It can be hard sometimes in the off seasons of our sports teams to collect enough worthwhile notes to write something. But that is not this day. Yesterday was a big big day for UCLA football at all levels, so let's take a look at what was going on.
We put up an article last evening, but in case you missed it, the Bruins got a commitment from 2015 RB Bolu Olorunfunmi, a 3* RB from Clovis North High School in Fresno.
Besides having a completely awesome name, Bolu is one of the top 2 or 3 running backs in California going into his senior year, and he fills the Bruins' need for a power back. Olorunfunmi was the MVP of the No Cal Rivals Camp Series a couple weeks ago week and got his UCLA offer shortly after that. Per Ed Lewis with Bruin Sports Report, the quick ommitment was no surprise to the Bruins coaching staff. Lewis has a nice interview with Olorunfunmi on the BSR site behind firewall, and Adam Gorney has some additional video and analysis of the newest Bruin recruit.
I mentioned last night that commitments in March aren't always the most sure thing, and the Bruins don't have a lot of scholarships available for the 2015 class. But Olorunfunmi had a big jump from his sophomore season to his junior season last fall, and if he continues to develop like that he could become on of the top RB's in the country. We'll keep an eye as to whether the Bruins continue to chase some higher profile names nationally or if they focus on keeping Olorunfinmi.
On an aside from Olorunfunmi's comment, I'm glad to hear DeShaun Foster is still on the staff with the Bruins. With the reshuffle of the RB coach spot, I'm very glad to see Foster is still working with this group. The players have spoken very highly of his presence on the staff and now he's getting to learn from a real recruiting master in Coach Polamalu. I hope the Bruins will always have a place for Foster. After a great NFL career, he's showing a ton of promise at the coaching level now.
Jumping from the incoming players to the outgoing seniors, UCLA hosted its annual Pro Day yesterday, with NFL scouts getting an up close look at a bunch of the Bruins who are entering the NFL draft including Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Shaquelle Evans, Cassius Marsh, Damien Thigpen, Brandon Sermons, Stan McKay, Keenan Graham, Seali'i Epenesa, and Malcolm Jones, as well as some recent graduates like Aaron Hester, Jerry Johnson, and Jerry Rice Jr (with dad watching) who are looking to find a team. Zumwalt called it their job interview. The event was held at Spaulding with Bruins participating in a variety of speed and strength drills, and former NFL QB Jeff Garcia handled the throwing duties for the day.
As always, Coach Mora was hyping his players and the UCLA - NFL connections, and basically doing a great passive recruiting sell of the opportunities that Bruin players get at UCLA with this staff that they won't get at another school.
There's not another staff in college football that has the NFL experience that we have. We have four Super Bowl rings. I've been affiliated with 19 Hall of Famers. So we have a wealth of knowledge to share with our players to try to prepare them for the next level.
Mora was a twitter machine yesterday, talking up his players' NFL prospects as well as touting the value of Bruins Strength & Conditioning coach Sal Alosi. Give it to Mora for supporting and marketing his players in a way that Morgan Center couldn't even imagine.
One of the higher profile parts of Pro Day were the 40 yd dash times turned in by the Bruins. You'll remember from the NFL Combine that the 40 times were all a bit slower than expected, and that was seen across the board with nearly all of the prospects in Indy. Well, the 40 times in Westwood yesterday were faster. Much faster.
Ok, so maybe these 40 times, across the board, are a bit faster than expected. Seeing Jerry Johnson and Shaq Evans in the very low 4.3 range might be a bit too good, though these were all electronically timed (insert joke about the 40 yd dash being a 32 yard dash at Spaulding here) and Coach Mora said they are legit. It's probable that the actual times are somewhere between the times at the Underwear Olympics in Indy and the times on the home field yesterday, but they overall improvement also speaks to the Bruins training specifically for the drills and as well as the undoubtable comforts of home.
Anthony Barr easily made up for a mildly underwhelming Combine with improvement in both his 40 time to a blazing 4.45, which is consistent with some of his previous best times, and his bench reps from 15 to 19. Barr's prospects have bounced up and down a bit as draft analysts have nitpicked his game, but these numbers combined with the enormous upside of a guy with just two years at the LB position will help reassure many of the doubters that Barr is indeed a top 10 pick.
