The UCLA Bruins football program has exhibited drastic improvement since the regime change in the front offices last year, and it’s beginning to show in a big way outside the walls of Westwood.
Following Jim Mora‘s successful first season in 2012, six graduating Bruins have been invited to participate in the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine in preparation for April’s NFL Draft. The event, which will be televised by the NFL Network, is scheduled to take place Feb. 23-26 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
UCLA’s total is tied for most representatives from the Pac-12 Conference, as crosstown rival Southern Cal will also send six to Indianapolis. In all, the Pac-12 will have 36 athletes present at the NFL Combine, and there will be at least one from each member institution.
The combine, which is essentially a skills camp for professional football, features UCLA players from a wide variety of positional units, including both lines, special teams, the offensive skill positions and the secondary.
Headlining the Bruins in Indy is running back Johnathan Franklin, UCLA’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards and rushing. Franklin had a breakout senior season (1,734 yds, 13 TDs), followed by a solid showing in the Senior Bowl (41 yds, 1 TD) to build momentum towards a shot at the NFL.
But Franklin isn’t the only Bruin with a legitimate chance to go early-on in the Draft, as DE Datone Jones has also come on strong of late.
Jones stands at 6’4″ and 280 pounds, and has really caught the eye of NFL scouts in recent weeks. In fact, some draft services project Jones to be selected in the first round, as the No. 5 defensive end in the class.
According to CBSSports.com, Jones could be taken as early as 21st overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that is in dire need of a talent upgrade at DE.
The other Bruins participating in the combine are OL Jeff Baca, TE Joseph Fauria, P Jeff Locke and DB Aaron Hester. Of this bunch, Baca may have the best chance to land a spot in the pro ranks, as he’s projected as the No. 12 offensive guard in the draft pool.
For Fauria, Locke and Hester, finding a place in the first seven rounds of the draft might be difficult, but there is always the option of signing as a free agent and working up as a practice squad member.
Recent UCLA alum Derrick Coleman found success this way after going undrafted in 2012. Coleman, a four-year contributor for the Bruins, landed on the reserve roster of the Seattle Seahawks after being picked up by the Minnesota Vikings post-draft day.
All of the Bruins representing UCLA at the combine have the opportunity to make a name for themselves, and it begins on Saturday with Fauria, Baca and Locke. Franklin is in action on Sunday, Jones will suit up on Monday, and Hester rounds out the rotation on Tuesday.
Make sure to tune-in and support these Bruins as they chase their NFL aspirations and prove that UCLA is indeed a destination for the country’s top talent.