Thursday, August 30, 2012
2012 UCLA Football: Defense Position Ratings
At least UCLA used to play some defense...
Since the departure of the 2009 class that included the likes of Brian Price, Alteraun Verner, and Reggie Carter, UCLA has been abysmal in all facets of football. The offense never improved, while the defense got worse with every passing year. That's where Mr. Mora Jr. comes into play.
UCLA has long needed an identity for the program, and with a defensive minded Mora Jr., the Bruins may finally find it on defense. Mora Jr. brings with him his new defensive coordinator Lou Spanos, a disciple of the legendary Pitsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. People will talk a lot about the switch to an NFL 3-4 scheme, but UCLA's issues go far beyond schemes and packages. The Bruins first need to learn how to cover, tackle, and maintain a consistent push up front. If Jim Mora Jr. is really the man to lead the Bruins back to prominence, then it will likely mean this side of the ball becoming a staple of the program.
Even when the quarterback play was awful, the Bruins could count on the Bruce Davis' and Brian Price's of the world to set camp in opposing backfields. Today, the defensive line is home to nine, count it, nine sacks. This group seems hard to rate, for its very high on potential, but has thus far been solely about what if's.
The rotation has a ton of depth, and plenty of potential. Currently listed as the starters on the end are Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh. Jones has been disappointing to this point in his career, and its time that he puts it all together for one final solid season if he wants to get a chance to play on Sundays. At 6-4, 275 lbs, he has all the tools to be a big time pass rusher in this league. Backing him up are more former blue chippers in Owamagbe Odigizhuwa and Donovan Carter. The big story this off-season was the signing of 5-star Ellis McCarthy. He has been hurt for much of camp, but just returned and has reportedly been tossing around teammates like rag dolls. His development will be fun to watch this season. This late however, it may be hard to break into the rotation at least for the early part of the season. At nose tackle, the starter is listed as Seali'i Epenesa, who was probably the least heralded of the defensive lineman. Backing him up is the former Tar Heel turned Bruin turned Tar Heel now Bruin Brandon Willis, yet another high school Army All American, and another former four star player in Kevin McReynolds.
This group seems to have the best mix of veteran leadership and exciting youth. But it wouldn't be UCLA without some devastating injury to report. Patrick Larimore suffered a very unfortunate career ending concussion injury, and hopefully will bounce back to lead a successful life. The linebacking core is once again all about potential and what if's.
Slotted now at the outside linebacker positions are Jordan Zumwalt and Anthony Barr. Zumwalt showed a lot of promise his freshman year, but had a major drop in production last season. The previous coaching staff couldn't figure out what to do with the freak of an athlete that was Anthony Barr. Yet another big time recruit, Barr will have to finally put it all together and become a reliable run stopper for the Bruins. Inside are Damien Holmes and Eric Kendricks. Holmes has several starts under his belt on the defensive line, making his shift to the linebacker core will be intriguing to watch. Kendricks, the brother of first round draft choice Mychal Kendricks, had a very promising freshman year, should make a big jump with the new staff. UCLA however once again, for better or worse, has good depth in the fact that the backups shouldn't show much dropoff from the starters. Aaron Porter is a true freshman who could have bright days ahead of him, while Keenan Graham is a former Army All American who has seen a lot of playing time at DE. Nate Iese is another d-line turnover who has earned the backup outside linebacker slot. Todd Golper has been an underachiever during his time in Westwood, but is as good as a third option might get, while Aaron Wallace and Kenny Orijoke are true freshman who could turn into something down the road.
To summarize the state of the secondary, look no further than this.
The Bruins will have back starting corners Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester. Price is often picked on for his lack of size, while Hester is often chastised for his closing speed. Both however have played a lot of football and should regain some swagger with the new coaching staff. At strong safety is the senior Andrew Abbot, who has also seen a lot of time and should be solid. The free safety slot however is what has UCLA fans excited. Tevin McDonald will be building up his own name across town from his brother, TJ McDonald (who will definitely play in the NFL soon). He was a freshman All-American by several media outlets, and could burst onto the national scene with a solid sophomore campaign. The backup corners are both true freshman, a cause for concern and hope. Marcos Rios and Ishmael Adams will likely be counted on to play a lot in four and five wide sets. Fabian Moraeu and Randall Godforth check in at third on the depth chart. Moraeu has drawn praise from the coaching staff on several occasions. The backup safeties are both veterans in Dalton Hillard, a starter last year, and Stan McKay. Anthony Jefferson is the third stringer at strong safety, and has had his career marred thus far with injuries. Rounding out the depth chart is Brandon Sermons, who likely wouldn't see time at many other PAC 12 schools.