Prelude To 2010 Preseason Camp: UCLA Defensive Line Depth Chart Analysis

Reginald Stokes's(91) return this August could provide a boost to our DL. Stokes missed Spring Practice due to January surgery on his right knee. Photo Credit: le borst (flickr)

On Monday we started our review of pre-season depth chart by analyzing our current situation at the linebacker spot. Let's now move on over to the defensive line spot, which emerged as one of the biggest question mark following the end of Rick Neuheisel's second season in Westwood.

Everyone here knows the story about Bruins losing their two key defensive anchors from last season. All world Brian Price is going to be showing off his monster talent on Sundays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Our other DL Jerzy Siewierski had a solid season in his last year in Westwood as helped Brian Price clog up the running lane for Chuck Bullough's defense. It is going to be difficult to replace that kind of experience this coming season. However, thanks to some solid recruiting and creative personnel shifting during the off-season, the Bruins might put together a serviceable frontline during the 2010 season.

So on that note let's look at the depth chart again heading into this spring:

LE DT DT RE
Datone Jones (6-4, 269, Jr.) (13) Nate Chandler (6-5, 291, Jr.**) David Carter (6-5, 301, Sr.**) Keenan Graham (6-2, 245, Fr.**)
Damien Holmes (6-3, 265, So.**) Justin Edison (6-4, 290, Jr.**) Andy Keane (6-2, 276, Sr.**) Iuta Tepa (6-1, 248, So.)
Owamagbe Odighizuwa (6-4, 240, Fr.) Donovan Carter (6-1, 280, So.**) Cassius Marsh (6-4,285, Fr.) Reginald Stokes (6-3, 272, Sr.**)(I)

Seali'i Epenesa (6-2, 320, Fr.) Wesley Flowers (6-4, 257, Fr.) Derrick Bryant (6-3, 236, Fr.)

** notes a RSed season
() notes game started

In terms of where they are, it is not different that what I posted back in March. I did include the updated information in terms of their weight that is reflected in the current roster. There are some noticeable differences in size from last spring including the following:

  • David Carter moved north of 300lbs, gaining 9 lbs from this past spring
  • Donovan Carter moved up to 280s lbs, gaining 9 lbs from this past spring
  • Redshirt senior Reginald Stokes gained 12 lbs this off-season moving up to 272 from previous listed 260
  • Cassius Marsh is listed on the official site at 6-4, 285 which is additional 15 lbs from the listing of this past spring
  • Seali'i Epenesa is listed at a massive 320 lbs, which is 20 more than numbers from this spring [getting all the info. on freshmen from Scout.com's commit list]

Now keep in perspective that often numbers like this a little bit ... uhm ... inflated on official sites. This happens well everywhere in college programs. Still the trend line is somewhat encouraging.

David Carter has been on a mission heading into his last season in Westwood. He along with Datone Jones are going to be the two key leaders in this unit. The big question mark around this unit is going to be the lack of experience. Do the Bruins have enough skill and talent to offset the loss of a difference maker in the caliber of Brian Price? Guess we are going to hear the question over and over next few weeks.  Hopefully it will have the effect of firing up everyone in this unit.

So, let's start with Datone Jones. The 6-4, 267 junior left end Datone Jones is our only returning starter on the line. Last year he showed signs of potentially emerging as an impact player as he started all 13 games and ranked third on the squad in quarterback sacks (4.0) and fourth on the team and 12th in the Pac-10 with his 11.0 tackles for loss. On the year, he made 30 tackles and earned Sophomore All-America honorable mention. His cause was helped last year as many times opposing teams were too wrapped with worrying about Brian Price and Akeem Ayers. The question is whether he can make another jump in those numbers this year and emerge as a formidable force who can compliment Ayers in our front-7?

