Ten Things to Track at UCLA Spring Practice

Apr. 3 -- From the return of star quarterback Josh Rosen to the potential impact of newcomer Jaelan Phillips, there are plenty of intriguing storylines to track once UCLA kicks off its 2017 spring practice schedule Tuesday...

• Tuesday morning could very well mark the start of the end of the Josh Rosen era at UCLA. By all indications, the junior quarterback has recovered fully from his right shoulder surgery and appeared to be in good physical shape when spotted at pro day recently. This spring is another important one for Rosen, who again is tasked with adjusting to a new offensive coordinator, and it could catapult him toward what many have assumed to be his final season in Westwood.  In addition to the condition of the shoulder and the rust, a big question will be how quickly Rosen picks up the offense (his third in three seasons) of new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. 

• The Bruins picked up a big transfer in former Michigan tight end Devin Asiasi this offseason and we should get our first look at the former four-star prospect this spring, even though it doesn't appear that he'll be eligible for the upcoming season. The Concord (Calif.) De La Salle product will be reunited with former high school teammate Boss Tagaloa and we've heard the 6-foot-4, 280-pound Asiasi might eventually get a look on the defensive side of the ball, too. For the time being, though, it should be interesting to see how he factors into the competition at tight end for 2018.

Boss Tagaloa and Devin Asiasi on their official visits with Angus McClure

• Special teams were a constant unknown in 2016, with place kickers J.J. Molson and Andrew Strauch alternating seemingly every week and punter Austin Kent struggling to hang onto his starting job. Those duties will probably be up for grabs through the spring and heading into fall camp, but how reps are dispersed should offer a good glimpse at which way the staff is leaning.

• With the arrival of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, UCLA will be transitioning to a new scheme again this spring and that in itself might be the most intriguing topic heading into Tuesday. Some recruits that recently visited campus have told us that the Bruins plan to air it out under Fisch, while others have said that they expect UCLA to continue the course it embarked on under Kennedy Polamalu, which featured a run-game emphasis, so that's undoubtedly something we'll be keeping an eye on. Every person involved in football coaching circles we spoke with have said they consider Fisch a great offensive mind and that he'll do well at UCLA.  This spring practice provides our first evidence of that. 

• On that same wavelength, there are three new position coaches on the offensive side of the ball in Jimmie Dougherty (receivers), DeShaun Foster (running backs) and Hank Fraley (line). What will they do differently than their predecessors? Fraley might be faced with the most difficult situation given the inefficiency of the offensive line last season, but Dougherty and Foster also have plenty to discuss with their respective positions.

• Reporters aren't allowed to watch practices during the season so we haven't seen some players in action since last summer. Have quarterbacks Devon Modster and Matt Lynch taken strides in their development? How are they doing learning Fisch's new offense? Enrolling this spring in time for practice is 2017 quarterback Austin Burton, and it will be interesting to see how he stacks up against the other quarterbacks on the roster.

Can the likes of Adewale OmotoshoDemetric FeltonDamian Alloway and Dymond Lee crack the rotation at receiver? Will Paco Perez or Mike Alves be able to push any of the veterans at offensive guard? Where are Breland Brandt and Jake Burton in their developments.  Brandt could very well make a transition to defensive end this spring, and Burton has already moved to offensive line.  

• On the topic of last year's redshirts, it's safe to say Mique Juarez is the player that will draw the most attention this spring after his excused absence from the program last season. We've heard the former five-star linebacker has work to do to get back into football shape, but that's what the next month is for. He does naturally have a pretty big body, and it will be interesting to watch if that dictates a move to defensive line or not.  

• We'll also get our first look at early enrollee Jaelan Phillips, the No. 1 defensive end in the 2018 class out of Redlands (Calif.) East Valley. Phillips dominated at the high school level and even overwhelmed elite competition at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but there is always an adjustment to the college game and Phillips will get a taste of that beginning Tuesday, when we'll begin to see if the Bruins have a capable replacement for projected first-rounder Takkarist McKinley.  We know he's already up to 270, very solid pounds. 

Jaelan Phillips (Photo by Steve Cheng)

• The other five-star early entrant, Darnay Holmes, is not to be overlooked and should factor into the competition at cornerback from Day 1. Assistant coach Demetrice Martin has a void to fill following the graduation of Fabian Moreau and Holmes is unquestionably the highest-rated defensive back to arrive at UCLA in quite a while, so he's certainly a favorite to line up opposite of Nathan Meadors in the secondary. Holmes could also get a shot as a returner on special teams and might be worthy of a package at receiver, as head coach Jim Mora indicated during his signing day press conference.

• Last year was last year and several key contributors are gone, but how will the team bounce back following the worst season under Mora? Aside from tracking Rosen's return to the field, the changes with the offensive coaches and the potential impact of some new faces, it should be interesting to monitor the team's overall attitude coming off a 4-8 showing, and to watch for which players step into new leadership roles.


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