UCLA Football: 3 Weakest Positions to Worry About
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With the hopes of eventually becoming a championship program, Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins have some areas that need shoring up.
Mora and his staff have done a great job at replenishing the overall depth on the roster, as the previous regime didn't leave an incredibly deep squad for Mora to work with.
While there are no monumental weaknesses, multiple positions need improvement.
Here are three positions on the UCLA football team that could be a cause for concern down the line.
Anthony Jefferson could be a factor this season.
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With Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester off to the NFL, the Bruins need to break in two starting corners for this upcoming year.
As it's currently constituted, depth is an issue. There's only a handful of healthy corners available for spring practice, though help is on the way in the form of a vaunted secondary class entering in the summer.
It's very conceivable to think that incoming freshmen Johnny Johnson and Priest Willis could start as true freshmen at the position.
Of the players currently on the roster, both Ishmael Adams and Anthony Jefferson have had strong spring camps.
Adams has been recuperating from a season-ending shoulder surgery. Although not tall, Adams makes up for his lack of ideal height with intelligence and savvy. He has the potential to be a multi-year starter for the Bruins.
Jefferson has been perpetually injured since joining the program in 2010. Before a severe back injury, he had every single tool one would look for in the prototypical corner.
The Cathedral High School prospect has always had the requisite height and length. Now, it seems as if Jefferson is regaining the speed and agility he once had pre-injury. If healthy, he certainly could factor into the mix for a starting spot.
Sophomore Marcus Rios is currently out with an injury, but he's another potential option.
It's incumbent upon Mora and defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin to find viable options at the position. There's bound to be some nervy moments with the inexperienced group. However, the overall talent is there for this to turn into a serviceable—if not solid group.
Damien Thigpen is recuperating from a torn ACL.
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"The Mayor" Johnathan Franklin has graduated and left for the greener pastures of the NFL. Fifteen total touchdowns and over 2,000 yards of total offense also vanishes with the departure of the Dorsey High School product.
While no current member of the squad will replicate those numbers, a starter needs to be found.
At this point, there isn't a tailback on the roster that's ready to take over the spot as the featured back. There's a great possibility that it could very well be a "running back by committee" scenario this upcoming season.
Damien Thigpen would be the natural choice as the starter. However, he's still recovering from a torn ACL suffered last season against Southern Cal. Steven Manfro is also out with an injury, and will most certainly be employed in a myriad of ways on the field—ranging from in the backfield to as a receiver in the slot—upon his return.
This could finally be a breakout year for Jordon James. He possesses crazy quickness and agility, but needs to be more decisive when hitting the hole. In essence, he needs to cut down on his dancing behind the line of scrimmage.
The two other prominent options include Malcolm Jones and Paul Perkins.
A former 5-star recruit (via Scout.com) and the National Gatorade Player of the Year, Jones left the team last season—only to come back as a walk-on. He dedicated himself to getting in better shape, and it seemingly has paid off thus far. He could be the big back on the roster.
Perkins is the wild card. Out of every back on the roster, he could be the most likely to be an every-down back. The redshirt freshman from Arizona has good quickness and agility, and isn't afraid to run between the tackles.
It's not a position lacking in terms of overall talent. From Mora's standpoint, it'd probably be ideal for one back to separate themselves from the pack and truly grab the reigns of a starting spot.
The Bruins will have to replace the departed Jeff Back.
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Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm recently said that he expects "two or three" incoming freshmen to start this season on the offensive line.
Aside from Jeff Baca, the Bruins return their entire starting offensive line.
Whether it be from a motivational or literal sense, Klemm's statement isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for the returning starters.
The Bruins will definitely miss Baca's leadership. He's been the elder statesman on the line for the past few seasons; look for left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo to now assume those responsibilities.
With Baca graduating, a vacant spot exists at right guard. Of the current linemen on the roster, none really stand out as "surefire" or "no brainer" candidates to plug in that hole. Alberto Cid, Ben Wysocki and Alexandru "Cheech" Ceachir are potential options at the position.
At this point, it's seemingly more and more likely that an incoming freshman will man the vacant position. The top two candidates that fit the bill could be Texas native Caleb Benenoch and Alex Redmond of Los Alamitos, Calif.
Regardless, the offensive line in its totality could continue to be a potential issue.
The entire secondary will be replaced.
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The Bruins will most likely struggle to replace tight end Joe Fauria. At 6'7", Fauria was a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses—specifically in the red zone. His 12 touchdown catches from a season ago led the team.
Darius Bell, Ian Taubler and incoming freshmen Thomas Duarte will be the options at the "Y" for the Bruins. Duarte might be the most talented of the three, but he'll also be a true freshman.
As mentioned in a previous slide, the secondary as a whole will be a concern. It's impossible to think that the unit will run without any rough patches—especially considering that this year's secondary will be completely different from a season ago. It's thought that the Bruins could have true freshmen starting at both cornerback and at safety.
The special teams unit is usually a strength of a traditional UCLA team. Starting placekicker Ka'imi Fairbairn will now be a sophomore. After an extremely tumultuous start to his freshman year, he settled in quite nicely and it'll be interesting to see how the Hawaii native will progress with some experience under his proverbial belt.
The Bruins will also have to replace all-everything punter Jeff Locke. The task will most likely fall upon the shoulders of incoming freshman Sean Covington. It'd be naive to think that Covington will replicate Locke's success right off the bat. However, the Bruins need a stabilizing force from the position.
Lastly, the offensive line as a whole will be a concern. The unit needs to progress from a continuity and depth standpoint. Experience could be an issue, with UCLA expected to rely on multiple freshmen this upcoming season.
Benenoch, Redmond and Christian Morris could be early contributors on the offensive line.