UCLA Football: 3 Stars Who Will Break out in 2014
The UCLA football team has three players poised for breakout seasons in 2014.
A veteran wide receiver is now thrust into a starting role. Talent has never been an issue, but a lack of consistency hasn't allowed for a breakthrough season. Now seemingly matured, he will take the mantle of UCLA's top receiver.
The other two players in this piece are true sophomores. Both started last year as freshmen and played big roles.
This year, the duo will take the next steps in potentially becoming all-conference selections. In the process, each will become a known commodity in the Pac-12.
Here are three stars who will break out in 2014 for Jim Mora and the Bruins.
Kenny Clark is a relatively unknown name in the Pac-12. I wouldn't expect this to be the case for much longer.
The true sophomore defensive tackle is primed for a huge year. As a freshman, he usurped the starting gig from a fifth-year senior. In the Sun Bowl versus Virginia Tech, he was named the Most Valuable Lineman.
Clark is built low to the ground and plays with tremendous leverage. Not only that, but he's also extremely quick and powerful. UCLA could have the most talented defensive line in the conference. Out of the bunch, Clark might be the most gifted.
Speaking with Edward Lewis of Bruin Sports Report at fall camp, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich spoke highly of Clark:
It starts with that man in the middle, Kenny Clark. Kenny Clark is a grown man. He's a grown man. I played with a lot of really good defensive linemen in my career, and he'd be top three up there with those guys. ...
He's unselfish, he's tough, he's strong as hell, he's just technically strong. He's everything that you want.
It's no secret UCLA needs a deep threat to stretch the field vertically. The loss of Shaq Evans took away the Bruins' leading receiver from a year ago.
Rising junior Devin Lucien looks primed to fill the shoes of the former UCLA pass-catcher.
The Crespi High School product averaged 17.8 yards per catch last year. Of particular note, Lucien had long touchdowns versus Washington (40 yards) and Arizona State (42 yards). His ability to contort his body and leap over defenders makes him a potential all-conference selection in the making.
Quarterback Brett Hundley is certainly expecting big things from his receiver. As he told Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register, "Devin is always Devin. He's a fun guy, fun to be around, but he'll always be a phenomenal playmaker for us. He's very smart on the field, he'll run his routes crisp, get open and make big plays for us."
Lucien will also be motivated by his mother, Trina. She is currently battling breast cancer. According to Abbey Mastracco of Fox Sports, Lucien has made a promise to dedicate the season to her.
Thomas Duarte will be an integral cog in UCLA's offense this upcoming season.
The former Mater Dei High School star can line up at different spots on the field. At 6'3", 223 pounds, he's not a traditional tight end from a size standpoint. Duarte is more of a hybrid wide receiver in the mold of an H-back.
However, he is fast enough to give linebackers problems in coverage and big enough to pose problems for corners and safeties. This is evidenced by a 4.55 time in the 40 (courtesy of BruinBru.com).
Duarte's hands and route-running ability truly separate him from others at the position. He's an incredibly smooth player. The precision with which his routes are executed is also very impressive.
Although he had 16 catches a year ago, I'd expect those numbers to double with an expanded role. Duarte will ultimately act as Hundley's very valuable security blanket.