The UCLA Bruins' 2013 recruiting class got a tremendous boost with Priest Willis and Tahaan Goodman both giving their verbal commitments to the school. Both have said numerous times that they would like to play on the same team and today it has finally become a reality.
But the dream scenario may be just getting started, as Bruins fans can expect both of these guys to start the 2013 season as true freshmen.
Both players are considered 4-star players according to 247sports.com. Willis is going to play the cornerback position, while Goodman was recruited as a safety. UCLA did more than just pick up two elite prospects though. It added depth to an area that desperately needed help.
Although ‘needing help’ may be a nice way of putting things. Cornerback Aaron Hester tried to defend his guys last season to the Daily News, but it just wasn't going to slide.
"I don't know. We're winning games," UCLA cornerback Aaron Hester said. "Everybody's always talking about the secondary, nit-picking the secondary. You can't look at stats. You've got to watch film to really know what's going on."
Winning games, sure, but the way that this pass defense performed last season was so poor that it must improve if the Bruins want a realistic chance of winning a Pac-12 title. Since Hester brought up statistics, let's check some of them out below.
The Bruins allowed any quarterback to throw on them in 2012, allowing 250.6 passing yards a game, which was eighth in the Pac-12. The 27 touchdowns allowed through the air were 10th and the nine passing plays that went for more than 40 yards had them tied with California for ninth in that category. UCLA's team as a whole was a pleasant surprise, but the secondary needed a major upgrade in the offseason.
Enter Willis and Goodman to help fix some of those issues.
However, not only did UCLA have problems preventing big plays in the passing game last season, but it is still short on experience. Three of the four starters in last year’s secondary are no longer with the team. This includes Hester, the other cornerback Sheldon Price and one of the safeties in Andrew Abbott. In other words, the coaching staff has no choice but to put these two recruits on the field immediately.
Goodman is an instant upgrade at the safety position. He has size at 6'2", 190 pounds and is the physical presence this defense needs. He has the instincts and tackling ability to be a force in run support, while he is also athletic and has enough closing speed to defend comfortably in coverage.
He will cover a lot of ground and won't give up the big play like last year’s unit tended to do too often.
As for Willis, he gives the coaching staff options because he can play either safety or cornerback. With question marks at both corner spots, you will likely see the top recruit end up filling one of the vacant spots. He is the type of guy who wants to get physical with the receiver at the line of scrimmage. He likes to knock receivers off their routes and can be just as effective in run support.
And while it may seem like he has the mentality to already occupy a safety position, he also has great speed and ball skills to make for a solid cover guy at corner.
Both of these players have an attitude and aggressiveness to their game that will help improve UCLA's pass defense right away. This isn't to say that the Bruins' worries on defense will instantly disappear when they arrive on campus, but teams will no longer have a field day of throwing for 300 yards and four touchdowns.
Goodman and Willis came into the recruiting process as good friends, but it looks like their journey together has just begun.