UCLA Football: Spring Practice Position Battle Tracker
The UCLA Bruins return the majority of their team from a season ago. With the high number of underclassmen performing at a high clip, there's no question competition will remain heated throughout spring practice.
Anthony Barr's departure to the NFL leaves a gaping hole at one of the outside linebacker spots. Additionally, the spots of both Xavier Su'a-Filo and Jordan Zumwalt will need to be filled.
This piece will detail the most interesting position battles heading into the spring. Only current members of the squad and early enrollees will be accounted for.
Here's a look at the most intriguing position battles for the Bruins.
*A full schedule of UCLA's spring practice can be found here.
Wide Receiver: Devin Lucien vs. Eldridge Massington
The introduction of Eldridge Massington to the wide receiver group should be a fascinating development.
Massington redshirted this past season in order to fully recuperate from a torn ACL. Now healthy, he'll be looking to make his mark. It's worth noting Massington ran a 10.52 in the 100-meter dash as a high school senior.
Speed is the prominent element lacking from within the unit. Assuming Massington has completely regained his speed from before, he could be a very valuable member of the team going forward.
His primary competition for the outside receiver spot is Devin Lucien. There's never been a question about Lucien's overall talent. However, he's been plagued by a lack of consistency throughout his career.
Now a redshirt junior, Lucien will look to take the next step in becoming a starter. He averaged 17.8 yards per catch last season.
UCLA needs to find a receiver with the ability to stretch the field vertically. Lucien and Massington figure to go head-to-head in the spring in order to determine who will fit the bill in that capacity.
Second-Team Running Back: Craig Lee vs. Paul Perkins vs. Steven Manfro
The UCLA backfield is a bit muddled at this point.
Jordon James figures to be the lead back going into the 2014 season. However, he isn't a prototypical every-down back. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone likes to utilize a myriad of options at the running back position.
With that said, there are multiple candidates in the running to play behind James.
Paul Perkins will likely start the spring as the second-string tailback. He finished second on the team in rushing last season, and he was deadly catching the ball out of the backfield on third down.
Steven Manfro will also figure into the mix. He's a jack-of-all-trades for UCLA from a versatility standpoint. He can play as a tailback but also can perform as a receiver in the slot.
The true unknown in this equation is redshirt freshman Craig Lee. Lee is dripping with overall talent and upside. His combination of pure speed and power make him a very enticing prospect. Continued development in the spring could catapult Lee towards the top of the depth chart.
This will be the most intriguing position battle of the spring.
It's unrealistic to assume a newcomer will be able to replicate Anthony Barr's production of the past two seasons.
The three candidates for the open spot include Deon Hollins, Kenny Orjioke and Aaron Wallace.
Hollins perhaps is the most natural pass-rusher of the three. His initial burst is impressive, as is his overall quickness. At 6'0", 216 pounds, he might be a bit undersized to play the lion's share of the snaps. Regardless, he will be employed on third-down packages.
Wallace is the most experienced of the three. He's seen time in a reserve role the past two seasons and also participates on special teams. From a physical standpoint, he isn't as impressive as Hollins or Orjioke. However, he's a smart, heady football player.
Orjioke is the closest thing to Barr in size. He's an explosive athlete at 6'4", 240 pounds. He is still raw in his technique and will need to continue to develop. With that said, his upside is immense. Orjioke is equipped with the physical tools to be an impact player this year.
This will be a hotly contested position. All three figure to see time on the field next year, but a strong spring camp could separate one from the pack.
Left Guard: Malcolm Bunche vs. the Field
Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche satisfied a huge need for the Bruins' young offensive line.
Bunche not only brings experience, but also versatility. He's capable of playing at both the guard and tackle positions.
With Xavier Su'a-Filo leaving early for the NFL, there's a gaping hole at the left guard spot. Bunche will likely slide right in and stabilize the position for the 2014 season.
While he's the odds-on favorite for the spot, redshirt freshman Kenny Lacy, redshirt junior Ben Wysocki and early enrollee NaJee Toran will all vie for playing time.
If anything, the spring will provide UCLA with the ability to build depth at the position.
Middle Linebacker: Zach Whitley vs. Isaako Savaiinaea
Two young players will square off in the battle to replace Jordan Zumwalt in the middle of UCLA's defense.
I do have to preface this slide by introducing some speculation. It is conceivable to think Myles Jack could transition into the middle and play next to Eric Kendricks. If true, he will be the unquestioned starter at the position.
Should he stay on the outside, competition for the vacant spot is truly up for grabs.
Sophomore Isaako Savaiinaea played last year as the primary reserve to both Zumwalt and Kendricks. He filled in admirably for the majority of the season—especially in the Stanford game. He's a physical player with impressive mental acuity.
The potential challenger for the spot comes in the form of early enrollee Zach Whitley. The Houston, Texas native is physically gifted.
Reporter Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register spoke to Jack about Whitley. Jack mentioned Whitley "passes the eye test. [Whitley] is more defined than I was when I came in last year."
If Whitley can perform similarly to how Jack did as a freshman, UCLA will be absolutely ecstatic.
Left Tackle: Poasi Moala vs. Conor McDermott
Left tackle is arguably the most crucial spot on the offensive line for any football team. Protecting the quarterback's blind side is absolutely paramount.
With Simon Goines and Torian White out for spring practice, the competition at the position is completely open.
Poasi Moala has a very high ceiling. His athletic ability for the position is superior, as is his lateral mobility and quickness. For Moala, he needs to get physically stronger in order to hold up to the rigors of the position.
If Goines continues to be plagued by knee injuries, Moala could conceivably start this year. A strong spring camp is imperative for his development as a player.
Conor McDermott is another intriguing option at the position. Like Moala, he's an athletic prospect with long arms and great length. At 6'8", he's the tallest tackle on the roster. He also needs to get physically bigger in order to not be overwhelmed by bigger opponents.
The relative lack of depth at left tackle should enable both McDermott and Moala to get quality reps throughout camp.
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