It's never a given that prospects entering college can come in and make an impact right off the bat—let alone start as a true freshman. Established programs have the luxury to redshirt the majority of an incoming recruiting class. That is done in order to help with the physical development of the athletes, and also in regards to the mental aspects of college football.
UCLA is in the midst of a rebuilding phase. As a result, the Bruins don't necessarily have the benefit of redshirting uber-talented recruits.
The Bruins have no qualms about playing freshmen. This past season alone, over a dozen freshmen saw play time—including a spell in which six freshmen started at one point. The Bruins have multiple holes to fill in the starting lineup, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see some of the incoming freshmen see early time.
Here are six recruits that could potentially start in 2013.
Caleb Benenoch might be the most college-ready player currently committed to UCLA.
At 6'6" 320 pounds, the Katy, Tex. native is absolutely massive. Benenoch excels in the run game—utilizing his raw strength and nimble feet to maul people. He also displays a nasty streak out on the field.
Getting Benenoch to commit was huge for the Bruins. It's not too often that UCLA can waltz into Texas and snag a highly regarded offensive lineman—especially when Benenoch had the likes of Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Alabama all clamoring for his services.
The Bruins have no depth whatsoever on the offensive line, and that was plainly magnified by the embarrassing loss in the Holiday Bowl to Baylor. UCLA needs offensive linemen to come in and play right away.
At worst, Benenoch will be in the two-deep the day he steps foot on campus. Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has absolutely no issue with starting freshmen offensive lineman—evidenced by starting three this past year (Torian White, Simon Goines and Jake Brendel).
It's quite conceivable to believe that Benenoch will get first crack at the vacated right guard position.
With decorated punter Jeff Locke headed for the NFL, Sean Covington looks like a lock to assume the position as an incoming freshman.
The highly regarded punter from St. Petersburg, Fla. had a very strong showing recently at the Under Armour All-America Game. Also a place kicker, Covington went 3/3 on field goals, and had a number of booming punts.
Like Locke, Covington is a lefty. He's also versatile from the sense that he's very capable of both punting and place kicking. Soon-to-be sophomore kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn will be the starting place kicker next year, but Covington is the safety net should Fairbairn struggle.
One can virtually pencil in Covington as the starting punter right now.
Versatility is the name of the game for Duarte. At 6'3" 235 pounds, he doesn't have the size of a classic tight end. However, he's essentially a match-up nightmare as a tight end or as an H-Back.
Duarte is very physical, and uses his size quite well when going against corners and safeties. He also presents problems for linebackers with his speed and quickness. He has soft hands, and is effective in regards to his route-running. For an NFL comparison, think Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots.
The Bruins will lose starting tight end Joe Fauria to the NFL. Fauria not only led the Bruins with 12 touchdown catches, but he was essentially UCLA's most dangerous receiver. The incumbents at the "Y" include Darius Bell, Ian Taubler, Jordan Barrett and John Young.
Bell is a converted quarterback with good hands, but very limited size. Taubler is a young player with good potential, but has been used exclusively as a blocking tight end up to this point. Young has been in the program for multiple seasons, but has been plagued with injuries throughout his career. Barrett is used as a blocking back as well, but has yet to show the ability to be a factor in the pass game.
In other words, play time can definitely be had. Duarte will enter as the most talented of the bunch.
One word comes to mind when speaking about Myles Jack: Dynamic.
He's a very dynamic athlete from Bellevue High in Washington. Jack plays both as a running back and as a linebacker. He could very well play in college as a tailback, but his future lies as a linebacker.
Jack plays violently out on the field. He physically dominates with a combination of athleticism, physicality, and effort. He's seemingly always involved in the play—whether it's on the offensive or defensive side of the ball.
At 6'3" 230 pounds, he's already the size of a college linebacker. Once he gets involved in a college conditioning program, he'll be an absolute monster.
Jack can play both in the middle and outside as a pass rusher. UCLA's linebacker trio of Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks is perhaps the strongest unit of any on the team. With outside linebacker Damian Holmes graduating, an opening is there for the taking.
Aaron Wallace and others figure into the mix, but Jack has the talent to claim that spot as a true freshman.
The Bruins are in an all-out dogfight for Jack's services. The hometown Washington Huskies are making a strong push for the Bellevue star. If UCLA can hang onto Jack, it will give the Bruins a future star at the linebacker position.
The graduation of Johnathan Franklin leaves a very significant hole at runningback. Franklin was an AP Second Team All-American this past season, and became UCLA's all-time leading rusher. In addition, he was a captain and perhaps the most respected member of the entire team.
Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, and they could be potentially filled by incoming freshman Craig Lee.
The Redlands, Calif. product is a very impressive back at first glance. He's physically big enough to contribute right away at 6'0" 190 pounds. While he would not be classified as a pure power back, he runs with surprising physicality—always churning his legs forward for extra yards.
Lee also has great burst and balance. A majority of his yards come after contact, and his top-end speed is pretty impressive. Lee does need to get stronger in the lower body, but he has the talent to contribute on the collegiate level immediately.
The starter at runningback is completely up for grabs at this point. Damien Thigpen was the logical choice to start in 2013. However, he suffered a torn ACL towards the end of the season, and is a question as to when he will be fully healthy.
Jordon James looked very tentative running the football this past year. He often danced too much, and didn't hit the hole with much decisiveness.
The wildcard in this competition is redshirt freshman Paul Perkins. A bigger back, Perkins impressed the coaching staff throughout the season with his play on the scout team.
James and Thigpen aren't true every-down backs, so it could very well be a Perkins/Lee combination, with Thigpen and James sprinkled in as the change-of-pace backs.
One thing is definite, there won't be a reliance upon one runningback, a la Franklin this past season. It most likely will be a "running back by committee" scenario for the Bruins in 2013.
There's no secret that UCLA needs more explosiveness from it's playmakers on the perimeter.
The receivers this past season were plagued with the inability to separate from coverage down the field. As a result, the passing game was severely dampened. In order to remedy the situation, the Bruins went out and claimed the services of wide receiver Eldridge Massington from Mesquite, Tex.
Ironically enough, Massington was earlier committed to crosstown rival USC. After a parting of ways, Massington narrowed his focus to Alabama and UCLA—ultimately choosing to be a Bruin.
With Jerry Johnson graduating, there is an open spot alongside Shaq Evans. Unquestionably, the Bruins want to upgrade the speed in their receivers corps. Massington—who will also run track at UCLA—has been timed as fast as 10.52 in the 100m.
He's a long, lengthy athlete with impressive physical tools. Not only can be fly in the open field, but he can make players miss in space. He's also a strong receiver at 6'3", with an impressive set of hands.
Massington did suffer a torn ACL in July, but is close to fully recovered. He enrolled at UCLA for the beginning of the winter quarter, and will take part in spring practice.
Of the current committed prospects, here are three that could also potentially start as true freshmen:
*There is a caveat in regards to this piece. Signing day is a month away, and UCLA is still hot on the trail for multiple prospects. Should UCLA land players such as Priest Willis, Johnny Johnson or Tahaan Goodman, each of the three could very well start.