To get another idea of how atrocious our defense was last year take a quick peak at our defensive statistics. 3 of the top 5 leading tacklers of last year's pathetic defensive unit were defensive backs: Jarrad Page, Marcus Cassel, Dennis Keyes, and Trey Brown. Page and Cassel are gone. So Keyes and Brown are back as the most experienced players in our defensive backfield which is currently a little thin and has some question marks. Here is the depth chart going into today's training camp:
|23 Trey Brown (5-9, 190, Jr*) (12)||14 Chris Horton (6-1, 210, Jr.*) (2)||11 Dennis Keyes (6-2, 208, Jr.*) (9)||3 Rodney Van (5-11, 182, Jr.)|
|22 Michael Norris (5-10, 182, Jr)||27 Arron Ware (6-0, 194, Fr.*)||25 Bret Lockett (6-2,212, So.*)||18 Matthew Slater (5-11, 193, Jr.*)|
|29 Olukayode Oredugba (6-1, 192, Jr.*)^||20 Charlie Schuh (6-1, 204, Jr.*)^||19 Robert Kibble (5-10, 195, So.)||28 Matt Caldwell (6-3, 186, Fr*)^|
|26 Joe Angelo (6-1, 195, Fr.*)^|
*notes red shirt and ^notes walk-on status.
Let's start with Keyes at FS. He sure had the most memorable moment for this unit last year.
The kid also was fourth in the team with 57 total tackles, 8 of them for loss. Then again Keyes and rest of the Bruin secondary constantly found themselves in precarious (out of) position of having to make solo tackles because the backs and receivers were walking right through the non-existent Bruin front line. If the Bruin defensive puts up some kind of fight in the trenches this season, clogging the running lanes, disrupting the passing rhythm of QBs by putting them under pressure, perhaps there will be less pressure on the secondary to make all the tackles (when the opposing team has already picked up chunks of yardage).
Keyes had zero pick as FS last year. The whole unit had a pitiful total of 4 picks last season, which is beyond pathetic (of the returning players in the current depth chart only 3 of them intercepted a pass last season, McNeal who moved over to LB had the other one). So if they get help from the front 7 this year, perhaps it will give them more room to maneuver in the back to read the QB, and pick of some passes.
One player that has me excited is the return of Chris Horton. The 6-1, 210 strong safety only played in 2 games last season due to injuries. But in the few games he has played for UCLA he has shown lot of signs of perhaps being the next great UCLA hitter in the tradition of Darby, Turner, Henderson (Othello), Goodwin, and Page. Well from the report in the OC Register today it sounds like Horton is ready along with Trey Brown, the most experienced DB with 12 starts at LC:
"We're going to throw the first punch. And that attitude, that's great for our defense. That's what we need across the board - from the line to the linebackers and to the secondary."
Chris Horton, the Bruins' hard-hitting strong safety, didn't bother trying to hide a smile.
"We're not going to let people attack us. We're going to go attack them. Instead of sitting back on your heels and letting people attack you, you know, we're attacking," he said.
"We're going to have a lot of fun this year. I see a lot of plays being made by this defense."
Rodney Van will be replacing Marcus Cassel. Coaches are pretty high on RV and he should have the talent to become a solid corner as I am sure he is going to get tested early.
Aaron Ware is of course the little brother of Matt Ware. He came in as a RB/DB and the coaches think his hitting abilities make him best suited to play SS.
What is disconcerting about this unit is that we have 4 walk-ons on the team, who we don't know much about, and it is likely that one of them may end up getting some playing time before the season is over. No wonder the coaches are trying hard to land DBs for next year's class and has already secured one commitment.
As for this year Al Verner (5'10, 161) (#1) is a true freshman who the coaches may try out considering we may have so many walk-ons sprinkled in the death chart. Verner is a decent athlete who had offers from BC, Washington, and Wisconsin. Also another true frosh. who the coaches may be trying out is Christian Ramirez (6'2-195), who like Ware came in as a RB/DB. Ramirez just may have the speed, size and hitting ability needed to play in the defensive backfield.
So besides Keyes, Brown, and Horton not a lot of experience on this defensive backfield. But as ATL_eagle pointed out in a recent post of his experience may not be all that. It is really talent that matters. And we do have some talent in this depth chart to make things happen, and judging by the pres-season press clippings seems like the players are saying all the right things. Guess we are going to find out in next few weeks whether if it's all the same feel good BS/hype we hear every year or if this is the year when UCLA defense will stop being the annual joke in the world of college football. For KD's sake let's hope all the new hires and tough pre-season talk come into fruition in less than 30 days.