TAMPA - UCF Football commitment TJ Bullard played very well Friday night. His high school team, Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep hosted Tampa (Fla.) Catholic and Bullard showed what he could do in different situations.
Being able to cover in space, that’s what college football programs want to find when scouting potential linebacker targets. Bullard fit the mold before Friday night’s game, and he improved his stock based on his performance versus Catholic.
That’s the first thing that needs to be noted. Bullard showed a natural awareness to play his zone and defend against the pass whether it was staying with one particular player or passing of a receiver and moving to the next player that came into his area. Bullard also provided proof that he could time his blitzes well.
Berkeley Prep came after Catholic’s young signal callers, and Bullard found his way to the quarterback and hurried his throws several times. To aid his blitz, Bullard’s first two steps allowed him to gain substantial speed. That’s something a linebacker always needs, speed. Bullard showed plenty of it against Catholic.
Here are the areas that Bullard impressed with the most, and also help define whether he will be ready to play as a freshman in some capacity.
Closing Speed to Play Safety or Linebacker
Besides getting to the quarterback, Bullard also closed well during running plays that moved away from his original position. Regardless of the distance, he would run to the ball carrier with a fluid running motion and bring his shoulder pads to hit with him to strike the ball carrier.
What Bullard displayed represents the type of speed UCF needs at linebacker to compete in the Big XII. That’s a passing league, and Bullard will be a linebacker chess piece that can play the hybrid linebacker position, i.e. the “Knight” as UCF calls it, or eventually grow into a weak side linebacker, much like current linebacker Tatum Bethune.
Instincts and Timing
Natural speed aside, Bullard’s ability to time up when he would break down to make a tackle, as well as when he would go underneath a block or go around, displayed an awareness that will benefit him once he plays his football in Orlando.
He's just a natural football player. The way Bullard changes direction and goes full speed to the ball carrier after seeing movement from an offensive guard that's pulling, or watching a receiver move into the flat that he needs to cover is impressive.
Effort and Consistency
For any defensive recruit, this category must be included with a player or it’s a red flag. Defensive players chase the football because the offensive players know where the football will be intended to go after the snap. Of course, the defensive players must figure that out and run to the football.
That’s the definition of Bullard. He’s a heat-seeking-missle when it comes to finding the ball carrier, and he plays hard and fast while doing it. His effort is fun to watch. No question that this young man enjoys playing football.
Possible Early Playing Time at UCF?
The only question would be the exact position. Does he start out at safety and move to the Knight position down the line? Playing in space over an opponent’s slot receiver is what the Knight position entails. Based on Bullard’s Friday performance, as well as seeing him live during practice, he could help out at that position in 2022. There’s one catch.
He’s 185 pounds right now. He needs to add about 15 pounds so that he can be a nickel or dime package specialist, basically being an additional defensive back in the process. If Bullard adds more weight than 15 pounds, it’s a bonus.
In time, he will grow into his frame. He’s very thin and muscular now, but there’s room to add 20 or 25 pounds. Regardless of added weight by next fall, Bullard is a lock to be on special teams units. He’s fearless and loves to run as fast as he can to the football. That’s the type of player UCF needs on special teams.
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