These are not necessarily UCLA’s best players, or the most experienced or most talented. Rather, this is a list of a few Bruins who fans should keep an eye on in 2015, whether to watch for a breakout role or to simply marvel in their blink-and-you-missed highlights.
QB Josh Rosen, Fr. — It’s hard to start anywhere else. The true freshman was officially named UCLA’s starter a week ago. His development from here on out could determine whether the Bruins are a division also-ran or a surprise playoff contender.
LB Myles Jack, Jr. — Jack first took college football by storm in November 2013, when he gave offense a try and ran for 120 yards on his first six carries. While he doesn’t need to do that again thanks to UCLA’s improved backfield depth, the versatile defender might get a shot at kick returns. There’s injury risk, yes — but the prospect of the 6-foot-1, 245-pounder bouncing around on special teams is fun to imagine.
LT Conor McDermott, Jr. — After struggling with shoulder injuries his first couple of years at UCLA, the Tennessee native has quickly become one of the most crucial members of the offensive line. Last season, the Bruins allowed 25 sacks in the six games he didn’t start, but just 15 in the seven that saw him protecting the blind side.
• Related: Projected starters for 2015
REC Mossi Johnson, So. — Johnson has made his share of thrilling plays in UCLA’s last couple of camps. This could be the season that finally sees him break out, both as a slot receiver and a potential weapon on special teams.
LB Kenny Young, So. — He already started six games as a four-star recruit, and should see a much bigger role now that UCLA’s all-time tackles leader Eric Kendricks is busy in the NFL. He’s worked on dropping into pass coverage last season, and will need to be a vocal leader in the middle of the defense.
RB Nate Starks, So. — As a true freshman, Starks ran for 141 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries. Those numbers could easily double this fall, judging from how impressive the 5-11, 210-pound back has looked in practices. If Pac-12 rushing champion Paul Perkins goes pro, UCLA should have an immediate successor.
RB Bolu Olorunfunmi, Fr. — The three-star recruit was overshadowed in his recruiting class by five-star running back Soso Jamabo, but Olorunfunmi had a far better training camp. He displayed a natural instinct for finding holes, as well as surprising quickness and speed. While he might not get extended action this year, the Clovis North native has a bright future.
DE Takkarist McKinley, Jr. — UCLA only ranked 49th in the country with 29 sacks last season, despite fielding a front that produced two NFL draft picks (and by next spring, potentially three more). McKinley had 2.5 sacks after transferring in mid-September. With a full offseason to digest the playbook, expect him to become a crucial part of the pass rush.
CB Fabian Moreau, Sr. — The cornerback had a bit of a disappointing 2014 season, but talk of a potential All-America bid by coach Jim Mora that spring didn’t exactly set a low bar. Moreau still has a chance to be a great college defender, as long as he’s improved on his ball skills at the point of attack.
FB Nate Iese, Jr. — Take a look at Iese, and it’s hard to believe he’s only made 13 catches at UCLA. The Sacramento-area native stands at 6-3, 250 pounds, but moves in a way that no one that size should be able to. Three of his first seven career catches turned into touchdowns; if the Bruins are serious about developing their tight end/Y-receiver position, Iese deserves a longer look.
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