This year, we're going to have to do things a bit differently on the Scout Team review. Unfortunately, we didn't have the access to practice this season that we've been afforded in years past, with practices being closed for the vast majority of the year, which inhibited our ability to evaluate the younger players. What's more, when practices were opened up to the media at a couple of points, it was difficult to gauge much, given that UCLA has also opted to not have numbers on practice jerseys anymore.
So, it's just not really possible to do a complete evaluation of every guy on the Scout team this year -- we simply didn't see enough.
Now, that said, we did see some practice, and we have heard enough from throughout the program to have an idea which of the younger guys could be expected to make a big impact going forward. This isn't going to be a comprehensive list, though -- if we didn't see much of a guy after fall camp, and we didn't hear a whole lot about them, then there isn't a whole lot we can add here. Without further ado...
Freshman OL Tevita Halalilo
Halalilo likely would have been starting at some point this year if he hadn't broken his leg, given some of the struggles UCLA had at times at guard (and given what happened leading up to the bowl game, Halalilo almost certainly would have started that game). He reformed his body in a big way going into fall camp, and then continued to get in better shape heading into his first playing time against UNLV. He broke his leg, obviously, and has been out since, and it remains to be seen if he'll be ready for the start of spring ball. Assuming he does make a full recovery, which we'd expect, the future is bright for him, especially with UCLA looking to move toward more of a road-grading, pro-style offense.
This year: Two-Deep at guard
Long term: Two or Three-year starter
Freshman OLB/DE Keisean Lucier-South
Things started to really click for Lucier-South over the final weeks of camp before the start of the season. His first step off the edge made him really difficult to block, and, from what we've gathered, as he got stronger throughout the year that became even more the case. Getting bigger is still probably the priority here. By the end of the season, he looked like he might have been in the 225 to 230 pound range, but it's always been a bit difficult to tell with him, since he has a long, skinny frame. With UCLA potentially shifting to a 4-3, it's going to be interesting to see how UCLA gets Lucier-South on the field, because his pass rush skills could be a real asset. He probably needs to get a little bit bigger to be more than a situational player as a 4-3 end, but linebacker could be a tougher fit in a 4-3 because of the coverage assignments. He did look better moving in space through fall camp than he had in high school, though, so with added improvement, sticking at a true outside linebacker position might perhaps be an option.
This year: Designated pass rusher/two-deep
Long-term: Potential starter
Freshman DB Octavius Spencer
Spencer didn't redshirt, but he played mostly on special teams, so it might have been hard to notice him. Every review we've heard about Spencer from within the program has been pretty glowing, and the thinking is that he could factor into the mix at safety as early as this year. Like Nathan Meadors, he has some versatility, with the ability to play both safety and corner. We actually liked both of them about the same in fall camp, and they're turning out to be pretty similar players with similar ability to make an impact at multiple positions. The safety depth is still a little stacked for next year, but there'll be some openings over the next couple of years for a player of Spencer's versatility to break in.
This year: Two-deep at safety/nickel
Long-term: Potential Starter
Freshman OL Andre James
James began to get comfortable toward the end of fall camp, and from what we've heard, he had a really good year on the Scout team. He has some versatility, with the ability to play both guard and tackle. Improving his overall strength was the biggest key, and he made some strides on that during the season, and should continue to make major gains in the offseason conditioning program. He'll likely be one of the first guys off the bench this year, backing up at guard and tackle.
This year: Two-Deep
Long term: Two- or Three-year starter
Junior OL Scott Quessenberry
Quessenberry was out the entire year recovering from his two shoulder surgeries, but we heard enough positive stuff about his recovery and how good he looked while in the late stages of recovery that it's worth mentioning here. One opinion we heard is that he looked stronger by the very end of this season than he did before the surgeries, even though he wasn't able to fully practice yet. He'll slide in at center to start out spring ball, and it's a good bet that he'll almost certainly start at either center or guard this season.
This year: Starter
Freshman DL Rick Wade
Wade was already one of the most impressive freshmen we saw during fall camp, coming in at a rocked out 255 or so pounds rather than the 230 we were expecting him to be. Physically, he looks like he's on the perfect path to be one of those Stanford-esque defensive linemen, with the potential to get up to 270 pounds or so without much fat. There's some buzz that he might get a look at tight end in the spring, but we'd really like to see his future remain at defensive end, where he could have a major impact going forward.
This year: Two-deep DE
Long-term: Starting DE
Freshman DB Colin Samuel
Samuel is really interesting, because he was kind of a late bloomer in high school, so he wasn't as heavily recruited as some of the other top names in his class. From what we've heard, he made some big strides during the year, and could be a really positive surprise next year. His biggest issue in fall camp was just that he was still quite raw in terms of technique and understanding the position, but he brought nice physicality and athleticism to the position. If he has made real strides in terms of his feel for the position, he could make an impact this coming year.
This year: Contributing CB
Long-term: Potential starter
Freshman DB Dechaun Holiday
We didn't hear as much about Holiday's development during the season, but what we've heard since has been pretty positive. He has the size and athleticism to be a very good safety, and given Jim Mora's expressed desire to get bigger on defense, Holiday, at 215 pounds or so, could slide into one of those safety spots and fill that increased size requirement overnight. Heck, Holiday was even playing corner pretty well when we saw him during fall camp, even though he was bigger than many of the receivers he was covering, so he has some considerable athleticism. We'd still love to see him get a shot on offense at some point, even in just a situational way, but, especially given the emphasis on getting bigger on defense, his future is probably brightest on the defensive side of the ball.
This year: Contributing DB
Long term: Starting safety
ASSORTED NOTES ON REMAINING FRESHMEN/SCOUT TEAM PLAYERS
***From what we've gathered, the redshirt years for William Lockett and Josh Wariboko were both pretty key. Lockett really needed the year to get used to the speed of the game and the different demands of playing defensive back in college, while Wariboko needed the year to get stronger.
***With Zach Bateman, there's some feeling that it set him back a little bit when he arrived in spring and had to learn to play guard pretty much immediately while also not having Adrian Klemm available. Now, it's probably a matter of him regaining confidence, but he'll likely slide into the two-deep at tackle this spring and the hope is that he'll sieze the opportunity.
***The three redshirt freshman receivers, Jordan Lasley, Aaron Sharp, and Austin Roberts, and sophomore Alex Van Dyke, are all in varying degrees of readiness. Van Dyke's biggest issue is probably still just adding strength to his frame. Lasley, from what we saw of him this year, still has some work to do on the mental side of the game, but he was starting to come on toward the end of the year. Roberts, a year removed from the ACL tear, looked pretty solid in fall camp, and the hope is that he's completely back to pre-tear levels this spring, as he might need to move to outside receiver in a new-look offense. Sharp is still learning to play receiver, so it's been a process for him. Having at least one of those guys emerge as a legitimate contender for a starting spot this spring is key.
***Cameron Griffin is still figuring things out mentally. There's considerable potential there athletically, but you have to keep in mind that he didn't play high level high school football and also had a shoulder injury that set him back through his first year. Offseason development could be key for him to crack the two-deep this year.
***Josh Woods only played a couple dozen snaps before getting hurt, but we've heard great things about his potential. It's still uncertain whether he'll get the year back because he was injured so late in the year, even though it was his only playing time all season.