On the other side, Kenaan Graham, a highly recruited redshirt freshman from Nevada is listed as the starter as our right defensive end. Graham might have contributed last season but had to take a red shirt after he suffered a fractured jaw during the pre-season camp. He should be able to inject some speed and explosiveness into the mix. Speaking of speed and explosiveness all eyes are also going to be on freshman Owamagbe Odighizuwa (6-4, 240) from Oregon. I am sure many have seen what Owa did to Seantrel last year. It is unfair to build up expectations just around that one highlight, but needless to say there is a lot of excitement around what he can bring to the table.

Sophomores Iuta Tepa (6-1, 244) and Damien Holmes (6-3, 265) are also going to vying for regular spots in Coach Howard's rotation. Iuta played as a freshman this past season. He should be able to build on that experience. As for Holmes, I thought he might shift over to DT if he was able to put more weight. Instead he seems to be holding steady around 265/270 range. So I guess for now he will stay penciled at the DE spot and add depth the program.  There should be intense competition among these three for the starting spot at the defensive right end.

Redshirt senior Reginald Stokes (6-3, 272) missed Spring Practice due to January surgery on his right knee.  I have not ready any new updates on him but from spring report it was "anticipated" that he would be "ready by August" and add depth at defensive end.  Hopefully we will get some positive news in the coming weeks. Getting him back will really help the teams as he brings some experience from PT in 2009.

Speaking of experience, we don't have much of it at DT.  David Carter enters this season as the most experienced tackle among our bunch. He has certainly been doing everything he can to beef himself up. At 6-5, 301, he certainly looks the part of DT who can clog up the running lanes. The question is whether he can bring the kind of effort he showed against Tennessee (helping to make a pivotal stop on fourth and goal, when Price had to get a breather) on a consistent level. He will also need help from guys like Nate Chandler, who while possessing freaking athletic skills and size, have never played the position.

The reports on the Chandler experiment were certainly encouraging. However, practicing against our OL (which has its own question marks) and translating that practice field success on Saturdays is a whole different matter. I think Chandler is going to step up because I always felt like he had a mean streak, which made him a better fit at defense (David Carter already calls him "nasty"). It is going to be very interesting to see how it turns out from the very first game.

As for the guys who are coming back I am really interested to see what we get from redshirt junior Justin Edison (6-4, 289) and redshirt sophomore Donovan Carter (6-1, 280). As mentioned previously Carter has gained 9lbs. He came in as a LB and then shifted over to DE. However, as he started putting weight in his frame, the coaches wisely shifted him over to the tackle spot where he can bring his speed and athleticism (hopefully). Justin Edison has never really been counted upon previous by the coaches but this year could be his chance to make some meaningful contributions to hold off talented freshman who might be making a run for PT.

Speaking of talented freshmen can't wait to hear reports about Marsh and Epenesa this August. Conventional wisdom is that Marsh is more polished among the two and could vie for playing time right away. Guess we will have to wait for the feedback from coaches. Hopefully both of those guys will be ready to go after their summer workouts in Westwood. It would be great to red-shirt at least Epensa this coming year but it will not be a surprised if both of them are called to action.

Wesley Flowers (6-4, 257) from Fresno and Derrick Bryant (6-3, 236) from Columbus, OH are two of the other incoming freshman. Both of those guys are pretty highly recruited studs but it's a good bet that they are headed towards redshirt seasons focusing on gaining strength and weight in their first year in Westwood.

So to sum it up, heading into this year's camp, we are going to read everyone and their mother being concerned about UCLA's defensive line. I am sure there will be lot of worrying about how our defense is going to replace a guy like Brian Price. Yet, if we actually look through our depth chart, it will be apparent that Chuck Bullough and Todd Howard will have some nice pieces to work with.

I certainly don't expect any of these guys to dominate the way Brian Price impacted the game. Yet, I think we have enough personnel available to put together a defense that should be able to hold its own. Hopefully our guys will continue work their tails of rest of this off-season and come in ready to make their own statements. No doubt there will be discouraging moments due to the collective lack of experience but there is enough talent in this unit to help the program move forward with more methodical progress this upcoming season.

GO BRUINS.

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