This could be Akeem's year. (Photo Source: Nathan Tyree (flickr))
We finished up looking through the offense last weekend. So time to shift the focus over to the defensive side, which many are expecting to be the strength of our football team. I will start by looking through the LB corps in this post. It's a position that features one of the key leaders of the football team along with some talented sidekicks, but has questions concerning depths.
Obviously the story at LB corps begins with MLB 6-1 240 pound Reggie Carter. He is the heart and soul of our defense if not the entire team. He is going to anchor our defense from Mike position which is his natural position. He did spend a little time at Sam during his career at UCLA however his physical attributes and overall understanding of the game makes him a natural fit at MLB. In other words he is the perfect heir apparent of Christian Taylor except he happens to be lot more athletic. The key for Reggie (knock on wood here) is going to be staying healthy.
He got banged up a little this past season and still finished with a team leading 83 tackles. Of course Reggie's signature moment at UCLA came during 13-9 game when he owned Booty at the Rose Bowl all afternoon long. I haven't seen the kind of swagger in a Bruin LB as I see in Reggie since the days of Donnie Edwards. We cannot afford to lose him this year if we want to make a charge into the post-season. Reggie could potentially have a memorable season if his team-mates can also step up with him. More on them after the jump.
[T]he player who may catch eyes this season is the other guy: Akeem Ayers, who started three games last season.
"Akeem’s problem wasn’t his play, it was that he didn’t always know where he was supposed to be," Carter said. "That’s changed. I don’t have to tell him where to be as much. He knows what he is supposed to do and doesn’t second-guess himself."
Ayers’ raw ability was obvious. Chasing Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli down from behind last season made that clear. He also has the size (6 feet 4, 252 pounds) to battle offensive linemen.
Akeem is a weapon. Pure and simple. He can go after RBs and TEs like a heat seeking missile. And after the weigh he has put during this off-season he is going to be absolutely lethal if he shows the same type of explosive ability in terms of speed, he has shown his last two years at UCLA. He is simply an amazing athlete and if he comes in this year, a little more polished with a better understanding of UCLA's defensive scheme (which is not going to be changed up much), he could be effective. I also think his speed is going to be key when UCLA will be facing Pac-10 teams with explosive athletes such as Best, Massoli or Rogers. He is the kind of LB who can provide the answer for an embattled DC looking to solve probelms posed by spread types of offense seen at the college game.
Joining Carter as a starter will be fellow senior Kyle Bosworth. Bosworth will occupy the weakside at linebacker once again, after an injury forced him to miss most of the 2008 season. Bosworth sprained his knee against BYU last season after playing in just two games, and was granted a substitute year of eligibility as a result.
At 6-1 234 pounds, Bosworth is an extremely physical presence at weakside linebacker, and like Carter he plays with steadfast aggression. In 2007, Bosworth finished 5th on the team with 74 tackles and four tackles for loss.
He plays much faster than his forty-time suggests (4.70), and is rarely caught out of position. The Plano (TX) native will look to wreak havoc on opposing offenses alongside his brother Korey (defensive end). Bosworth enters fall camp in good health, and has a firm grasp on a starting role in 2009.
Here is to Kyle staying healthy. The problem for UCLA right now is depth. In terms of starters we probably have as good as combination at LB as anyone else in the conference. However, after we go beyond that first unit we have questions. Right now Steve Sloan and Sean Westgate are primed for the reserve spots. From Sam Saig's rundown linked above:
The 6-4 231 pound Sloan was able to take advantage of playing time after Boswroth went down, starting nine of 12 games and finishing with 29 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Sloan played inside last season, and will therefore be the main backup for Carter.
The Campbell (CA) native played linebacker at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, making 143 tackles during his senior year. Rivals and Scout.com rated him as a 4-star prospect and he will be the future at middle linebacker for the Bruins once Carter is gone. He enters fall camp as one of the top reserves for UCLA.
The 5-11 205 pound Westgate wasted no time making an impact at UCLA, picking up a blocked punt and returning it for a TD in the season opener against Tennessee. He went on to appear in all 12 games as a true freshman, making 18 tackles on the season. Westgate does not have the size of the other linebackers, but he is a fierce competitor that plays with a high motor. The Oak Park (CA) native enters fall as the main backup to Bosworth on the weakside.
Both of them are capable backsups and were steady last season. However, the dropoff following the first trio is obvious. In addition to those two we Donovan Carter, Patrick Larimore, and junior Mike Schmitt in the depth chart who might be able to contribute this season.
In terms of true freshman we could see Todd Golper, who seems healthy following an injury plagued senior year in high school, getting some action this year. We could also see Isaiah Bowen (6-3, 220) from Bishop Amat getting some action as well. However, we are not going to have Taniela Maka (academics) and Jared Koster (sports hernia) on the team this fall who won't be ready to join till Winter quarter.
So, the key for this unit will be health. We need to hope and pray that our starters stay healthy this year. They certainly have the potential to make this a memorable year for our defense and the team. However, we are going to need them fresh and on the field throuhout the season. That of course again brings us back to our offense. If our offensive line can help the team play lot more ball control this season, it will keep our guys on defense, especually these studs at LBs fresh and ready to terrorize offenses every chance they get.