Now that the UCLA football team has their newest recruits signed and ready, Go Joe Bruin takes a look at five freshmen that could see a lot of time on the field in 2019.
It was not an overwhelmingly great 2019 recruiting class for the UCLA football team, but that does not mean it is without skill. Chip Kelly and his staff were able to bring in several talented players that could (and should) make an impact in 2019.
Whether it is sheer talent, depth issues or any other situations that may arise, several of these newcomers should have plenty of playing time next fall. Let us look at the likely candidates…
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Sean Rhyan, LT
The heavy use of Rhyan will be due to a couple of things. First off, the Bruins have lost three offensive linemen from last season. One of those just happened to be the best OL on the team in the most important spot on the line, Andre James. With James off to the NFL Draft, the Bruins need someone to handle the blindside. This brings us to our second reason why Rhyan will see a lot of time… he has the talent to take over immediately. Not only does he have raw talent, but he should develop nicely (and quickly) under Justin Frye. We saw how true freshman Chris Murray improved over the span of the last season, the same is possible for Rhyan.
Datona Jackson, DE
The Bruins have some depth on the defensive line thanks to this latest recruiting class, which means they will have a lot of players to try and build around. Jackson is one of those. He is a junior college transfer which means he has some experience at the next level. On top of that, he is a fierce competitor and very strong, which makes him ideal for the “aggressive” defensive scheme DC Jerry Azzinaro is trying to implement. But what will really help Jackson land a ton of minutes is his pass rushing ability. Off the edge or up the middle, Jackson finds ways to bully through the O-line and into the backfield, which is why we should see plenty of time in 2019.
Michael Martinez, TE
Normally, I would not project a player like Martinez to get a lot of playing time, simply because he is he at least four down in the depth chart (and not because he doesn’t have talent, which he does), but as we saw last season, Chip Kelly is in heavy demand for tight ends. Quite often, UCLA employed a 13 personnel scheme (one running back, three tight ends), so even though he might not get the most minutes, he will get plenty. And as stated above, Martinez has talent. Whether he is needed to block or find space for a reception, he should assimilate nicely into the Bruins’ offense and make an impact sooner than later.
John Ward, LB
Ready? When I say “Pain”, you say “Train!” Pain, “Train!” Pain, “Train!” UCLA actually has some depth among the linebackers, especially with five seniors ready to give the middle of the field a boost, but that does not mean the coaches will stick with them, especially if the younger players develop faster than expected. Ward is a very energetic LB that gets after the ball and can make huge hits. With his development and the need for younger players to step up for 2020, it will be imperative for the coaching staff to develop the freshmen as soon as possible and looking at Ward’s potential, there is a chance he could be “The Man” in a few seasons.
Keegan Jones, RB
(Jones is officially part of the 2018 class, but he signed back in December during the Early Signing Period and will be available for 2019.)
We all know that Joshua Kelley is going to be the #1 RB next season, but he cannot do it all. With Chip Kelly’s mind constantly moving, he will find ways to get the rest of the backs involved in some form or another. We should also see a lot more speed next season, especially with the players having a year of experience under their belt. Now that they know what to execute, they can do it faster and faster. With Kelley, Kazmeir Allen and Jones, the Bruins’ coach has more than enough to build a speedy running game that will have multiple backs attacking from all sides.
If you do not know about what Jones can do, just know that the GJB recruiting guru Michael Hanna is very excited about him joining the Bruins, which means you should also be very excited.