Well, that was an interesting signing day. As I noted heading into the afternoon yesterday, the early morning was coming up nothing but Bruin! But as the afternoon approached, the drama unfolded in a big way, with key linebacker recruit Roquan Smith questioning his signing day commitment to UCLA upon hearing initial reports that defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was leaving the program to join the Atlanta Falcons coaching staff. While both Smith's recruitment and Ulbrich's status remain up in the air, the Bruins lost one presumed lean in LB Poly D-lineman Joseph Wicker, but added a pair of commitments in WR Cordell Broadus and DB Nathan Meadors.
In a significant turn around from the last two signing classes under Jim Mora, the Bruins landed a series of offensive studs on signing day (5* RB SoSo Jamabo, 4-5* TE Chris Clark, 4* Josh Wariboko and 4* Cordell Broadus), but struggled on the defensive side, losing (4* DL) Wicker to ASU and having Smith's status uncertain with at least UGA still in the mix. That isn't meant to discount the work done toward the end of recruiting season to pick up the pre-NSD commitments from 4* DB's Dechaun Holiday and Colin Samuel, but simply a note on how this particular signing season unfolded.
I am going to hold off on rating or grading out the recruiting class for the moment - we will be posting a roundtable discussion among the frontpagers in the next few days - but until then, I do have a few thoughts on yesterday and the recruiting class. As I mentioned earlier, signing day was a reversal from what we have previously see under Mora as far as landing elite offensive talents. We can all be happy with the offensive class heading to Westwood this fall (on in the case of Josh Rosen, already on campus). Landing the #1 QB, RB and TE in the nation per Scout, as well as the #1 group of O-linemen is a credit to the work put in by the coaching staff over the past year.
On the defensive side, the staff did a great job in picking up a couple of elite commitments - 5* DE/LB Keisean Lucier-South and (4*) Holiday, but missed out on reinforcing the D-line and linebacking units. Depth at those positions should not be a factor this fall, but could be a significant issue in 2016 with Kenny Clark, Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes all at risk of declaring after the coming season for the 2016 NFL Draft.
The staff's approach to out of state recruiting is also something that needs to be considered. At least relating to what regions are the wisest for the coaches to target. UCLA football has a longstanding record of success in recruiting Texas, at least dating back to the Donahue era, which points to a strong enough regional reputation and level of receptiveness in the minds of coaches and families to support extending regular effort at recruiting the state. Though we ended up missing on the two WR's that we heavily recruited, we did land the best player in the state. UCLA also had success recruiting the west coast and the Pac-12 footprint, picking up recruits from Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah. Efforts at recruiting the south, however, have remained sketchy. After using a tremendous share of recruiting resources last year on the deep south to end up with only Kenny Young ('only' referring to the staff's batting average, so to speak, not to Young's quality as a football player), the staff again rolled deep toward the southern recruits, with only the possibility of Roquan Smith to show.
At some point in the last few days, one of our community members brought up the point (I forget now which post that comment was under) that after next year's class, the Bruin program will be all Jim Mora's guys, and have a talent level that will allow the team to compete with anyone in the country. The 'next year' timeline involved an argument that the low-ranked 2011 class needs to be fully cycled out for that promise to come to fruition, one that I don't fully agree with - that recruiting class was the lowest rated in recent UCLA history. But thanks in part due to its small size, it was a class that does not have that much impact on the current scholarship numbers; of the players remaining from 2011, we are left with a couple of key players (Jake Brendel and Devin Lucien) as well as several valued contributors (such as Steven Manfro, Conor McDermott, and Jerry Neuheisel) who may not be starting-caliber players, have played important roles in the program above their recruiting predictions.
What that comment does highlight is that Coach Mora is short on excuses as we head into 2015 and beyond. With a pair of top-10 recruiting classes (top-5 per Scout) and another pair of top-20 classes filling out the roster, he has the depth and elite talent to achieve the goals that we have laid out and the team itself has set of winning the conference and making a playoff run. Expecting a title run this fall really isn't fair to Josh Rosen - assuming he wins the starting QB job - in his true freshman season regardless of the remaining strengths of the team, but by 2016, the Bruins will be in a position to legitimately make a run at national glory. A Failure at that point should lead us to take a serious look at the direction of the program.
For all of our newly committed players, Welcome to Westwood! And to Roquan Smith, here's hoping that you do come back into the fold and join the Bruin Family.