The two big headliners from the DL group going into this event were going to be defensive end Jeremiah Martin and Elijah Wade, arguably UCLA's top two targets at the position. But both dropped out and didn't participate.
We tend to start these reviews of The Openings with the “revelation” of the camp, and if there was one it was 2019 defensive tackle prospect Jacob Bandes, whom UCLA offered just last week. It was a briliant bit of evaluation to recognize Bandes was a guy to offer early since he was the best defensive tackle in the camp, and by a big margin. Physically he looks great for a current sophomore, probably about 275 but with a baby face and a body that looks young. He looked quick in the drills, but then really delivered on it in the one-on-ones. He started out in the unofficial second group, made up of lower-tier 2018 and underclassmen, and he just blew threw every offensive lineman with ease. His first step is very quick and he has some advanced use of his hands that was too much for OLs his own age. So he graduated to the elite group, and he immediately did the same damage there, to many oohs and ahhs. He moved all the way up the rank to the best 10 and then the final five, where he finally met his match in the west's No. 1 offensive lineman, Penei Sewell, who stymied Bandes for the first time on the day. The quick swim moves and such didn't work on Sewell, so a coach told Bandes to just go straight at Sewell, which is a considerable task since Sewell is a rather large human being at 6-6 and 330-ish. But Bandes pushed back Sewell, and then exploded through him, for what we thought was the only rep in which Sewell was beat all day.
When it comes to Bandes' recruiting, as we said, UCLA offered him last week, and we heard a buzz around the camp that UCLA is his dream school and he came very close to committing last week. He resisted doing it, realizing that it was very early on in his recruitment. UCLA, Utah and Oregon State were his only Pac-12 offers up to this point, and you can now expect the entire Pac-12 and national programs to jump in after his performance Sunday.
Niti Liu has an offer from UCLA, so we were really looking forward to seeing him for the first time. It was a mixed performance, however, with Liu having some strong moments and then others that left us doubting a bit. He is good-sized, at about 6-3 and 305, as advertised. His frame might be a little narrow to be a pure nose, and he had short-tish arms. In the drills, he wasn't overly aggressive, and one of the Nike coaches said to him, "You don't even know how big and strong you are yet." He looked mechanical coming off the line, not with natural explosion. In the one-on-ones, he worked with the second group, mostly unnoticed and didn't really have a rep of particular note. But then, as the session wore on, he started to get a little more comfortable and played more instinctively. After he won a few reps, they moved him to the first group, and he was among the top 10 of the day. In the elite competition he showed much better agility, but still moved a bit awkwardly. Take into consideration, though, that he hasn't had too much technical coaching so far in his football career, and he's just at the beginning of his learning curve. From what we've heard, the plan will be to have Liu participate in the UCLA camp, so he can work with DL coach Angus McClure, to determine if it's just a lack of coaching and technique limiting him, and that will go a long way as to the future of UCLA and Liu.
McClure was in NorCal all last week, and offered Manoa on Friday. We then thought he wasn't coming to the Opening on Sunday, and didn't see him initially, but he snuck in with a random number and no name on his jersey, so we didn't get to see him as much as we'd like. He is definitely pretty tall, at a legit 6-4, and looks lean, but we're told he's 290 pounds. He looks young, too, and it's a good bet he has a good deal of physical development ahead of him. In the few reps we saw of him, he looked athletic, while still needing to add some strength. He probably projects as a three-technique rather than a nose. We've heard that, with the UCLA offer, the Bruins are on his short list.
Andy Koch was one of the most intriguing prospects we saw all day. He's probably 6-6 and 250ish and athletic. He ran a 4.2 shuttle, which is very fast for a defensive end and a player his size. He looked good as a defensive end, but we really noticed him in the DL drills when he had to mimic an offensive tackle for his DL partner. Koch is very long, with very long legs and arms, and when he took a step on the edge and then extended his arm into the chest of the rushing DE, he had moved the DE really far outside. It was very impressive, and after watching him a bit more it looked like he was a more natural offensive tackle than anything else. At 250-ish he still looks pretty skinny, but with a good frame, so it's probably not that big of a stretch to think he could get up to 290ish in a college training table/weightlifting program. He has some Pac-12 offers, like from Arizona, Colorado and Oregon State, and we heard that Stanford was sniffing around, since he has very good academics. This is absolutely a guy UCLA needs to get to its camp in June, and have him work with the DEs and OTs.
