UCLA Football: 4 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason
The UCLA Bruins are entering a new phase as a program.
With the 10-win season in 2013, the Bruins have the look of a team on the rise. A vast majority of the young roster will return next year, and the team got a major boost with the announcement that Brett Hundley will return for his redshirt junior season.
The stage is set for a potentially huge upcoming season. However, there are some areas of concern as with every program.
In particular, UCLA has to shore up four areas in order to reach its potential as a team contending for a national championship. Replacing three significant members on the defensive side of the ball tops the list.
Here's a look at the four biggest concerns heading into the offseason for the UCLA Bruins.
Replacing Integral Cogs on Defense
UCLA has the task of replacing defensive stalwarts Anthony Barr, Cassius Marsh and Jordan Zumwalt in 2014. It's virtually the biggest question facing the team in the offseason.
Barr's accolades have been chronicled by every major media outlet for the past two seasons. His production from the last two years is unlikely to be replicated by any player currently existing on the roster.
Both Zumwalt and Marsh played with their proverbial hair on fire. The energy each player brought will be difficult to replace.
As for possible candidates to fill these spots, there are some with potential vying for the respective starting gigs.
Kenny Orjioke most closely resembles Barr from a physical standpoint. Rangy and uber-athletic, Orjioke could have a breakout season as a rush outside 'backer next year.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa's return will be a welcomed sight for the team. The former 5-star prospect is finally healthy after undergoing hip surgery. He'll instantly add experience to what should be a young defensive line.
Isaako Savaiinaea looks to be the front-runner for Zumwalt's vacant spot in the middle. The 'backer out of Honolulu saw a good amount of time in his freshman campaign. He's a mature, intelligent football player with great awareness. He'll likely be pushed by incoming freshman Zach Whitley and potentially Kenny Young (should UCLA sign the talented prospect).
Signing Impact Playmakers
For UCLA to get into the upper echelon of college football, it needs to enhance the talent of its skill-position players. The Bruins desperately need athletes with the ability to stretch the field vertically and also take a short pass and turn it into a big play.
There's a general lack of quickness and pure speed from the wide receiver corps currently on the roster. Jordan Payton, Devin Lucien and Devin Fuller are all very solid receivers. With all due respect, none of the aforementioned trio truly does "scare" an opposing team's secondary.
Mora and his staff have done a nice job thus far, garnering commitments from three talented receivers (Jordan Lasley, Alex Van Dyke, Austin Roberts) and most recently getting a pledge from Army All-American running back Nathan Starks.
In this 2014 recruiting cycle, signing someone such as Michiah Quick would desperately help the unit. He's not only quick (no pun intended) but has explosiveness and agility in droves.
Quick would instantly impact UCLA's depth chart from the slot. Malachi Dupre is another ultra-athletic receiver considering the Bruins. Per Scout.com, he's slated to visit UCLA officially on Jan. 31. He, like Quick, would play right away as a true freshman.
Solidifying the Starting Unit on the Offensive Line
The Bruins were dealt a blow with the departure of Xavier Su'a-Filo to the NFL.
Not only was Su'a-Filo UCLA's best offensive linemen by a wide margin, he also provided the young group with quality leadership. His versatility from the standpoint of playing as a tackle or guard will be sorely missed as well.
The injury bug yet again reared its ugly head in 2013. Physical ailments and the UCLA offensive line are beginning to become synonymous with one another on an annual basis.
Fortunately for the Bruins, Su'a-Filo will be the only prominent member not to return in 2014. Tackles Torian White, Simon Goines and Conor McDermott all will be healthy by the start of fall camp. Young players such as Poasi Moala and Kenny Lacy figure to be integrated into the mix.
At this point, Jake Brendel is a lock at center. White should figure to have a stranglehold at one of the tackle positions. From there, things get interesting.
Alex Redmond was named to the Freshman All-America team. He should start at left guard again this upcoming year. Caleb Benenoch played at right tackle once Goines went down with an injury. He does have the ability to play at guard. Should Goines come back fully healthy, Benenoch could slide over and play at the other guard spot.
Expect Scott Quessenberry to be a super-sub of sorts. He's equipped with the tools to play as a center or as a guard. He'll likely be the first man up in the event of an injury to either of the positions. Moala has considerable upside and should battle to start at one of the tackle positions.
Calling this a concern might be a bit overdramatic. However, it's a valid question to ask all the same.
The 2014 UCLA team has the potential to be the best it's been since arguably 1998. In that year, the Bruins ultimately played in the Rose Bowl.
The return of Brett Hundley was absolutely vital. He will command an offense with a somewhat experienced offensive line and decent skill-position talent. Hundley is the unquestioned fulcrum of Noel Mazzone's offense. His return takes UCLA from a decent team to one with the potential of playing in the College Football Playoff.
Pressures of building upon a 10-win season will face Mora's team. This isn't a familiar position for the program to exist in, especially when taking into account the recent history before Mora took over the job. UCLA will have to manage its expectations and hope to not underachieve.
Isn't it better to have high expectations as opposed to none at all? This thought will directly apply to the program for the first time in over a decade.