Rick Neuheisel’s fourth year as the Head Coach at UCLA ended up being his final one. In fact, he was fired just days after a 50-0 loss to archrival USC. The Bruins finished the season 6-8 yet somehow managed to play in both the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game and a bowl game, illustrating that college football’s merit system often has as many holes in it as a slice of Swiss cheese. With the “success” of 2011 in its rearview mirror, UCLA enters 2012 with a new Head Coach, Jim Mora Jr., and new philosophies on both sides of the ball. They also welcome P Diddy’s (Puff Daddy’s?) son into the fold as an incoming freshman. These are exciting new times for the Bruins. Here’s a look at their top draft eligible prospects. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Cassius Marsh* DE 6’3 275 – Marsh was the fourth rated defensive tackle recruit in the country in 2010. But during his time at UCLA, he may be best known for swinging his helmet amid the bizarre brawl that broke out in a game against Arizona last fall. His antics earned him a two game suspension. This was nothing new for Marsh. He has earned a reputation for being a hot head after numerous dust-ups and tantrums at Bruin practices. On the field, that mean streak has translated to uneven and underwhelming play. In 23 games, he has just two sacks and six tackles for loss. This year, under Mora Jr., Marsh will play defensive end in the team’s new 3-4 alignment. He seems to have taken to his new role and new coach, and is reportedly demonstrating maturity and a strong work ethic. Perhaps this will be the year Marsh finally lives up to his billing.
Datone Jones DE 6’4 275 – Jones was another highly regarded high school recruit heading into his Bruins career. As a freshman in 2008, he played in ten games and made two starts. As a sophomore he started every game, and finished the season with four sacks, 14 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Jones broke his foot prior to his junior season and was forced to take a medical redshirt. When he returned last season, he never quite regained the form he’d shown as a sophomore. He looked as if he’d lost a step, and he had trouble getting off his blocks. With Mora running the 3-4 this season, Jones’ role will change. He’ll most likely line up at end in the base defense; but he has experience playing inside, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him line up there in passing situations. If Jones can successfully demonstrate scheme versatility this season, it will do nothing but improve his standing with pro scouts.
Johnathan Franklin RB 5’11 195 – Franklin took a redshirt season in 2008, but starred on UCLA’s scout team. He started eight games the following year and led the team with 566 rushing yards. As a sophomore, Franklin broke the 1000-yard barrier, something no Bruin had done since 2006, and finished with 1127 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Last year, Franklin averaged 5.9 yards per carry and came up just shy of his second straight 1000-yard season. His efforts earned him a nod as honorable mention All-Pac 12. Franklin is a quick runner with good speed and moves in the open field. He has a small frame and doesn’t run with a lot of power. He goes down fairly easily and has also been bothered by ball security issues at times. He will simply have to do a better job protecting the football if he hopes to make an NFL roster. Despite a lack of experience as a receiver, Franklin’s skill set best translates to a change-of-pace role in the NFL. If he can learn to hold onto the ball consistently, he has potential to be a useful NFL player.
Joseph Fauria TE 6’7 255 – The nephew of former NFL tight end Christian Fauria, Joseph originally committed to Notre Dame. He played sparingly as a freshman in 2008 before sitting out the 2009 season so he could transfer to UCLA. In his first year with the Bruins, Fauria played mostly on special teams, but he closed out the season with a touchdown reception in each of the team’s final two games. He started the 2011 season off with his first (and only to date) 100-yard receiving effort. He wound up starting nine games, and catching 39 passes for 481 yards and six touchdowns. Fauria is a massive target who appears to run well for a man his size. He has reliable hands and can fight off defenders for positioning. Scouts would like to see better blocking out of him, but he’s the type of player who could help out early in the passing game. For a detailed scouting report on Fauria click here.
Also keep an eye on: Kevin Prince QB 6’2 230, Jeff Baca G 6’3 295, Aaron Hester CB 6’1 207, Sheldon Price CB 6’2 180, Richard Brehaut QB 6’2 230, Dalton Hilliard FS 5’11 198, Jeff Locke P 6’0 207