UCLA Football: 5 Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practice
With spring practice slated to start in a few weeks, there are a number of UCLA Bruins that need to seize this precious opportunity.
For some, it's a chance to stake a claim to a vacant starting spot. For others, it'll give the coaches an extended look at what they can really do. It also gives the said players a leg up on the immensely talented recruiting class that UCLA is bringing in.
The vast majority of that class won't enter Westwood until June. As a result, this month of practice could go a long way in determining the prospects for some athletes next season.
Here's a look at five Bruins that have lots to gain during spring practice.
Here is the entire spring practice schedule.
There's no secret that Shaq Evans will be UCLA's top receiver heading into next season. With a strong spring camp, Devin Lucien could cement himself as the other starter opposite Evans.
Ability wise, Lucien represents the best chance at being a big-play receiver out of anyone else on the roster.
He's been plagued by both injuries and a lack of consistency thus far throughout his career. However, he's a smooth athlete with great ball skills. There were multiple times this past season when Lucien leaped up and plucked the ball out of the air in acrobatic fashion.
Outside of Evans, there isn't a proven target on the roster. The depth chart is littered with inexperienced players—many of whom are sophomores.
Lucien needs to become more consistent, and take the next step as a player. Assuming he can mature and stay healthy, he's got a good shot at starting next season.
That all starts with a strong spring camp showing.
It's time for Owamagbe Odighizuwa to put everything together.
The former 5-star prospect from Portland, Ore. has all the tools one would want in an NFL defensive end. He's built like a Greek God, has tremendous strength and is very quick.
Now a senior, he'll be able to play in a starting role.
There's no doubt that "Owa" will start next season. He could have a mediocre spring practice, but would still start at one of the defensive end positions.
For Odighizuwa, a good spring practice can really propel him forward heading into the season. He needs to work more on technique and hand placement. In addition, his overall level of consistency needs improvement. UCLA has seen flashes of his immense potential, but it's never been in a steady fashion.
If "Owa" can put everything together, he could be in line for a meteoric rise—similar to what Anthony Barr had this past season.
No one will repeat nor replace the production of Johnathan Franklin from a year ago.
The depth chart at running back isn't incredibly deep. Matters were made more complicated when prized running back Craig Lee failed to qualify. There's still a decent shot that he'll end up a Bruin, but nothing is for sure.
Also, Damien Thigpen is rehabilitating from a torn ACL he suffered against Southern Cal. Jordon James didn't impress last season, and it remains to be seen whether or not Malcolm Jones can live up the hype he brought from high school.
With all of that said, the job hangs in the balance. It's waiting to be snatched up, and it could very well be grabbed by redshirt freshman Paul Perkins.
The Arizona native looked very good on the scout team. He ran with lots of power and also displayed some shiftiness. It was noted that Perkins also displayed great balance when running the football.
The caveat with Perkins is that he's never played in a game on the collegiate level. Whether that play from the scout team can translate or not remains to be seen.
However, the coaching staff is very excited about him. When speaking about the entire stable of backs on the roster, he has the best chance to be the workhorse of the group.
UCLA lost both their starting cornerbacks to graduation this past season. The remaining candidates to fill those positions are either extremely green in terms of experience or are perpetually injured.
In other words, those two starting spots are completely up for grabs.
One player looking to snag a position is sophomore Marcus Rios.
As a freshman, Rios saw time mostly on special teams. He needs to gain some strength and get bigger, but there's a lot to like about the Elk Grove, Calif. native.
Rios is extremely fast and has very long arms. He has the makings of a very impressive prospect at the position. Realistically, he needs play time in order to develop as a player.
A strong spring game would behoove Rios, because he's got competition headed to Westwood in June. The Bruins signed multiple stud secondary players—including Johnny Johnson and Priest Willis. Both are slated to be cornerbacks.
In addition, Randall Goforth could flip-flop from safety and play corner if need be.
Lastly, highly touted corner Ishmael Adams has fully recovered from a season-ending injury from a year ago.
Rios has a golden opportunity to solidify a starting spot with a strong spring camp. If he doesn't, look for one of the aforementioned prospects to beat him out for a starting spot.
The trio of Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks will help to make up arguably one of the top linebacker corps in the entire country.
Damien Holmes has since graduated, leaving a vacated spot at one of the outside 'backer positions. Aaron Wallace is a player that—based on his athletic tools—has a chance to stake a claim to the opening.
Wallace has all of the requisite characteristics to be a big time player. He's very athletic, rangy and comes from great bloodlines (father Aaron Wallace Sr. was a former NFL player).
He played sparingly last season but generally looked good in limited time.
Of the incoming freshmen, Wallace could be in a dogfight with Myles Jack for the vacant spot alongside Zumwalt. A good spring camp could give the redshirt sophomore a big leg up on Jack—considering that Jack won't enroll until June.
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