The No. 1 defensive end in Hawaii didn't have a bad day, but, say, compared to Koch physically, looked like he was a lower-level of prospect -- a mid-major.
Emmsley won the DL MVP, and it was a bit of a curios pick, given the day Bandes had. Emmsley is 6-4 and probably 215, and pretty thin, with a narrow frame, but he showed some very good explosion off the ball. He had an Oregon State offer and we can see his performance Sunday garnering more.
UCLA-committed Isaiah Johnson was the guy we were most looking forward to watching. He measured and tested, 6-2.5 and 205 pounds and did a 35.7-inch vertical, but then re-injured a hamstring and didn't participate after that.
USC commit De'Gabriel Floyd won the linebacker MVP, and BYU commit Brandon Kaho got his ticket punched to The Opening Finals. Perhaps it's our homerism but we thought top UCLA linebacker target Eli'jah Winston was the best all-around linebacker prospect Sunday. He has very good size at 6-2 and 230, and isn't limited to the Sam because he showed a very nice ability in coverage. He was the most consistent throughout the day, not really getting burned, from what we saw, and making play after play.
Kaho was legit, though. He had a great Sparq score, which combines your testing. He looks all of 6-2 and 230, and ran very well. There were a couple of reps in which he got beaten, but still all the tools are there. He's supposed to go on his Mormon mission out of high school, so if he signs with BYU in February it will be null and void when he returns from the mission, and we know UCLA is recruiting him with that in mind.
Salua Masina is always among the best linebackers in any camp, and he was here. He got burned a couple of times in the one-on-ones, but he still shows natural agility for a guy 6-4. We don't think UCLA is recruiting him that hard at this point, with the feeling being he'll stay in-state.
Mauga has an offer from Cal and Washington State, and others, and he performed Sunday like it was deserved, appearing quick and instinctual. He showed great aggresiveness and competitiveness, a leader type and showed good cover skills -- and able to play inside or out. We wouldn't be adverse to UCLA recruiting him seriously.
If you're talking potential linebacker sleeper, Bemiy is the guy. He's a good 6-4, maybe 6-4.5 and 215-ish, and very long. He's practically unknown because he transferred from Montreal, Canada, into a fairly unknown school in Riverside, Carnegie, last August. Then last season, because of injuries and suspensions to his team, he put most of his time into running back, where he ran for over 2,000 yards. Yeah, that's a 6-4.5-foot running back. At The Opening, working out at linebacker, he looked like one of those bigger athletic freak types, showing very good athletic range in dropping into coverage and the ability to use his length in disrupting passes. He went up high to tip a number of passes, and tipped one to himself for an interception. He doesn't have an offer and has only beencontacted by Wyoming and Hawaii so far, and told us he has very good academics (with Carnegie being a private school). He has plans to camp at UCLA in June.
In a camp with a good amount of safety talent, UCLA-committed safety Stephan Blaylock was the consensus best among scouts, and among the Nike coaches, who invited him to The Opening Finals. Blaylock is very quick in drills, moving very easily forward and being able to turn and run with balance. What really stood out Sunday was his ability to close on the ball. There were times you thought he just didn't have a chance to make a play on the ball but did so easily. This is one of the best gets of UCLA's 2018 recruiting class.
McKenzie lack energy for a good portion of the camp, and it's understandable since it was long and hot. But in the one-on-ones at the end of camp, he really stepped up. He was among the best handful of cover guys, being able to stay with his man and step in front of many passes. And he kept taking reps; while other campers looked beat, he would push himself to the front of the line. He has a well-built body, and is probably 6-0 and 185, with some thickness in his lower half.
Two UCLA targets that have committed to Oregon, Steve Stephens and Jevon Holland, both had very good days. Stephens has been one of our favorites all spring, with a toughness to his game and in coverage. Holland looked very mobile for being 6-1 and covered a good amount of ground. Another former UCLA target and Nebraska commit, Chase Williams, was all-around the ball and very physical. Those three, along with Blaylock, were the best among the DBs.
A guy to watch is Ryan Nixon, the 6-3 safety prospect from Long Beach Poly. He was among the top 10 DBs participating, showing some considerable quickness for his size and then an ability to smother receivers before and after the ball arrived. UCLA hasn't recruited him, and the Bruins are pretty stocked at safety, but Nixon is someone to watch.