Soso Jamabo (Photo by BRO's Steve Cheng)

Overview of UCLA Fall Camp: Offense and Defense

Aug. 23 -- With less than two weeks until the season opener, we take an overview look at each side of the ball as UCLA wrapped up its portion of open practices...

OFFENSE

There were two major question marks for the offense heading into fall camp: Who would emerge as the go-to receiver and what was the state of the offensive line?

Only one of those concerns has been answered through two weeks.

Kenny Lacy and Poasi Moala locked down the starting guard spots, working with the first unit right from the beginning, and they have been steady enough that the line as a whole has showed probably better than anticipated. Conor McDermott and Kolton Miller have been good in pass protection, giving Josh Rosen enough time to scan the field and paving the way for the running backs to reach the second level. Depth continues to be a worry, as was evident when Lacy went down with a knee injury through the midway point in San Bernardino. Redshirt freshman Andre James and walk-on Cristian Garcia are the back-up tackles, while Najee Toran and Josh Wariboko are the twos at guard.

At receiver, veteran Eldridge Massington has failed to separate himself as the primary target, opening the door for the likes of Darren AndrewsKenny Walker and Ishmael Adams to emerge as viable No. 1 options. Massington has been plagued by dropped passes throughout the first two weeks. Andrews has been impressive inside the red zone, getting open at the slot position and making some nice grabs in traffic. Walker continues to be a vertical threat with his speed and has shown much better hands. Adams has been impressive, too, looking fluid as a route runner, getting open early and catching nearly everything thrown his way.

Ishmael Adams (Steve Cheng).

Alex Van DykeTheo HowardJordan Lasley and Mossi Johnson should also factor into the conversation based on what they showed in San Bernardino. Howard bounced back from a sore hamstring to look like the receiver with the most upside.

The tight ends figure to be an important part of the offense, particularly in the run game, and Nate Iese is the clear No. 1 as both a blocker and receiver. Austin Roberts has improved his blocking, looking more physical than he did in the spring, but he's still probably more of a hybrid in this scheme. Walk-on Giovanni Gentosi has gotten considerable snaps working with the second unit and should see playing time this season, while freshmen Jordan Wilson and Caleb Wilson are probably ahead of what many projected and could also be contributors, specifically as pass-catchers.

Running back is probably one of the team's deeper positions, with Soso JamaboNate Starks and Bolu Olorunfunmi all showing why they deserve No. 1 consideration. Jamabo is the starter, looking far more assertive running between the tackles and proving to be a weapon catching passes out of the backfield, but Starks and Olorunfunmi each bring their own rumbling style to the offense that should make this group a productive one no matter who is lining up behind Rosen.

Soso Jamabo (Photo by BRO's Steve Cheng)

Rosen was up and down through the first two weeks, looking like a Heisman Trophy contender one day but then struggling to build rhythm with his receivers the next day. It was very reminiscent of how he looked as a true freshman last year, though this is a new offense and the acclimation process is ongoing, even if the players have shown a grasp of the new concepts, terminology and formations. Mike Fafaul has been sharp, for the most part, and solidified his standing as the backup. Devon Modster and Matt Lynch continue to alternate reps with the threes.

DEFENSE

This side of the ball is far more settled. The defensive line absorbed minor injuries to Takkarist McKinley (groin), Deon Hollins (concussion) and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner (appendicitis) without much drop-off the last few days in San Bernardino, even as Eddie Vanderdoes got some rest.

Matt Dickerson and Rick Wade appear to be interchangeable at one of the defensive end spots, and Keisean Lucier-South showed flashes of potential as a situational pass-rusher in this defensive scheme. On the interior, Eli Ankou and Nick Terry bring size and strength to occupy gaps, while true freshman Boss Tagaloa will most certainly contribute and got some work with the ones.

At linebacker, the continued competition between Kenny Young and Isaako Savaiinaea for the mike spot has not been decided. Young has looked better than he did in the spring, particularly in showing more decisiveness on run plays, and Savaiinaea has also fared well during his time with the ones. The ongoing excused absence of prized freshman Mique Juarez, who had been lining up with the second unit, was the other headliner.

Kenny Young & Jayon Brown

Jayon Brown continues to make impact plays, getting into the backfield in some blitz packages and also covering well down field. The other starting outside linebacker, Cameron Judge, has made major strides, according to head coach Jim Mora, and Josh Woods continues to show tremendous potential in various facets. That's a solid contributing core already, but a lot is expected of true freshman middle linebacker Lokeni Toailoa, too, given the maturity he has demonstrated since spring.

One thing to continue monitoring is the move of Dechaun Holiday to outside linebacker from safety. He looked capable at that spot the last three practices in San Bernardino.

A major reason for the position change was the outstanding depth in the secondary. Fabian Moreau is back at full strength and has shown the potential to be an All-Pac-12 selection, making it difficult on whatever receiver lined up on his side. Nathan Meadors has been the other starting cornerback, but he's being pushed by seniors Marcus Rios and Johnny Johnson.

Jaleel Wadood interception (Steve Cheng).

At safety, Jaleel Wadood and Randall Goforth have fared well playing alongside each other again. Tahaan Goodman holds a spot next to Wadood in the nickel package when Goforth moves down closer to the line of scrimmage. William Lockett and Octavius Spencer have also had really good moments, while true freshman Brandon Burton probably leads the team in forced turnovers this camp and figures to have a role on special teams.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The true freshmen specialist trio of J.J. MolsonAustin Kent and Johnny Den Bleyker has been good, though Mora said he'd like to wait until the season at least to start grading them out.

J.J. Molson

Molson has shown consistency from moderate distance and probably has the leg to be good from about 55 yards. Kent should be an improvement from last year's punting woes, as he gets good hang time and distance. Walk-on place kicker Andrew Strauch has been solid, too, and could factor into kickoffs.

There haven't been any live returns the first two weeks, but Adams could be considered the top option on both kickoffs and punts.


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