Spring Football: Analysis/Thoughts On UCLA's Defensive Front Line

Datone Jones will be looking to wreak havoc in the defensive backfields next season. Photo Credit: insomniancslounge (flickr)

With just 10 days left to go till start of spring ball, let's finish up our look through the depth chart on defense. We have already gone through our depth at secondary and linebacker positions. So let's now shift out attention to perhaps the biggest question mark (along with the dept at OL, which I will try to get to later) in our team heading into spring camp: defensive line.

There is no use in elaborating what we had in Brian Price. If we have to spell out what Brian Price did for us for three years and what he meant to our defensive front line, you are probably not a serious UCLA football fan. We can't really put in words what Price meant to our run defense and how the attention given to him by our opponents through double and triple teams, often made things easier for rest of his team-mates in the Bruin front-7.

With the departure of Brian Price our front-7 might shape up in the following way (factoring in the recruits who are coming in this summer):

LE

DT

DT

RT

Datone Jones (6-4,267, Jr.) (13)

Nate Chandler (6-5,291, Jr.**)

David Carter (6-5, 292, Sr.**)

Keenan Graham (6-2, 243, Fr**)

Damien Holmes (6'3. 270, So.**)

Justin Edison (6-4, 289, Jr.**)

Andy Keane (6-2, 281, Sr.**)

Iuta Tepa (6-1, 244, So.)

Owamagbe Odighizuwa (6-4, 240, Fr.)

Donovan Carter (6-1, 271, So.**)

Cassius Marsh (6-4,270, Fr.)

Reginald Stokes (6-3, 260, Sr.**)(I)

Wesley Flowers (6-4, 253, Fr.)

Sealii Epenesa (6-2, 300, Fr.)

Derrick Bryant (6-4, 230, Fr.)

** red-shirt
I: injured
Italics: incoming freshmen

Well the lack of experience in this group is a little scary. Datone Jones is the only one with starting experience. We will really need him to step up next year not just by moving his game up another notch, but also providing much needed leadership and steadiness in this unit. Datone has all the physical tools to emerge as one of the better DEs in the conference.  For him to take the next step it will be a matter of performing at a consistent level next season.

After Datone, Bruins will be counting on senior redshirt DT David Carter.  The OC Register had the following note on him re. why he could be one of the players to watch:

The feeling has long been Carter was capable of more and would deliver once he got the playing time. That day has come.

UCLA currently has three tackles on its roster, the other two - Andy Keane and Justin Edison - having less experience than Carter, who did a respectable job as a reserve the past two seasons. [...]

The Bruins aren't asking Carter to be as good Price. They might have issues, though, if he's not half as good.

The chart has him listed at 292lbs but according to David himself in a UCLA Athletics video released few weeks ago, he was up to 300 and looking to get up 310. We need Carter to be an effective space eater who can help out not just in generating decent amount of pressure up the middle but also clog up the running lanes. He is clearly capable as he showed in Knoxville this past season, blowing up a huge 4th down play (when Price was off the field). Just like Datone though we are going to need that kind intensity and effort from him on a more consistent basis.

Another guy to keep an eye on this season will be redshirt sophomore Damien Holmes:

Redshirt senior Reggie Stokes will miss spring with a knee injury, leaving the starting job wide open. Redshirt freshman Keenan Graham sits atop the depth chart but Holmes, who is athletic and bright and doubled as a tight end in high school, has seen work at both end positions.

Ultimately, it might come down to who is the better pass rusher.

This is a team that hasn't applied consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks since 2006. Come fall that push probably won't come from up the middle, as UCLA lost both its starting tackles. But there's hope.

The Bruins already have Datone Jones on on one side. Holmes, at the very least will be his backup but his all-conference potential suggests he could end up taking over opposite Jones.

Hmm. I am not sure if Holmes would ultimately stay at DE. He is already listed at 6-3/270. If he gains another 10-15 lbs this summer, I could potentially see him moving over to DT, where he would get a better chance of being productive (IMHO).

PT at DE could be very competitive this coming summer.  I am really looking forward to the debut of Keenan Graham , a 6-3/243 DE from Nevada, who has been billed as a pretty explosive athletic specimen. Kennan redshirted last season and his development was thwarted just a bit with a broken jaw but apparently that didn't stop him from bringing intensity to practice squad every day. Behind Graham, there is also Iuta Tepa, who got some action this past season and has a promising future.

Plus there will be Owa lurking in Spaulding this summer, looking to break in the lineup. Also, senior Reginald Stokes is out this spring as he is rehabbing from an injury. Bruins are hoping he can come back during summer and contribute at DE. So you can see why I think it might make sense to shift Holmes over to DL. What do you guys think?

We have already talked pretty extensively about Nate Chandler's move from TE to DT. We are all hoping it will work out because that will really give coaches pretty decent options to work with. Not sure right now what we are going to get out of Justin Edison and Andy Kean. Perhaps Donovan Carter will step up this spring and beyond. They are all question marks.

If the Chandler move does work out, it could potentially give us the opportunity to red shirt incoming Sealli Epenesa. As for other freshmen, hopefully Cassius Marsh (currently listed at 6-4/270) will be able to make some contributions as a true frosh. We are going to need him. There are also two other freshmen recruits coming in next season:  Wesley Flowers (6-4/253) and Derrick Bryant (6-4/230) [getting all the info. on freshmen from Scout.com's commit list]. Both of those guys will most likely be ticketed for redshirt seasons. Hopefully they are going to be contributing via the practice squad, pushing their team-mates and also develop through the off-season S&C programs.

Right now the biggest question around our defensive line is lack of experience. I am guessing what the coaches will be looking for is consistent effort from the guys this spring. Hopefully the youngsters will be building on their solid off-season and continue to develop this spring. It is going to be difficult replacing Brian Price. However, the Bruins will have some interesting pieces to work with this off-season heading into September.

GO BRUINS.

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