UCLA Football: Spring Practice Roster Updates
With less than a week until the start of spring football practice for UCLA, head coach Jim Mora decided Tuesday was as good a day as any to drop a hailstorm of updated roster information on the unsuspecting Bruin faithful.
After a late-morning press conference, Mora's words disseminated through the Twitterverse, some bringing exciting news, and others shocking misfortune. As each 140-character nugget was leaked by one of the many UCLA beat writers racing to be first, the Bruins' spring depth chart began to take shape for the masses.
To save you from having to scour the interwebs for the details, I've compiled a complete summary of the information from Mora's midweek chat with the media. Click to the next page to begin reading!
Tevin McDonald Dismissed from Team
The most unexpected, and potentially most harmful, news to come down the wire was concerning junior free safety Tevin McDonald. The two-year UCLA starter was dismissed from the team for a violation of rules, though the specifics of the case have not been released.
The dismissal comes just three months after McDonald was suspended from competing in UCLA's 49-26 loss to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. That punishment was a result of a positive drug test, which isn't hugely surprising given the marijuana culture in Southern California. So from a purely speculative standpoint, it's very possible the latest sentence was also related to the team's substance-use policy.
McDonald was expected to be the main source of veteran leadership and experience in the secondary next season, but he clearly isn't in a position to be a role model for UCLA's newbies. Whatever the reason, Mora saw fit to release McDonald and start anew in the defensive backfield in 2013.
But to be sure, the break up wasn't an easy one for the Bruins to bear. Mora had this to say of McDonald's status, courtesy of UCLABruins.com:
I’m disappointed for Tevin. I've known him since he was a young boy. Probably met him when he was five.
At this point, there's not much to do other than feel sorry for the kid and move on. The Bruin faithful wish Tevin the best going forward, and hope he can find an answer for the issues he has faced in his young life.
But now we must look to the future, and specifically to who will fill the void left in McDonald's absence at the free safety spot. With a talented crop of recruits coming in next season, there should be a wealth of untapped potential waiting to take the field. Here's to hoping the secondary can get shored up, and fast.
Dietrich Riley Cleared for Spring Practice
One possible solution to the safety problem came just minutes after McDonald's dismissal was announced, and it should have UCLA fans very excited for what's to come.
Redshirt junior Dietrich Riley has been cleared for full-speed, contact practice for this spring, uplifting news that has the potential to pay major dividends by fall. The hard-hitting safety was an absolute beast as a freshman and sophomore, but he went down with a frightening neck injury on a tackle gone wrong in October 2011.
Since the scary collision, which saw him carted off the Rose Bowl turf on a stretcher, Riley has been unable to play football due to lingering medical concerns about his head, neck and spine.
But after a year and a half of recovery that included a lot of hard work on the scout team, Riley is ready to step back on the field, and his presence couldn't be more needed.
Realistically, it will take some time for Riley to get back into game shape, both physically and psychologically. But if he can be even a shade of what he showed a few years ago, Riley has a legitimate shot to snag a starting role in the secondary.
Barring any health-related setbacks, Riley should see the field next year, and he should be welcomed back to the Rose Bowl to uproarious applause.
Players Sidelined for Spring
While one player returns from injury excited to play, others are not so lucky. Mora had the unfortunate job of breaking the bad news, some of which was completely out of the blue.
The following players will not be available for spring practice, as a result of injury or other limiting circumstance. Note: players marked by an asterisk (*) are expected to return by fall camp.
94*—Owamagbe Odighizuwa—DE (hip surgery)
9*—Marcus Rios—CB (sinus infection/hospitalization)
25—Damien Thigpen—RB (ACL tear)
58—Colby Cyburt—OL (back)
43—Willie Green— (knee)
73—Will Oliver—OT (shoulder surgery)
65*—Lacy Westbrook—OL (not cleared for participation)
Jordan James to Start at RB
On the offensive side of the ball, Mora had a number of updates as well, though the most notable revolved around the vacancy at the running back position.
The graduation of do-it-all RB Johnathan Franklin takes away a massive chunk of UCLA's production and experience in the backfield. And for obvious reasons, the position battle behind QB Brett Hundley will be an important one to watch this spring.
Mora gave some insight into his evaluation of the position, naming junior Jordan James as the penciled-in starter for spring practice.
In spite of his small stature (5'9", 193 pounds), James undoubtedly has the most game experience of any returning Bruin back. He has proven himself a capable runner in open space and has flashed explosive cuts at times.
However, there are questions about his ability to be a No. 1 back, banging between the tackles for 15 or more touches every week. Whether or not James will be at the top of the depth chart next month remains to be seen, but his selection at the onset of the process makes sense.
Malcolm Jones Reinstated as Walk-On
Another name to watch in the running back battle is Malcolm Jones, a 6'0", 220-pound senior who was reinstated at UCLA after leaving the team to transfer at the start of last season.
Jones' decision to leave was surprising at the time, especially given his potential to be the replacement for Franklin this year. And lo and behold, the 2009 Gatorade National HS Player of the Year has made his way back to Westwood.
If star potential out of high school means anything, Jones figures to get a good look in the backfield for his final season as a Bruin.
Offensive Line Position Changes
The offensive line is expected to be a team strength in 2013, but as with any spring practice, there are still plenty of questions left unanswered. Most notably, UCLA will need to find a suitable replacement for right guard Jeff Baca, an All-Pac-12 lineman who will graduate in June. Without Baca's senior leadership, the young Bruins O-line will have to band together and fight through.
Coach Mora revealed the following positional changes in the offensive trenches, though the lineup is liable to change at any time over the course of spring practice.
Jerry Rice Jr. and 2 Others Elect to Graduate
This was actually the first information leaked from the presser, but it ended up being one of the least impactful updates on the day.
Little-used wide receivers Jerry Rice Jr. and Ricky Marvray both plan to complete their degrees, graduate from UCLA and pursue football elsewhere next year. Reserve linebacker Todd Golper will also graduate this spring, but he does not intend to continue playing in the future.
When it comes down to it, this isn't that huge of news. Marvray and Golper did next to nothing last season, and Rice's production is certainly replaceable. With a huge recruiting class coming in next year, the extra roster slots and scholarships could be very valuable for the Bruins.