UCLA has seen better seasons on the gridiron than the one that took place in 2017.
The Bruins’ defense was the worst in the nation against the run. UCLA’s offense couldn’t find enough weapons to keep pace with opponents, producing a 6-7 finish. Defensive-minded head coach Jim Mora was fired as a result.
But there’s hope on the horizon in the form of new head coach Chip Kelly, who brings in a high-powered spread attack made famous during his time up the coast at Oregon. He’s also bringing in a highly touted recruit under center. Let’s dive into how we see the Bruins lining up in 2018.
Starter: Devon Modster
Reserves: K.J. Carta-Samuels, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Matt Lynch
Notes: This will be an immediate position of intrigue in Westwood. Anyone who’s watched Chip Kelly teams in the past will know the quarterback is central to his team’s success, and after managing to keep Thompson-Robinson — a recruit who actually fits Kelly’s offense better than the one to which he originally committed — Kelly could have his next big star at his disposal from the beginning of summer camp. The freshman will be at a disadvantage not having spring ball to learn, but stands as an immediate threat to Modster.
We also shouldn’t overlook graduate transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels, who also fits Kelly’s scheme quite well. And let’s give credit to Modster, who got his first real taste of the future in UCLA’s Cactus Bowl loss, completing 21 of 34 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll likely get first-team reps, but he’ll face some stiff competition right out of the gate.
Starter: Soso Jamabo
Reserves: Bolu Olorunfunmi, Brandon Stephens, Jalen Starks, Kazemir Allen
Notes: Olorunfunmi was once a highly touted recruit, but hasn’t found the success to match while running behind some shoddy offensive lines. That situation only worsens on paper in 2018, with three starters departing, but based on Kelly’s offense, Olorunfunmi stands to make quite an improvement based on sheer number of opportunities.
Behind him exists a couple of backs who saw spell action in 2017 in Stephens and Starks, and Allen brings tantalizing potential thanks to his top-flight speed. Maybe, just maybe, we see a little thunder and lightning action in UCLA’s backfield in 2018.
Starters: Theo Howard, Demetric Felton, Christian Pabico
Reserves: Chase Cota, Stephen Johnson, Dymond Lee, Antonio Brown, Kyle Philips, Delon Hurt
Notes: UCLA is losing its top target in Jordan Lasley, and another in Darren Andrews. It’s also losing its golden-armed quarterback, Josh Rosen. This combination makes for a rough year of adjustment in the passing game, but with the switch to Kelly’s offense, the focus won’t be as much on the wideouts as it might be in a more traditional scheme.
So where do we go from here? We go to Howard (56 catches, 594 yards, four touchdowns) and Pabico (18 catches, 280 yards, one touchdown) and some new arrivals, most notably Cota, who stands to make an immediate impact as long as he can hit the ground running.
Starter: Caleb Wilson
Reserves: Jordan Wilson, Austin Roberts
While UCLA looks a little thin at wide receiver, it’s as deep as can be at tight end. These players should see added targets in Kelly’s offense, which likes to split out tight ends and take advantage of mismatches in the middle areas of the field. Caleb Wilson is a good one, and is poised to be one of the Bruins’ top targets in 2018. His backups — Jordan Wilson, Austin Roberts — aren’t too shabby either.
Starters: Jake Burton (LT), Chris Murray (LG), Joshua Wariboko-Alali (C), Michael Alves (RG), Andre James (RT)
Reserves: Bryan Weitzman, Sean Seawards, Zach Sweeney, Clayton Demski
UCLA had a ton of upperclassmen leave due to graduation, and lost another to an early departure for the NFL draft. Enter 4-star recruit Chris Murray, who has a great shot at starting at guard right away along an incredibly young line that should be quite good a year or two from now. In the meantime, they’ll take their lumps, as any unit that lost three starts would. Get ready to run to the right side — Alves and James each started all 13 games for the Bruins in 2017 and return to bring the wisdom.
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