Johnathan Franklin is the most important member of the team leaving
Although the UCLA Bruins still have a bowl game to play in, it's never early enough to take a look at next year.
While most of a young roster will return, there are a few areas that need to be shored up from a personnel standpoint. Although the amount of production will most likely not be replicated, UCLA will have to find a way to replace the school's all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin.
In addition, the Bruins lose multiple seniors from the back end of the defense, as well as a dangerous receiving threat.
Let's take a look at six holes that need to be filled for 2013.
Throughout his career, it's safe to say that Jeff Locke had been one of the best football players on UCLA's roster. It's even more apropos to say that Locke has been a model of consistency.
The punter from Glendale, Ariz. has a career punting average of 44.58 yards—ranking him second all-time in UCLA history. Not only is he excellent on the field, but he's also a well-rounded athlete off the gridiron.
At the end of the year awards banquet, Locke was named as the Kenneth S. Washington Award winner for Outstanding Senior of the Year on special teams, the Paul I. Wellman Memorial Award winner for All-Around Excellence, and the Jack R. Robinson Award for the Senior with the Highest Scholarship.
Locke was also a captain on the team this year. It's not exactly common to see that, so one can see how highly thought of Locke is.
Tasked with replacing the All Pac-12 performer will be incoming freshman (and fellow lefty) Sean Covington. The St. Petersburg, Fla. product is a talented player in his own right. ESPN has Covington ranked as the second best punter in the nation and Covington was selected to participate in the Under Armour All-American Game.
Locke's ability to flip field position and pin the opponents deep in their own territory is what makes him special. He routinely places punts inside the 20, and is a sure fire NFL prospect.
It's crucial that Covington come in as a freshman and assume Locke's role as the starting punter. While no one expects Covington to instantly be an all-conference performer, he'll have to show some of the same consistency that Locke has displayed throughout his career.
Andrew Abbott will be graduating
UCLA will lose three starters in the secondary to graduation. Perhaps the smartest and most intuitive member leaving is safety Andrew Abbott.
The former walk-on from Mater Dei High School has overcome all odds, and has turned into a solid football player. At only 5'8", he's both undersized and somewhat slow for a starting safety in a major conference.
However, he more than makes up for his deficiencies with a hard-nosed, cerebral disposition on the football field. Abbott is excellent at diagnosing plays and making the requisite play. He's one of the better tacklers on the team, and is an emotional leader on the football team.
It should be a wide open competition to fill Abbott's spot in the secondary alongside returning safety Tevin McDonald. Current freshman Randall Goforth has the ability to play both corner and safety, so he could get the first look at safety.
Baca (60) going up for a high five with Devin Fuller
Offensive guard Jeff Baca has been a true jack-of-all-trades throughout his career.
With 46 career starts, Baca has played every single position on the offensive line at one point. For a unit that's been categorized as a mess over the past few seasons, he's been the one stabilizing force.
Along with Baca, UCLA started three freshmen and a sophomore on the offensive line this season. The senior from Mission Viejo, Calif. was the elder statesman on the line, and provided mass amounts of leadership for the young unit.
The Bruins don't have a ton of depth on the offensive line. Junior college transfer Alexandru Ceachir should figure in the mix at Baca's vacant position—as should Alberto Cid and potentially Greg Capella.
One incoming freshman to watch for is Caleb Benenoch. At 6'6" 320-pounds, the Katy, Tex. native already has the requisite size needed to play right away. The staff has no qualms about starting freshmen, so Benenoch could be the option at right guard once he enrolls.
Aaron Hester will be moving on to the NFL
UCLA will lose a pair of 4-year starters at cornerback in Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester.
Both Price and Hester have been somewhat maligned throughout their careers. Hester has been victimized by untimely penalties (usually of the pass interference variety), and Price's slight frame has hurt him both from a physicality and tackling standpoint.
Despite any deficiencies brought to the table by both, it's never easy to replace two tenured starters at an important position.
The Bruins will be trotting out players next season that are talented, but green from an experience standpoint. As mentioned in the previous slide, Randall Goforth has the ability to play corner. Ultimately, it will probably depend upon the development of other players at the position, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Goforth at corner.
