NCAA Football UCLA Bruins

UCLA Football: 5 Spring Practice Positional Battles to Watch

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UCLA Football: 5 Spring Practice Positional Battles to Watch

Andrew Weber - USA TODAY Sports

The UCLA Bruins will start spring practices on April 1, and will be looking to build on the momentum from the past two seasons. Coach Jim Mora has done an excellent job of changing the culture around UCLA football, and is determined to start competing for national championships. Last year the Bruins finished 10-3, with big wins to end the season over USC and Virginia Tech. However, losses to the top teams in the Pac-12 prevented the Bruins from playing in the Conference Championship.

The Bruins did graduate several stars who are currently preparing for the NFL Draft, and must find players to replace them. At linebacker, starters Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt are gone, and the Bruins will greatly miss their play-making abilities. Xavier Sua-Filo was their best offensive lineman, and filled in for multiple positions due to injuries. Shaquelle Evans lead the Bruins with over 700 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. They both are gone as well, and the Bruins will rely on young talent to replace them.

This year, they return many impact players, including Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley at quarterback. Mora has not been shy about playing younger players, especially on the offensive line and in the secondary. Many of these young players were forced into action due to injuries, and often times had to play several different positions. As a result, the Bruins finally have depth and experience that they can rely on. With young, versatile talent comes plenty of competition. Here are the top positional battles to look for as the Bruins head into spring practices.

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Running Back

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Last year, the Bruins relied on more of a committee after the departure of Jonathan Franklin. Hundley led the team in rushing, and freshman linebacker Myles Jack was second on the team in rushing touchdowns. This season they would prefer an actual running back to step up and take this group to the next level. Jordan James and Paul Perkins each rushed for over 500 yards last year, and Steven Manfro returns looking for more touches. Do not count out freshman Craig Lee who was a top recruit before redshirting last season.

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Offensive Guard

Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

Mora has the luxury of depth at the offensive line position, with many of the returners having experience at multiple positions. With that being said, the Bruins still must replace their leader Sua-Filo on the interior. Caleb Benecoch, Alex Redmond, and Scott Quessenberry figure to compete for the two guard positions, and all three saw significant time as starters last season due to injuries. Expect this to be one of the more interesting competitions.

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Outside Linebacker

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The All-American Barr is no longer on campus, and the Bruins need to find someone to replace him. Jack will no doubt start, but the spot opposite of him is up for grabs. The athletic Kenny Orjioke figures to be the early leader, but Jayon Brown, Aaron Wallace, and Deon Hollins all will get a shot to unseat him.

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Wide Receiver

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Evans was the leading receiver last season, but he has run out of eligibility. Noel Mazzone prefers to play multiple receivers, but someone will need to step up as the go-to guy. Devin Fuller is the quickest and will most likely continue to play in the slot after 43 receptions and five touchdowns last year (four receiving and one rushing). Jordan Payton is more of a physical, possession receiver, while Devin Lucien provides a game-breaking presence as evidenced by his 17.8 yards per catch. Freshman Eldridge Massington will also get the opportunity to emerge as the No. 1 guy, although he is still young.

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Nose Tackle

Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins use a variety of defensive fronts, especially against spread offenses. It will be interesting to see who the coaches choose as the starting nose tackle coming out of spring practice, especially with the abundance of young talent. Kenneth Clark saw significant time as a freshman in the middle. Both Eddie Vanderdoes and Ellis McCarthy have the size and strength to play in the middle, but showed their versatility by playing the defensive end positions last year. All three are young and talented, and have the potential to be stars that anchor the Bruins' defense.