UCLA Bruins: Mora Shoring Up Vital Positions Via Recruiting
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Every annual recruiting cycle represents a challenge or even a quest for college football programs.
The carrot dangling in front of the horse represents the motivation for a coaching staff to improve its football team from a personnel standpoint.
Dissimilar year to year, some positions will be emphasized more than others. However, there are common threads within any successful football team, regardless of the level of competition.
Any executive in charge of player personnel will subscribe to the notion that a strong team is built up front—specifically in regard to the offensive and defensive lines.
Controlling the line of scrimmage enables a team to run and throw the football successfully as well as to provide pressure on the opposing quarterback. The core of a good team is a unit up front that can provide both stability and consistency.
UCLA head coach Jim Mora realizes this, which is why he's addressed offensive-line recruiting so heavily in the 2013 class.
Mora and the staff have garnered commitments from seven high-quality offensive-line recruits.
Over the course of seemingly the past decade, the UCLA football program has been plagued with injuries, inconsistency, a lack of talent, paper-thin depth and downright horrific play on the offensive line.
Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm entered the program last season with little to work with from both a talent and depth standpoint. Out of necessity, he started a true freshman at right tackle, a redshirt freshman at left tackle and a redshirt freshman at center.
Starting first- and second-year players on the offensive line isn't necessarily a hallmark of a prominent college football program. However, Klemm went with the most talented of the bunch because frankly the cupboard was pretty bare.
Signing seven talented offensive linemen will do a couple of things:
First, it will help to replenish a unit desperate for talent and numbers.
Second, it will help to create an atmosphere of competition. The five starters from a year ago essentially had no reserves pushing for a starting job. Once the projected incoming group enters the program, this no longer will be the case.
The secondary is also a big area that needs to be shored up with this class. UCLA loses three starters to graduation (Sheldon Price, Andrew Abbott, and Aaron Hester). The remaining members of the secondary have been susceptible to injury and are green from an experience standpoint.
To remedy the situation, Mora and defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin have hit the trails hard. After hosting a litany of talented prospects this past weekend, the Bruins were able to secure verbal commitments from cornerback Johnny Johnson and safety Tyler Foreman.
By all accounts, Johnson is one of the most talented cover prospects on the West Coast. While not blessed with the greatest size in the world, he more than makes up for it with his cover skills and physicality. His style of play is reminiscent of a former Bruin (and ironically Fresno native) in Ricky Manning Jr.
Foreman is a physically impressive player. He's 6'2" and 200 pounds and has the frame to add at least 15 more pounds. He can cover in space really well and is a big hitter.
Foreman was originally committed to Wisconsin but switched his pledge after Bret Bielema left for Arkansas. He's slated to come in at free safety and could see early play time.
Getting Foreman and Johnson in the fold is an absolute boon for UCLA. They are two elite players at positions of need. The Bruins loses both starting corners, and a vacant safety spot lies in the balance.
Willis will announce his decision on Wednesday night. He's down to UCLA, Arizona State and LSU, with the prevailing notion that he'll spend his college years in Westwood.
Willis is capable of playing at corner and at safety. Due to his versatility, he could be plugged in wherever the staff needs him.
Goodman is one of Willis' best friends, and he canceled an official visit to LSU to take an unofficial visit this past weekend to UCLA. Like Willis, he will also be announcing his college choice on Wednesday.
It's safe to say that the Bruins are in a good spot with the elite safety from Rancho Cucamonga.
Enewally visited UCLA this past weekend and is seriously considering UCLA along with Washington. He's a Southern California native, which could bode well for UCLA if he wants to stay close to home.
Two other commits in the secondary—Jayon Brown and Mossi Johnson—aren't expected to play right away. Brown will patrol the hybrid safety/outside linebacker role that was assumed this past season by Dalton Hilliard, while Johnson has a chance to play wide receiver when all is said and done.
It's no surprise that the Bruins are in the thick of it for multiple premier prospects in the secondary.
Secondary coach Demetrice Martin is a fantastic recruiter, and Mora was a defensive backs coach for more than a decade in the NFL. Couple that with a thin depth chart, and it isn't hard to see why talented kids would come to UCLA.
The Bruins have also done very well at linebacker and in regard to skill position players.
Running back Craig Lee is talented enough to contribute next season as a true freshman. So is wide receiver Eldridge Massington. Massington—a former Southern Cal commitment—has enrolled early and will participate in spring ball.
Hybrid tight end/H-back Thomas Duarte is a very talented kid who could play next year as well. UCLA lost Joseph Fauria to graduation, and there isn't much depth behind the departed tight end.
Duarte will instantly become the best receiver of the tight end bunch, while Ian Taubler will hold the title of being the best blocker (although he is a receiving threat as well).
The biggest target left on UCLA's skill position board is wide receiver Devon Allen. The wide receivers corps has a relative lack of speed, and Allen brings pace in droves. In addition, Olympian Maurice Greene has recently joined the Bruins' track program as the sprinters coach.
Allen has aspirations of eventually becoming an Olympian one day, so that can't hurt UCLA.
After the upcoming season, UCLA will lose starting linebackers Jordan Zumwalt and Anthony Barr as well as reserves Keenan Graham and Isaiah Bowens.
With that in mind, linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich worked like a madman on the recruiting trails and has three linebacker commitments currently in tow.
Will UCLA end up with a top 10 class nationally?
Myles Jack is a supremely talented kid who could play right away. He's big, fast and extremely physical.
It also helps that Jack is childhood friends with Mora's son. Jack knows Mora dating back to his days with the Seattle Seahawks. He's a bona fide candidate for the vacant outside linebacker position vacated by Damien Holmes.
Deon Hollins Jr. is a pure pass-rusher off the edge and is one of the best from Texas. While a bit undersized, he's got a tremendous motor and quickness. He could also see time right away as a true freshman.
Cameron Judge is versatile enough to play both inside and outside. He's currently being pursued heavily by Arizona State, and it's not clear whether or not he'll stick with his UCLA pledge.
The big fish still out there for UCLA at the linebacker position is Isaac Savaiinaea. He would shore up depth concerns in the middle, and he is also capable of seeing time right away. He's down to Texas A&M and UCLA and will decide close to signing day.
If you win, they will come.
The adage above is apropos when speaking about UCLA as a university. A "sleeping giant" in some respects, UCLA draws elite recruits due to the academics, area and lifestyle.
However, the lack of success on the football field in the past decade has hindered the efforts of recruiting the cream of the crop of high-school athletes. With a solid product on the field, it doesn't seem as if it would be difficult to recruit to UCLA.
Mora and his staff have re-energized the program completely and have put UCLA football back on the map.
The staff is riding a big wave of momentum from this past year and could parlay it into a top-five class nationally. In the process, UCLA will shore up significant areas throughout the roster.
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