UCLA Football: Freshmen Expected to Make an Impact
There's no doubt that the UCLA Bruins will have to rely on true freshmen for minutes this upcoming season.
Fortunately for head coach Jim L. Mora, he signed a talented 2012 class—chock-full of guys with great upsides and versatility. Many of the players signed have the ability to play multiple positions, and it allows the staff great flexibility in terms of plugging in freshmen for needed areas.
Here are five freshmen that will see the field this season for the Bruins.
DB Ishmael Adams
Of all the freshmen in this class, Ishmael Adams might have been the most "college ready" when he came to Westwood.
Adams played at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, Ca. His defensive coordinator in high school for a time was famed NFL great Clay Matthews. Other coaches on the staff included former college quarterback Casey Clausen and former NFL receiver Mike Sherrard. Even Adams' track coach was Maurice Greene—a three-time Olympic gold medalist.
The tutelage he picked up from his vastly experienced high school staff surely paid dividends as he transitioned to college. Not only did it prepare Adams for the next level, but it made him a very polished football player.
Aside from his impressive pedigree, he's a very smart and cerebral player. Adams won't get caught out of position often. He's displayed great awareness throughout fall camp, and has displayed a level of maturity beyond his years.
At 5'8", he doesn't possess great size for a corner. However, he makes up for it with his intelligence and physicality. You'll never see Adams back down from anything out on the field despite his less than ideal height.
Expect Adams to be employed as both a nickel back and as a reserve to starting corner back Aaron Hester. He's also versatile enough to play safety in a pinch if need be.
K Ka'imi Fairbairn
Ka'imi Fairbairn might have the most pressure of any incoming freshman, simply for the fact that he's the only scholarship athlete at his position on the team.
The kicker from Hawaii has the chance to secure a starting spot. Thus far in fall camp, reports indicate that he's been pretty solid. In terms of consistency, he's been hitting at a high clip—and has displayed a strong leg.
Fairbairn's competition currently is walk-on Justin Moreno. Ideally, Mora and the staff probably wouldn't want to rely on a freshman kicker—especially since the position is so pressure-packed. However, Fairbairn might ultimately be the best option for the Bruins.
All-Pac-12 punter Jeff Locke is fully capable of place kicking, but it'd behoove the Bruins to have Locke focus solely on punting as opposed to also having the responsibility of kicking field goals.
If Fairbairn falters, Locke might be the route to go.
OT Simon Goines
In a perfect world, offensive tackle Simon Goines would redshirt in order to work on his body and improve on technique. Out of necessity, however, he'll more than likely be forced into action—quite possibly in a starting role.
The Keller, Texas native is massive—literally. The 6'7" 324-pound Goines has all the measurables needed to play early in college from a size standpoint, but his conditioning has to get markedly better.
Goines suffered from heat exhaustion during fall camp—forcing him to miss multiple practices. Missing precious practice time hurt in terms of a development standpoint, but also in terms of tangibly learning the intricacies of the position.
As practice returned to the cooler temperatures of Westwood, Goines has picked up his play and has been performing at a higher rate.
With UCLA's lack of depth and talent on the offensive line, Goines will play this season. If anything, a baptism by fire will help to enhance the learning curve for the raw freshman.
ILB Aaron Porter
The Bruins suffered a tough blow in fall camp, when starting inside linebacker Patrick Larimore was forced to medically retire due to suffering multiple concussions. Couple that with also losing reserve linebacker Isaiah Bowens for the year due to a torn ACL, and depth at the position is woefully thin.
As a result, it's time for freshman Aaron Porter to step up.
The product from La Habra, Calif. has got impressive tools for the position. In terms of size, he's already 6'1", 230 pounds. In high school, he had the penchant of mimicking a heat-seeking missile with his stellar closing speed. Neither aggressiveness nor his effort on the field will be an issue with Porter.
Linebackers coach and former NFL player Jeff Ulbrich has been raving about Porter, and thinks that he's got a bright future as a Bruin.
The staff was forced to move outside linebacker Damien Holmes inside to start alongside Eric Kendricks. But after those two, there aren't a ton of options.
Porter should play a prominent role as a reserve. By not "throwing him to the wolves" at a position with tons of responsibility, Porter will be able to acclimate to the college level while also gaining experience for next year, when he should take over for the graduating Holmes.
Here is Porter speaking about the beginning of fall camp.
WR Kenny Walker
Kenny Walker has the potential to be a big-play, dynamic weapon right off the bat.
Walker has impressed throughout camp with his overall athleticism—namely with his agility and pure speed. He instantly has become one of, if not the fastest member on the entire roster.
For a freshman, the Richmond, Calif. native also is a above-average route runner. He's demonstrated the ability to separate from defenders and find pockets of space in defensive zone coverages. His quickness allows for him to evade defenders, and his top-end speed gives him an advantage—especially out on the perimeter.
Returning receivers Devin Lucien, Jerry Johnson, Shaq Evans and Ricky Marvray are ahead of Walker on the depth chart, but he's unique in his own right.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will utilize Walker on anything from screens, fly sweeps and on patterns which exploit the heart of the field from the slot.
If Walker continues on an upward trajectory, he has a chance to be a special player by the time his college career ends.
Here are some other true freshmen that are expected to play this upcoming season...
DB Randall Goforth
DT Ellis McCarthy
WR Jordan Payton
DB Marcus Rios
TE Ian Taubler
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