Position-by-Position Preview of UCLA's 2014 Roster
Both excitement and enhanced pressure categorizes the UCLA football team heading into the 2014 season.
With Brett Hundley and the majority of the squad from last year returning, the Bruins are primed to launch themselves into the national discussion. The foundation built by Jim Mora and his staff has fortified a previously fractured and apathetic group.
Primarily speaking, this team will rely upon a bevy of talented juniors and sophomores.
The quarterback position begins and ends with Hundley.
UCLA's signal-caller threw for 24 touchdowns and 3,071 yards in 2013. He's easily considered one of the top quarterbacks in the nation heading into this season.
Mora should feel tremendous about having a veteran and ultra-talented quarterback lead his team. However, the situation in regard to depth at the position is a precarious one.
There would be a massive drop-off going from Hundley to either Jerry Neuheisel or Asiantii Woulard. If one were to combine the respective strengths of Neuheisel and Woulard, a very good quarterback would exist. As it currently stands, both have room for improvement.
Neuheisel is more experienced when compared to Woulard. He's also got a better understanding of the offense. From a talent standpoint, Woulard is bigger, faster and has a much stronger arm.
In the spring game, both were underwhelming. Neuheisel threw two interceptions, and Woulard went 4-of-13 for 42 yards.
An injury to Hundley would severely hinder UCLA's efforts at winning the Pac-12 South this season.
The backfield is a major question mark heading into the season.
UCLA has depth at the position. At this point (not including incoming freshmen), there are four legitimate options. However, it doesn't appear as if UCLA has a true bell cow back among the group.
Senior Jordon James will probably get the first crack at the starting gig. The Corona, California, native is a solid runner with good quickness and agility. Paul Perkins will likely be his primarily reserve. Perkins isn't overly quick or explosive, but he's a productive back. Perkins and James combined for over 1,000 yards a season ago.
Steven Manfro and Craig Lee comprise the rest of the depth chart. Manfro, quicker than fast, is adept at catching passes out of the backfield.
The key to the group is Lee. The redshirt freshman is the most talented member of the group. He's not only the biggest, but he is also the fastest.
Integrating Lee into the mix is vital. UCLA's chances at usurping the conference crown from Stanford could ultimately rely on Lee's effectiveness as a runner. In a perfect world, he'd have a massive role within the offense.
Having a consistent rush attack will help in keeping Hundley healthy. In theory, it would enable Hundley to run the zone read with less frequency. With the paper-thin depth at quarterback, an injury to Hundley could be devastating.
UCLA will have to replace its leading receiver from a year ago in Shaq Evans. The Inglewood High School product was a steady, albeit unspectacular pass-catcher.
In '14, UCLA has a stable of hungry receivers looking to step up and take the reins as the top option for Hundley. In terms of a favorite target, Thomas Duarte could be the guy.
Although not a true tight end, Duarte plays such a role in Noel Mazzone's spread offense. Duarte has arguably the best set of hands on the team. He's the quintessential H-back/Y, and thus, he causes many mismatches. The sophomore out of Mater Dei High School could contend for all-conference honors.
In Mazzone's offense, he likes to utilize a myriad of options. Slot receiver Devin Fuller and outside receiver Jordan Payton both return. Both are reliable, solid options. Rising junior Devin Lucien looks primed to take over in Evans' spot. Of the group, Lucien is perhaps the one with the most big-play ability.
Eldridge Massington, Jalen Ortiz, Darren Andrews and Mossi Johnson all should contribute in '14. Keep an eye out for Kenny Walker. The Richmond, California, native has a great burst and elite top-end speed. He's got the ability to be electric in space.
The Bruins suffered a blow with the departure of projected starting left tackle Torian White.
White's dismissal has forced sophomore Caleb Benenoch to switch over from the right tackle position. Benenoch has revamped his body in the offseason, improving his short-area quickness and mobility.
Xavier Su'a-Filo's departure to the NFL also stings considerably. He was widely considered the best offensive lineman in the conference last season. Fortunately for UCLA, fifth-year graduate Malcolm Bunche has joined the team from Miami. He'll offer both experience and leadership for the young group.
Jake Brendel and Alex Redmond both reprise their roles as the starting center and right guard, respectively. Brendel is the de facto leader of the group. He's a very smart and cerebral player for the Bruins. Redmond is a mauler in the best sense of the world. He brings nastiness and physicality in droves.
The right tackle spot is still unsettled at the moment. Redshirt freshmen Kenny Lacy and Poasi Moala are vying for the spot. If Simon Goines can get healthy, he'll likely start. The Texas native has battled knee injuries for the past couple of seasons.
Ben Wysocki, Scott Quessenberry, Najee Toran, Carl Hulick and Conor McDermott will all compete for time as well. With the impressive depth on the roster, Toran and/or Quessenberry could redshirt in order to get physically bigger.
Adrian Klemm has done a remarkable job. He's greatly enhanced the talent and depth from within the unit.
