injuries, Klemm would probably opt to play someone out of position at tackle than throw James into the fire this year. It will be interesting to see if he remains a tackle.

Tevita Halalilo, Offensive Lineman. He looked potentially like one of the two best freshman OLs, along with Ulu-Perry, in the first few days of camp. His body had gotten particularly better, having leaned down some, and he looked pretty quick for his size. But he still has a body-transformation job to do, and he had a bit of concussive symptoms that kept him out for more than half of San Bernardino. Just from the look we had of the first few days, we’d say he’s a potential starter down the road, but there had to be some considerable injuries for him to see the field this year.

Josh Wariboko, Offensive Lineman. As we’ve said, it’s a real testament to how good UCLA recruiting is now when a really good prospect like Josh Wariboko is among the guys that have very little chance to play as a true freshman. Wariboko improved his body in the last few months before coming to UCLA and that helped him. Like James, he started off slow in San Bernardino but seemed to get his footing more. He was put through some freshman rites-of-passage by some of the veteran OLs, but he looked like he got through those very well.

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