Friday, August 8, 2008

Year of the Freshman

There was a lot of hype around UCLA's last two recruiting classes. Both the '07 and '08 classes were chalked full of four and sometimes five star talent. This season, we should see many of those players, both red-shirt freshman and true freshman, taking the field. The early reports out of the fall camp point to this being the year of the freshman.

When Aundre Dean and Rahim Moore committed to UCLA, they were considered the crown jewels in an already rich recruiting class. Coach Neuheisel obviously saw their talent early on and he has both players taking lots of reps in practice. In particular, Moore looks like he could have the inside track on the strong safety position. According to Brian Dohn:
Moore said he was not having trouble picking up the basic defenses UCLA is running. "I'm not lost,'' Moore said. "I'm actually coming along pretty good. I'm in my learning process right now where every day I'm still learning. I've been running with the 1s, and the pace has been fast, but I'm used to it since the summer.''
Dean likely won't unseat Kalil Bell as the starting tail back, but he'll probably see a lot of playing time anyways. Dean has the physical stature well beyond his years and he doesn't look like a true freshman. The guy is big and strong and he'll be a powerful running back. The sooner Dean learns the offense, the better, and I can see him developing into a significant contributer for the Bruins this year.

Behind Dean is a whole host of other new backs. Raymond Carter, Derrick Coleman, Johnathan Franklin, and Milton Knox will also put on pads for the first time and fight for minutes as well. I don't see Franklin or Knox playing a whole lot this year, barring injuries ahead of them in the depth chart, but having them red shirt will be good for the program in the long run.

The other new recruits are showing some sparks on offense as well. Receiver Nelson Rosario made a spectacular finger tip catch at the end of Thursday's practice. He beat out fellow freshman Anthony Dye who has been working a lot with the two sets of practices coach Neuheisel was running the first few days of camp.

On the defensive line, Dantone Jones impressed PE beat writer Kevin Pearson with his size and strength:

Among the more physically impressive freshmen is defensive end Datone Jones, who checks in at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. Jones, a Compton High grad, looks like he has tree trunks for legs and just looks different than most freshmen tend to look.

"He has an NFL body," defensive tackle Brigham Harwell said. "He'll be a great Bruin here. I look forward to watching him and seeing what he can do."

Jones is currently listed as a defensive end, but he could morph into a tackle as he continues to grow and develop. I can easily see him getting into the two deep at end this season and pushing Bosworth. Senior corner back Michael Norris is also going to get a lot of pressure from red-shirt freshman Courtney Viney, who was impressive in the spring game, and true freshman Aaron Hester. The secondary is pretty thin to begin with so the more guys we can get into the mix the better.

It's easy to get excited about the new faces, but we also have to take some of these reports with a grain of salt. With the lack of success over the last few seasons, it is natural for us fans to latch onto any new player who is full of talent and promise. All of these kids could turn out to be outstanding players for UCLA, but each one has a long way to go in their careers. They'll make mistakes, drop balls, get burned in coverage, and miss a tackle or two, or ten. They are still young and they still need to develop both physically and mentally. The college game is much faster paced than in high school and the PAC-10 if chocked full of future NFL talent. It won't be an easy season for them, but it does give you a warm fuzzy feeling that the future of UCLA football looks bright.

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