Current freshman Marcus Rios has loads of potential, and in limited time this season looked decent. He did enroll early last season, so he may have a leg up on fellow second members Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau. Rios has long arms and good speed, so he could be someone who takes the reigns of a starting spot sooner rather than later.
Adams was a highly recruited athlete, but suffered a season ending shoulder surgery early on in the season. He is now healthy, and could factor into things. His overall intelligence and physicality makes him an intriguing option.
An interesting angle in regards to this position is via recruiting. Priest Willis is someone versatile enough to play both corner and safety. Should he choose the Bruins, he'll instantly be in the hunt for early play time. In addition, UCLA is heavily targeting Johnny Johnson and Patrick Enewally.
Other players that could be in the mix include Anthony Jefferson, Brandon Sermons, and Justin Combs.
This should be the most fascinating position battle in the spring and fall. It's conceivable that UCLA could have two true freshmen manning the corner spot. Regardless of what transpires, it's pretty apparent that the Bruins will start two cornerbacks with little or no experience.
Fauria is leaving a huge void to fill
The loss of Joe Fauria to graduation will leave the Bruins with a big hole in the receiving line—both from a figurative and literal sense.
At 6'7", he's been a nightmare match-up for opposing teams. He has finished second on the team in receptions for the past two seasons. Of his 41 catches this season, almost a third were touchdown grabs.
It'd be foolish to assume that Fauria's replacement at the "Y" position would come close to matching that level of production.
The important returners at the Y position are far from proven commodities. Former quarterback Darius Bell has had some solid moments, but he's very undersized for the position. Ian Taubler has performed well as a true freshman, but he's been almost exclusively a blocking tight end up to this point.
With options not exactly plentiful, some incoming freshmen could vie for playing time.
Of the current commitments, Utah product Ammon Barker is slated to play the Y position. He's a somewhat raw player, so a redshirt year is likely needed. UCLA is heavily recruiting a trio of tight ends in Thomas Duarte, Darryl Richardson, and Danny Mattingly.
Of the three, Duarte seems like the one that could play right away.
*One player to watch is freshman Nate Iese. The 6'4" 240-pound outside linebacker/defensive end has been practicing lately at tight end, and a permanent switch could be in the cards. Iese has outstanding athleticism, and could be a difference maker on the offensive side of the ball.
Franklin's production surely won't be replicated
The one player that UCLA will have a very difficult time at replacing is Johnathan Franklin. Quite frankly, he is the heart and soul of this team.
From a statistical standpoint, Franklin has rushed for 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season. He's also accrued 319 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the air. Due to a stellar senior season, the Second Team All-American became UCLA's all-time leading rusher.
There's no question that Franklin's production on the field will be missed. He's been the workhorse this season, and undoubtedly is a huge reason as to why UCLA's had a successful season up to this point.
His impact off the field could be just as important. When watching Franklin speak, it's quite apparent how charismatic he is. Although not cocky by any stretch, his confidence radiates throughout the team. He's not only a motivator, but is also a leader, and the captain of the team.
That aspect could ultimately prove to be the hardest to replace with Franklin's departure.
From a personnel standpoint, the team could choose to employ a running back by committee initially, until one back can break away from the pack and take a hold of the starting spot.
Damien Thigpen would have been the natural choice to take over for Franklin, but Thigpen suffered a torn ACL against Southern Cal. It's not known when he will be fully healthy.
Jordon James has looked decent in spurts, but the Corona, Calif. native seems too tentative when running the football. It remains to be seen whether he can develop into an every down back, or whether he'll be used in a complementary manner.
With that in mind, the two possible X-factors come in the form of current freshman Paul Perkins and incoming freshman Craig Lee.
Perkins has impressed during practice, and brings a physical nature to the position. He runs with good balance, and has a good burst as well.
Lee is a talented 4-star prospect with offers from all over the country. He has great top end speed, and isn't afraid of running through contact.
Steven Manfro is another option at the position, and UCLA is also heavily pursuing 4-star running back Terrell Newby.