They might not have been on the team last year, but several newcomers appear primed to earn looks beginning next week when UCLA kicks off its fall camp in preparation for the Sept. 3 opener. Here are our top five candidates to make a splash in the weeks to come:
5. LB Mique Juarez
The No. 1-rated outside linebacker in the entire 2016 class, Juarez enrolled early at UCLA but was slowed in spring practice due to a concussion. When he was on the field, though, Juarez showed flashes of being the next big-time linebacker for the Bruins. He’s physical and instinctive, and he’s got the ability to do some nice things in coverage as well.
?There was certainly an adjustment period for Juarez after making the jump from high school, but if the game slows down for him during camp, we could see him being a major contributor for the linebacker corps.
4. DT Nick Terry
The junior college transfer had some very good moments working with the twos this past spring, oftentimes overwhelming the center with his strength and size. Yet, perhaps most notably, it was Terry’s burst that opened some eyes.
The 6-foot-4, 295-pound lineman out of American River Community College showed a quick first step, used his hands remarkably well to shed blocks and got into the backfield quite consistently. UCLA has depth at the position, especially when factoring in the return of Eddie Vanderdoes, but Terry has the skill set to see the field immediately.
3. P Austin Kent
The Bruins were in the lower half of the Pac-12 in several punting categories last season, with only Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State and USC punting more among conference teams. Things were so bad that even receiver Kenny Walker got a turn at punting duties.
With a big need to fill this season, it’s safe to assume that Kent, the No. 12-rated punter in the 2016 class according to Scout, will be given every opportunity to win the job during camp. Per renowned kicking guru Chris Sailer, Kent has “one of the strongest legs in his class and … punts for outstanding hang time and distance.”
2. WR Theo Howard
With the Bruins looking to replace much of their production at the receiver position following the departures of Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte and Devin Fuller, it should be an interesting to see which pass-catchers emerge during camp. Howard, an early enrollee, made some spectacular plays the first few sessions in the spring, showing great burst and elusiveness.
His production tailed off a bit as would be expected for a freshman adjusting to the college game, but Howard certainly proved he can gain separation at this level and has the route running ability to be a weapon. Given all that, we would expect Howard to make an impact right off the bat as he continues to build rhythm with Josh Rosen.
1. K J.J. Molson
Replacing the reigning Lou Groza Award winner might not be as big of a worry for UCLA as it was heading into the spring, and Molson is a major reason for that.
The early enrollee transitioned well in his move from Canada and was very consistent throughout practices, hitting field goals of all lengths and saying he felt comfortable from 60 yards out. We’re expecting Molson to continue that into fall and have the opportunities Ka'imi Fairbairn had as a true freshman in 2012.