Although Cassius Marsh graduated, this will be the deepest and most talented unit of the defense.
Redshirt senior and former Scout.com 5-star prospect Owamagbe Odighizuwa has returned from injury. Built like a Greek god, "Owa" brings experience and productivity to a young defensive front. Assuming he's fully healthy, don't be surprised to see "Owa" becoming a high NFL draft choice.
Sophomores Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes make up the rest of the starting unit. Simply put, both are beasts. Clark in particular has the look of a future all-conference player. I'd be surprised if either stays past their junior seasons.
Junior Ellis McCarthy is essentially the fourth starter on the line. UCLA will likely use a 4-2-5 formation a great deal of the time. McCarthy is outstandingly big and has all the ability in the world. If he can piece together his immense ability, the sky's the limit.
Sophomore defensive end Kylie Fitts is another talented prospect in the group. Eli Ankou and former Army All-American Kevin McReynolds will battle for the job behind Clark.
Plus, UCLA signed three very talented defensive line prospects in '14. Of the bunch, Ainuu Taua could be the most likely to play as a true freshman.
Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks make up arguably the best tandem of linebackers in the conference. Kendricks was sixth in the conference with 105 tackles a year ago. He led the conference with 9.55 tackles per game.
Jack's exploits have been analyzed ad nauseam. He's easily one of the most dynamic players in all of college football.
On the negative side of the coin, the departures of Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt to the NFL forces the hand of new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.
Barr's effectiveness as a pass-rusher will be very difficult to replace. He was easily one of the most feared hybrid outside linebacker/defensive ends in the country. Rising junior Kenny Orjioke will be tasked with replacing Barr in the starting lineup.
Physically, Orjioke is very similar to his former teammate. He's got long arms and could be more athletic overall when compared to Barr. However, Orjioke has seen minimal time the past two seasons. He's got considerable upside but needs experience.
Sophomore Isaako Savaiinaea is the likely front-runner to replace Zumwalt in the middle. While Savaiinaea isn't as mobile as Zumwalt, he's an intuitive, physical player.
True freshmen Zach Whitley and Kenny Young will likely battle Ryan Hofmeister for the time behind Kendricks and Savaiinaea.
On the outside, look for Deon Hollins and incoming freshman Dwight Williams to provide depth. Depth on the outside going forward could be a concern.
UCLA's secondary is buoyed by the return of Fabian Moreau and Ishmael Adams.
Although very inexperienced at the position, Moreau cemented himself as a very talented player. The Florida native has great length and above-average athleticism. His height (6'0") allows for him to battle against taller receivers.
As reported by Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News, Mora has huge expectations for the junior corner.
Although only 5'8", Adams has proved to be a scrappy, tough corner. In a perfect world, he could be moved inside as the team's nickelback. This scenario could very well play itself out. Regardless, he offers UCLA another experienced and competitive option at corner.
Behind the starting duo, there is a great deal of inexperience. Marcus Rios has battled a rare medical issue for the past two seasons. Highly touted prospect Priest Willis hasn't developed as quickly as some of his fellow '13 classmates.
Early enrollee Adarius Pickett and the often-injured John Johnson also help to complete the depth chart at corner.
Assuming the unit can get fully healthy, depth shouldn't be an issue.
Returning safeties Anthony Jefferson and Randall Goforth will patrol the backfield for the Bruins in '14.
Jefferson is the longer and more athletic option of the two. He's smooth in coverage and can defend against bigger opponents. A bit undersized, Goforth is better up in the box, closer to the line of scrimmage. He's physical and isn't afraid to come up and pack a punch with his hitting ability.
There's a bit of uncertainty behind the aforementioned duo.
UCLA likes to employ its nickel package a great deal of the time. With that in mind, sophomore Tahaan Goodman will likely be the unofficial fifth starter. Goodman has perhaps the highest ceiling of any secondary member on the roster. He's essentially blessed with the size of Jefferson, and the physicality of Goforth.
With Willis' versatility, it wouldn't be a shock to see him play in a reserve role. Dually, Jefferson could slide over to corner, with Goodman filling in as the free safety.
Younger players such as Ron Robinson and Tyler Foreman also offer depth at the position.
UCLA returns virtually its entire special teams unit from a season ago.
Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn has been decent throughout his first two years in Westwood. Fans of the Bruins have likely been spoiled by the impressive kicker lineage prior to Fairbairn. As a result, his numbers could look a bit skewed.
He generally is solid within 40 yards but tails off beyond that. Now a junior, he'll look to improve upon the 72.7 percent conversion clip he enjoyed in '13.
Sean Covington is back to resume his role as the starting punter. The sophomore lefty out of Florida flashed a big leg in his freshman campaign. Like Fairbairn, he struggled a bit with consistency. However, he's equipped with the characteristics to be a good one down the road.
UCLA's most effective returner last year was cornerback Ishmael Adams. Adams was impressive on both punt and kickoff returns. Now a junior, he'll likely be one of the top returners in the conference.