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Tuesday, April 19, 2011
UCLA spring football: Three up, three down

By Peter Yoon

UCLA completed its final full practice of the spring Tuesday with only a closed non-contact, walk through practice Thursday and Saturday's spring game to follow, so with that, we take a moment to review some players who impressed with their performances this spring and some who didn't quite live up to expectations:

THREE UP

1. Datone Jones, DE

Of all the players returning from 2010 injuries, Jones--who missed last season with a broken foot--was the only one who played at 100 percent this spring.

And his performance this spring was a reminder of just how much he was missed last year. His combination of strength and quickness made him a disruptive force throughout the spring and he showed no ill effects from missing a year. He said he's feeling stronger and faster than he was before the injury and that's saying a lot because he earned sophomore All-American honors in 2009 after making 11 tackles for a loss.

Jones is probably the only player among a crowded defensive line who has solidified his starting spot heading into the fall.

2. Jordon James, RB

James battled injuries early last season and was relegated to the scout team, but he showed what he can do while healthy this spring.

James dazzled with his array of open-field moves that has earned him the nickname "Joystick" from teammates because he runs as if someone is controlling him with one.

His first-step quickness enables him to hit holes and at only 5-10, he's difficult to spot behind the line. The combination of those two things often enables him to get into the open field where he works his shake and bake magic.

James still has some work to do on his blocking skills, but he's certainly done enough in the run game to move up a slot or two on the depth chart and should be getting a close look as a regular ball carrier in the fall. He will also be competing for punt and kick return duties.

3. Nelson Rosario, WR

Rosario has been one of UCLA's top receivers for the last two seasons, but has shown this spring that he is on the verge of becoming one of the top receivers in the Pac-10.

He's always had the size (6-5) and athletic ability (he doubles as a high jumper and long jumper on the UCLA track team) but is showing this spring that he's harnessing all those traits. He's made a couple of highlight-reel catches and is showing a confidence and energy that seemed to be missing in the past.

He's fighting for balls, rather than playing the position passively, and is one of the few receivers that hasn't been plagued by dropped passes. If he continues this level of play into the fall, Rosario will be UCLA's clear go-to receiver and could develop into the big-play threat the Bruins need.

Honorable mention: Johnathan Franklin, RB; Stan Hasiak, OL; Morrell Presley, TE; Aaron Hester, DB.

THREE DOWN

1. Brett Hundley, QB

Expectations for Hundley were sky-high when he graduated high school early and enrolled at UCLA in time to participate in spring practice, but he's shown his age and lack of experience this spring.

Hundley has not yet grasped the complexities of the college game, struggling with reads, formations and protections as he experienced the college game for the first time.

There is no doubt that he has a ton of natural talent. He throws a nice ball and his running ability has really opened some eyes this spring, but he's also relied a bit too heavily on that running ability by tucking and taking off when he can't immediately decipher what is happening around him.

Hundley will one day be the starting quarterback for UCLA, but this spring has shown that that he still needs a bit of seasoning. He will be behind Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince entering fall camp and it appears as though he's headed for a redshirt season.

2. Malcolm Jones, RB

After playing in 11 games as a true freshman, Jones figured to challenge for a the starting tailback role this spring, but he seems to have lost ground to Johnathan Franklin, who solidified his starting role with a strong spring. Backup Derrick Coleman also continued his solid play and even Jordon James (see above) may be ahead of Jones on the depth chart when fall camp opens.

Jones, slowed some by injuries last season as he rushed for 215 yards in 55 carries, has shown flashes of the talent that made him the 2009 national high school player of the year. He's a tough runner with the ability to move the pile for extra yards, but hasn't found a way to stand out this spring.

His pass blocking has definitely held him back, but unlike James, he hasn't shown the type of running ability that would allow the coaches to overlook that shortcoming. Jones got much of his opportunity last season because of an injury to Coleman, but he'll need to improve during fall camp to warrant such opportunities next season.

3. Offensive line

The Bruins had high hopes for their offensive front with a boatload of experienced players returning and some quality backups behind, but injuries quickly thinned things out.

Jeff Baca broke his ankle on the second day of camp, Sean Sheller broke his hand midway through camp and Kai Maiava aggravated the broken ankle that kept him out all last season.  All three are projected starters, but because of those injuries, a bevy of young, inexperienced players got lots of playing time in the spring, and the lack of depth across the line was evident.

Brett Downey, Connor Bradford and Greg Capella, who have a combined two games of experience, were among the first-string offensive line at the end of spring camp. Redshirt freshmen Wade Yandall and Kody Innes were getting a lot of reps as well.

Those are valuable reps for those players, but the defensive front had their way with them most of the time, which showed that those players still have a long way to go if they are going to make UCLA coaches and fans comfortable with the depth on the offensive line.

Honorable Mention: Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DL; Josh Smith, WR, Anthony Barr, FB