First fan-post on Bruins Nation for me. Been a reader/game-thread grazer for the last year or so.
So, I'm going to preface this with just a little background on me as a Bruin fan. I'm a 21 year old college football player at a D3 out here in the Inland Empire (redshirting this season for a few reasons). Growing up I had two dreams: Playing college football and graduating from UCLA. If not for the opportunity of playing college ball on a full-ride (technically an academic scholarship), I'd be at UCLA. Got wait-listed out of high school, but couldn't pass up living out my dream. And UCLA didn't shoot me more than the standard "We're interested in you." recruiting letter that any high school athlete at a Nike or Under Armour camp gets sent. I knew my limitations, running a 4.9 with a 6'2 WRs frame at LB doesn't interest many D1s. I'm proud of where I am at though.
My biggest focus while I watch UCLA on TV or the few games I've seen live is always on the LB's on defense and the TE's on offense. Those have been the positions I've played my whole life. While most kids were fawning over Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, I loved watching UCLA's LBs play. Christian Taylor, Ryan Nece, Spencer Havner, Brandon Chillar with Reggie Carter later on. There hasn't been anyone I've been able to add to that list in a few years. Though, I do think the talent is there with the underclassmen on this team.
I watch one LB more than any other at this point, Sean Westgate.
Sean Westgate gets a ton of heat on this site because no one can understand why he continually gets reps over more athletic and talented, and younger LBs. Saw it last year, with Glenn Love backing him up. And even more so this season, with a ton of young game-ready talents dying to get in the game and show what they've got.
I am by no means a Westgate-enthusiast. I admire the guy because I see a lot of similarities between my situation and his. The kid plays full-speed, undoubtedly. Pours his heart out during games, doesn't seem overly vocal but no one can deny the effort. He is obviously physically and athletically limited, which a club hand makes even more blatant.
It is easy for this question to arise: Why is Westgate on the field when there are obviously more talented players behind him?
From what I have seen over the past two seasons of Westgate getting a lot of PT on defense, he is our best LB in pass coverage. Some of you may have different views, but I see Westgate as clearly our best LB against the pass in zone. Some stats lending themselves to my observations are Westgate's pass deflections and breakups from the past two seasons. (7 in 2010 which was 2nd on the defense and 1 less than the combined number of two top-flight NFL players and at least one of his INTs this season was in solid zone coverage). On a defense with a depleted secondary and an underachieving/non-existent pass rush, you would have to be crazy to not have the strongest zone-coverage LB on the field.
None of the Bruin LBs really stand out to me in 1-on-1 situations. And, even if Zumalt or Kendricks were a standout in man coverage, the conceptual understanding and execution of zone coverage outweighs the need for that strength in a defense structured like UCLA's. I see this as the biggest reason why Westgate plays more than Kendricks or Zumalt at this point, or than Love last season (who really struggles conceptually from the Sam and Will spots for some reason after being a decent safety)
Westgate seems to understand zone coverage significantly better than the young guys.
As a big Angel fan and baseball guy in general, I loathe small sample sizes (Jeff Mathis in the 09 playoffs). But I am going to use a specific example of Westgate's ability and leadership in zone coverage that usually goes unnoticed by the casual fan. This is from the Wazzu game on Saturday.
This was on WSU's first drive in the 3rd quarter. From what I recall, the defense was in a 2-backer set with Nickel personnel in around the 10 yard line. Westgate and Larimore were the two LBs in the game. WSU was lined up with two WRs and a TE to Larimore's side and one WR in tight to Westgate's side. The two WR to Larimore's side ran outs and were covered up, but never going to be targeted. The TE to Larimore's side ran a 5 yard cross and the WR to Westgate's side ran an almost identical 6-7 yard cross.
UCLA was running an underneath zone with the LBs and I believe McDonald, with the other 3 DBs over the top. Westgate saw the cross coming from his side and peeked to see the cross coming from Larimore's side also. He indicated the cross coming to Larimore, by yelling (you could see his helmet jerk forward like he was screaming) and pointing to indicate the cross.
Westgate dropped to the deeper cross and covered him up, but Larimore widened out an extra 2 yards and looked out to the other WR's instead of meeting the cross coming from Westgate's side. Wazzu's receiver settled into the cushion and and their QB hit him for the TD.
Great communication by Westgate and poor execution and awareness by Larimore. Poor execution is certainly not the exception for this defense. But that is the kind of stuff that shows up on film and makes Westgate look great to coaches and usually goes unnoticed by fans.
I don't want this to be misconstrued as a defense of Westgate's play this year, it is more of a explanation for why he is such a necessary cog in the UCLA defensive unit as it is structured. The entire front 7 has played frighteningly below expectations thus far and every starting spot should be up for grabs. But I think Westgate is less of a problem than the other LBs. Larimore has been very disappointing to me as well as Love. Kendricks and Zumalt should see a ton more PT than they are getting, but I am not sure it should be at the expense of #11.
Post-Script: Found a video of this play at this link http://www.wsucougars.com/sports/m-footbl/recaps/100911aaa.html
It's at the 9:37 mark. I recommend watching the whole video though. I think is a great way to look at the defense's issues. Zumalt struggles in zone. Larimore had a really bad game. McDonald got picked on a ton on 3rd down.