Our Way-Too-Early UCLA Football Depth Chart Projection for the 2012 Season - Part I: Defense

Yes, it's the middle of February. Spring camp is still beyond the horizon and well, fall feels like it will take forever to arrive. So, yes, depth chart projections right now are a bit premature. Obviously, with our roster a bit bloated, there will be defections from the program, either by guys transferring, taking a medical retirement, or simply giving up football. Plus, at this juncture, there is no way to know which incoming freshmen will grey-shirt, so for now, this is all a bit of speculation.

But, hey, it's kind of fun to speculate and wonder about how Mora's first team is going to shape up. So, obviously, take these projections with a grain of salt, since we really have no idea what will happen with the roster. With Rick, you sort of always knew that the more senior guys would play, that Prince would get the nod over Brehaut, but if Mora is to believed, every position is up for grabs, regardless of class (what a novel concept: open competition and meritocracy). Now, we have no idea (as of yet) what exactly Mora intends to run on either side of the ball, but for this exercise, given our coaching staff, I am thinking we'll be in a 3-4 base set on the defensive side, with Mazzone installing his spread offense concept (albeit with more TE action than at Arizona State to utilize Fauria), so we'll assume a three WR set with a TE, no FB, and a single back (basically the spread with a TE instead of a fourth WR).

So, let's get to our way-too-early, kind-of-educated-guessing depth chart projections for the 2012 season, starting on the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive Line

Following this spring's practices, here's how I project it shapes up for the Bruins on the defensive side of the ball:

DE NT DE
Datone Jones
Ellis McCarthy Iuta Tepa
Damien Holmes
Cassius Marsh
Brandon Willis
Owamagbe Odighizuwa Kevin McReynolds
Keenan Graham
Sam Tai
Donovan Carter
Seali'i Epenesa

Brandon Tuliaupupu

Yes, I'm slotting McCarthy at the top of the NT depth chart. Why? You know why: the kid is an absolute beast and is ready to play. He's the best impact player we've had on the line since Brian Price, and truth be told, when all is said and done, he might end up being better. So yeah, I think he'll play. There was some message board speculation that Cassius Marsh was looking to transfer, which I kind of understand with McCarthy now in the Blue and Gold. But for now, he's still a Bruin and he'd fit in well right behind big Ellis. The only other defensive lineman in this year's recruiting class is Canadian Eli Ankou, who is a project type guy who will almost certainly redshirt in 2012. I think Willis moves to the outside in a 3-4 scheme and I really like Tepa's upside and motor, so I think with a fresh regime, he'll get his shot. Owa and Graham are buried, because I suspect they'll see more time in a hybrid DE/OLB role.

Linebackers

OLB
ILB
ILB
OLB
Aramide Olaniyan
Patrick Larimore
Jordan Zumwalt
Eric Kendricks
Owamagbe Odighizuwa Isaiah Bowens
Aaron Porter
Aaron Wallace
Jeremy Castro
David Allen
Todd Golper
Anthony Barr
Ryan Hofmeister


Keenan Graham

If we do go with the 3-4, I expect Zumwalt to slide inside next to Larimore and Kendricks should definitely end up winning a starting spot at OLB, given how well he's played in limited action. Olaniyan looked pretty dynamic coming off the edge in the very little time he's seen the field, while Aaron Wallace reportedly was very solid on the scout team. I think Odighizuwa, Graham, and Castro all see significant time as the hybrid DE/OLB rush guy on the edge, which is pretty exciting. I think Aaron Porter will break the two-deep at ILB, given how thin we are in terms of interior linebackers. Golper never really panned out but could be a good depth option, as well as Isaiah Bowens. Hofmesiter is a Sean Westgate style guy: should only be used in emergencies and on special teams. I expect Kenny Orjioke to redshirt in 2012, get some weight, figure out where he fits on this roster, and come out for UCLA in 2013 (remember folks, he's only 16 as a senior in HS, so he's got some growing to do still). I think Nate Iese has a good shot at playing as a freshman, but he is more of the hybrid DE/OLB type and I think he'll end up redshirting, barring major injuries to Castro, Owa, and Graham. Don't forget: Olaniyan was used as rush DE at times last year, so he's another bit of depth that will probably keep Iese on the sideline this upcoming season.

Defensive Backs

CB SS FS CB
Aaron Hester Stan McKay
Tevin McDonald
Sheldon Price
Andrew Abbott
Taylor Lagace
Dalton Hilliard
Anthony Jefferson
Ishmael Adams
Anthony Thompson
Alex Mascarenas
Marcus Rios
Brandon Sermons

Your first question is probably: where is Dietrich Riley? I don't expect him to return in 2012. I wouldn't be shocked (although I'm hoping against) if he medically retires: neck injuries, especially scary-ass ones like he endured, aren't things you mess around with. If he does come back, I think he redshirts 2012, rehabilitates, gets back up to strength, and returns in 2013. If he's good to go by the start of the fall, then he would be a contender to start along Tevin McDonald at the other safety spot. I think Adams and Rios both have the talent to break into the rotation and Lagace will be in the two-deep, simply because our depth is pretty poor at safety with Riley out of the picture. I expect Goforth will redshirt and end up at WR for UCLA. Justin Combs will almost certainly be a guaranteed redshirt in 2012. Paul Perkins, whether he ends up as a DB or a RB, will also be a redshirt in 2012. I really think Andrew Abbott could end up starting over Hester or Price, but it'll be a close fight throughout camp. If Anthony Jefferson can stay healthy, he'll see a lot of time on the field; if not, it's another opening for Ishmael Adams and Marcus Rios, who are both college-ready, to see a chance.

Alright everybody, that's a very preliminary look at how our defense could, possibly, maybe shape up this next fall. So, with that, feel free to pick it apart, put up your own thoughts on how our depth chart will play out, and/or otherwise engage in fun guesswork about how (hopefully) awesome our defense will be this fall. Stay tuned for our way-too-early depth chart projection for next season for the offensive side of the ball, coming very soon.

Fire away in the thread.

GO BRUINS

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