Xavier Su'a-Filo has been the fastest rising prospect amongst the draft eligible Bruins, and it was notable after such a successful Combine that he still took part in the Pro Day activities when he really had nothing much to gain. His performance continued to solidify his fast rising stock. Mora said he had numerous scouts rate X as the best guard in the draft and a couple scouts tell him that XSF was the best NFL guard prospect they have seen in over a decade. XSF has a legit look at a first round pick now, which is someting we haven't seen from a Bruin OL in about a decade, too. On a personal note, the Broncos just lost their left guard to free agency, so they have a hole in the line and the 31st pick in the first round. Ahhh, it's all coming together!! Come on Elway - make XSF a Bronco!!!!
One of the big surprises of the day was seeing DE Cassius Marsh running pass routes for the scouts. Lots of pass routes. From Mora:
Cassius was amazing today. These guys that were out here today aren't going to go to another school where a guy like Cassius is going to do what he did. Cassius worked out as a defensive end, he worked out as an outside linebacker, and he worked out as a tight end So you talk about versatility. I mean that's amazing. I've never seen that.
Mora said that while he didn't think the NFL was planning on a role for Marsh as a tight end and where his frame and skill set make him a bit of a tweener from DL to OLB, Cassius' motor, athleticism, and versatility are huge assets to his game and will make him successful at the next level. Mora went on to compare Marsh to a Kevin Greene type of player. He also reminded everyone about the opportunity at UCLA for players to fill a variety of roles on both sides of the ball. Always recruiting, coach!
There is a great photo gallery from the Bruin Pro Day on the Daily News site here that is definitely cool to check out (and note a few Nike swooshes amongst the Bruin athletes - hmmm...). You can watch Mora's recap of the Pro Day below. Many thanks to Jack Wang for the video.
video courtesy of Jack Wang via YouTube.
Ed Lewis from BSR also posted great video interviews with Barr, Zumwalt, and XSF here. It's really neat to see the excitement in these guys as they reflect on their UCLA days and how much fun they had competing with their friends and teammates on the home field.
Mora said he has been to hundreds of Pro Days through his career and many times he was there just to see one player. He says this event is different for him in that it is very gratifying to put on a Pro Day where he gets to feature 15-17 of his own players that he cares about and is proud see them get this opportunity. He kept promoting the UCLA - NFL connection by pointing out that Datone Jones and Johnathan Franklin are both in Westwood working out with Coach Alosi these days, too.
While these Bruins are looking forward to their future in the NFL, a couple Bruins who are already well established in the League were making news yesterday, too. Bruin Alum Alterraun Verner (HT to Bruins#1 for the fanshot yesterday) cashed in on his first opportunity at NFL free agency by signing a deal with the Tamp Bay Buccaneers worth $26.5 mil over 4 years, with $14 mil guaranteed. Nice guarantee.
But I'm also excited for the next chapter of my life in Tampa bay! Think there is something special (cont) http://t.co/LnupjjVWE7— Alterraun Verner (@Alvern_1) March 12, 2014
It's worth mentioning that the NFL is a big time business, and given the violent nature of the profession and the uncertain duration of any player's career, you really can't fault a player for looking for the best professional opportunity for himself, and that includes moving jobs for a pay raise. It's also worth noting that ATV's twitter page yesterday had a couple tweets thanking his fans and former team in Tennessee and added a quick mention of excitement about his new team in Tampa, but was mostly full of tweets and retweets and shout outs to the UCLA Bruins at their Pro day. Bruin For Life.
Fox71 is securing his season seats with the Bucs and buying a #20 jersey as we speak.
Maurice Jones-Drew is also making news as one of the top RB names available in the free agency market. He is scheduled to visit the New York Jets today as he looks for a new team for 2014. MJD has played for a miserable Jacksonville Jaguars regime for entire career where he still managed to win an NFL rushing title in 2011. Hopefully MJD can hook up with a more competitive and talented team where he won't be the only offensive threat and the sole target for opposing defenses.
Bruin recruits, Bruin graduates, and Bruin NFLers, oh my.