Receiver Rotation Solidifying?
After watching three weeks of spring ball, we feel pretty confident about a rotation that includes Kenny Walker, Darren Andrews, Alex Van Dyke, Ishmael Adams, and Theo Howard. Eldridge Massington has actually worked with the ones pretty consistently in spring, but we'd like to see a little bit more from him over the next week and into fall camp, because based on what we've seen, Van Dyke, Walker, and Howard have all shown a bit more playmaking ability at the outside receiver spot. Massington is a good blocker, so that probably plays into his pronounced role, but it'd be good to see him continue to gel in the passing game.
Between Walker, Andrews, Adams, and Howard, though, UCLA has a good deal of speed and playmaking ability. Adams has been a great playmaker in camp, and Andrews has been the most consistent receiver in the bunch. Walker has gotten open with consistency and his hands look slightly improved, though there are still some drops. Howard has also made at least one big play per day, and looks like he should factor in significantly this year. After years of clamoring for shifty, speedy playmakers, UCLA finally has a solid handful that should give Josh Rosen plenty to work with.
Defensive Backfield Still An Open Question
There have just been too many nicks and bruises through spring ball to have a really clear idea of who is going to start in the defensive backfield. We feel pretty confident that Jaleel Wadood is going to start somewhere, but that's about it. UCLA likes Randall Goforth quite a bit, but we haven't seen him get completely comfortable at corner yet. That could come over the next week and into fall camp, though. Nathan Meadors has also shown nice ability at the other corner spot, but with Fabian Moreau likely returning for fall camp and Marcus Rios coming back as well, he'll get pushed for the starting job.
Actually, if there's one other player we're semi-confident in, it'd be the other safety, Tahaan Goodman. Goodman has looked confident and strong, especially against the run, and has put together a very nice camp. Obviously, he could be pushed by Adarius Pickett, who has also had a nice camp, but we like what we've seen from Goodman so far in camp. William Lockett could also be a darkhorse there, because he's had a very, very good spring camp.
So, at safety, UCLA has some very good options. Corner is still a bit more up in the air, but if Rios and Moreau are completely healthy for San Bernardino, and Meadors continues to improve, the Bruins should have a nice rotation to work with.
Interior Offensive Line Improving
We're still a long way away from the offensive line getting to the level it was last year, but we've seen some positive signs over the last week. Scott Quessenberry has shaken off more of the rust from sitting out last year and has looked much more comfortable over the last week, with fewer snap issues. Najee Toran has looked better in pass protection over the last week, though that's still a work in progress, but he continues to be a pretty good run blocker, especially when you factor in that he's still a bit undersized for guard.
The other guard spot looks like more of a question mark to our eyes. Poasi Moala also still looks a little bit light, and it'd be good to pair Toran with a bigger guard, especially if this offense is going to try to be a bit more downhill. Kenny Lacy has been pretty consistently with the twos, and he hasn't been great this spring, but that looks like a competition that might carry into fall camp. It's a real shame that Tevita Halalilo went down with another ankle injury, because he could have provided that bigger, more powerful guard that UCLA could really use. Perhaps he is ready for fall camp, but we're not optimistic.
As it stands, of course, UCLA could also have Jake Raulerson come in, clearly win the starting center spot, and have Quessenberry move to guard. That would solve a lot of problems, but with Halalilo's injury, it has become more imperative to have that happen.
Significant Position Battles Remaining
-- Mike Linebacker
Kenny Young and Isaako Savaiinaea have alternated with the ones for most of spring ball, and that's not really showing any signs of changing soon. The coaches have said they don't mind if that competition stretches deep into fall camp. Given what we've seen just in spring camp, we can see why it's so close. Young has had a very nice spring, while Savaiinaea has continued his solid play from the season. Of course, when we factor in play on the field last season, the scale, in our eyes, tips in favor of Savaiinaea. This might be the most critical remaining position battle on the team, given how important the middle linebacker is to the defense, and we're excited to watch these two continue to compete in San Bernardino.
-- Backup Quarterback
UCLA will have an interesting competition on its hands come fall camp. Mike Fafaul is the redshirt senior who has impressed us, for a walkon, the last few years. He hasn't had his best spring camp, and his arm looks like it might have lost a bit of juice over the last week especially, which could just be a little bit of fatigue. In any case, during that same period Matt Lynch, the true freshman, has improved quite a bit. He looks more comfortable, and even his throwing motion, after working with Marques Tuiasosopo, looks a bit more natural, allowing him to throw with a little more power. We thought he was a definite redshirt candidate, and he might still be, but he's made some nice progress this spring.
-- Starting Running Back
This is in the category of "good problems to have." UCLA has three running backs who look like credible Pac-12 level starters in Sotonye Jamabo, Bolu Olorunfunmi, and Nate Starks and we would be absolutely comfortable with any of the three shouldering the load this year. We were a little skeptical about Jamabo last year because his running style seemed a little too finesse, but his play this spring has certainly proved us wrong. He's run with a good deal more powerful and looks much more decisive.
That said, Olorunfunmi might be our favorite from spring. He's improved his quickness from a year ago and has also learned how to not take such huge hits, like he was prone to doing last year. His vision looks improved, and he still shows the same surprising burst for a guy his size. Starks has been very good as well, and he is probably the most Paul Perkins-like in the bunch, so there are some very good options.
At this point, we think Jamabo might have pole position, but this will be very fun to watch in fall camp.
-- SAM Linebacker
This has largely been a product of UCLA being down a few key bodies. Cameron Judge has had a nice spring for sure, but it's hard to know if he's completely locked down the job when much of his potential competition (Mique Juarez, Josh Woods, and Breland Brandt) has been out for most of spring. Woods and Brandt could also fit on the weakside behind Jayon Brown, but we'd have to imagine they'll compete with Judge for time at the strong side as well. In any case, we're excited to see all of them competing in August when they're all healthy again.