UCLA Fall Camp: Ten Things to Watch

Aug. 8 -- We take a look at 10 things to watch next week when UCLA kicks off its fall camp at the Intramural Field on campus...

10. The uncertainties at offensive guard

That’s the biggest question facing the offensive line heading into camp given that much was left unsettled at the conclusion of spring practice. Kenny Lacy is a returning starter, but he was rather inconsistent in the spring and didn’t do much to negate the worries at the position. Najee Toran has a start under his belt and had some good moments in April. Poasi Moala, meanwhile, is entering his fourth year in the program, so it should be interesting to see if he made a leap this summer and if he can provide some relief at guard. Paco Perez is the incoming lineman that has generated the most buzz this offseason, so he could be considered a dark-horse candidate.

9. The group of true freshmen specialists

J.J. Molson has the task of replacing the reigning Lou Groza Award winner, though that void doesn’t appear to be a major concern after what the Canadian place kicker showed in the spring. Molson was very consistent, at one point hitting a dozen field goals in a row, and said he felt comfortable from 60 yards out. He won’t be the only true freshmen specialist, though, as punter Austin Kent and long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker are also slated to earn the bulk of first-team reps in preparation for their roles this season.

J.J. Molson

8. The battle for backup quarterback

Former walk-on Mike Fafaul should head into camp as the clear No. 2 but figures to be pushed by former four-star Devon Modster, who showed off a strong arm in high school. Dymond Lee, who was rated as a four-star wide receiver last year, is listed as a quarterback on the roster, so that’s certainly going to be a situation to monitor throughout. And then there is Matt Lynch, the long and lanky prospect from Colorado who had his share of ups and downs in the spring as would be expected from an early enrollee.

7. The Ishmael Adams experiment

It could be argued that no receiver had a more impressive spring than Adams, the former nickelback whose transition to offense following the season was seamless. Adams has enough deception in his route running that he gains separation quickly and finds a way to get open. The big adjustment for Adams, as Rosen put it, was catching footballs that were intended for him, and if he’s able to be a Devin Fuller-type in this offense, he could be the gamebreaker the Bruins need at the position.

6. The next step for Mique Juarez

A head injury kept the former five-star linebacker out of practices for about half the spring and there were times when he was a bit overwhelmed by the speed of it all, but Juarez oozed potential when he stepped foot on the Intramural Field. Jayon Brown, the team’s leading tackler in 2015, essentially has one of the outside linebacker spots locked down and veteran Cameron Judge heads into camp with a good grasp of the defense, but Juarez has too much talent not to see considerable time this season. We’ll get to see how much the game has slowed down for him and what effect his first summer in a college weight program had.

5. The other Scout 300 prospects

There are a few highly regarded recruits that will be getting their first taste of practice, including Boss Tagaloa, the No. 12-rated defensive tackle in the 2016 class, and Brandon Burton, the No. 13-rated athlete who is listed as a defensive back to kick things off. They arrive on campus after successful high school careers, but with plenty of depth at their respective positions, it’s unclear how much of an impact they’ll make early on. Still, their presence could make for some interesting competitions.

4. The return of Eddie Vanderdoes

Offseason videos have given us an indication that the high-end NFL prospect has been impressive in the weight room during his recovery from last season’s knee injury, and it could be a good sign for the Bruins. Three-year starter Kenny Clark is gone and, with a switch to the 4-3, Vanderdoes should have his share of opportunities to be the key piece in UCLA’s defensive front, which really struggled to get off the field last year.

Eddie Vanderdoes (Steve Cheng, BRO)

3. The rotation at inside linebacker

Kenny Young (18 career starts) and Isaako Savaiinaea (4) alternated throughout the spring at middle linebacker, and each had their good moments. It’s not an entirely terrible situation for assistant coach Scott White to be in with two solid options, but it’s probably best for the defense, — which has changed its base formation — to have continuity and a designated leader heading into the season.

2. The emergence of a sackmaster

Takkarist McKinley is the prime candidate to be UCLA’s top pass rusher this season, but he had only 4 1/2 sacks last year and the Bruins desperately need him and others to put more consistent pressure on quarterbacks this season. Deon Hollins had 2 1/2 sacks last year despite starting 12 games at outside linebacker, while redshirt freshman Keisean Lucier-South showed some flashes of being a ready for a role this past spring.

1. The progression of Josh Rosen

After setting several UCLA true freshman passing records, the nation will be paying attention to see what Rosen does for an encore. The hype was real last year but, with new offensive schematics in place, a new offensive coordinator in Kennedy Polamalu and new starters at key spots, it remains to be seen whether those adjustments affect Rosen’s development. Defenses are usually ahead of offenses the first week of camp, so we’ll be looking for a jump in San Bernardino.

QB Josh Rosen (Photo by Steve Cheng)

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