Now to what puts a smile on Coach Mora's face ... defense.
Yesterday, we gave our first look at UCLA's recruiting on the offensive side of the ball. Today, we're going to take our first look at the recruiting scene on the defensive side.
Last year, Coach Mora & Co. really cleaned house on the defensive side, picking up 5* DT Ellis McCarthy, 4* LB's Jeremy Castro and Aaron Porter, 4* CB's Marcus Rios and Ishmael Adams, and highly sought after athletes Nate Iese, Kenny Orjioke, and Taylor Lagace. After such good haul, and after watching a thin offensive line all spring, one might assume that the staff would focus a little more on the offensive side of the ball. That assumption might seem correct given that 7 of the 9 current commits play on the offensive side of the ball. However, Coach Mora is a defensive guy, and some of the more intriguing prospects UCLA is courting play on his side of the ball. We'll break it down after the jump.
Status: After signing McCarthy and having Brandon Willis emerge in the Spring, DT looks like a position of strength on the defense. Seali'i Espenesa, Donovon Carter, and Kevin McReynolds provide excellent depth. However, Carter will be a Sr. and Espenesa will be a Jr., so the staff may take a DT if they can find a good one.
DE also looks strong with Sr. Datone Jones, Jr.'s Cassius Marsh and Owamagbe Odighizuwa on the two deep. We'll also likely see Iese and Castro play here, and Keenan Graham and Damien Holmes are obviously capable of sliding to DE after playing DE previously.
Targets: DT Eddie Vanderdoes; DT Kenneth Clark; DT Kennedy Tulimasealii; DT Vita Vea; DE Joe Mathis; DE Danny Mattingly; Elijah Qualls
Outlook: Like Arik Armstead last year, Vanderdoes is a Sacramento product receiving offers from virtually every powerhouse in the country. He's squattier than Armstead and projects as a pure DT and would really fit well as a 3-4 anchor. He supposedly enjoyed his visits to UCLA, but Oregon is probably the team to beat.
At 6'2 285 lbs., Clark projects as a prototypical DT. He did attend Junior Day and the Spring Game, and UCLA does have a good shot at the highly sought after lineman from Rialto.
Tulimasealii and Vea and both 3* prospects with multiple Pac-12 offers. Tulimasealii has prototypical size at 6'2 300 lbs., but Vea has an impressive resume having played LB and RB at 6'3 285 lbs.
Mathis is a big guy at 6'4 255 lbs. and previous UW commit when Dematrice Martin was recruiting for the Huskies. He has since decommitted, and UCLA is recruiting him despite it looking like UW, Nebraska, and Michigan are currently in the drivers seat.
Mattingly is 6'6 225 lbs. and is a candidate to play TE or OLB. He's a very good athlete getting attention from the likes of Oklahoma and Notre Dame, but Coach Mora has good connections in Mattingly's home state of Washington.
Qualls is 6'2 279 lbs. that simply projects as a mauler. He plays RB on offensive and DL/LB on defense. He is definitely an elite prospect and has offers from all over the country, but he probably would fit best as a 4-3 DT.
Status: It looks like Spanos' defense is going to rely heavily utilizing hybrid DE/OLB's, and the coaching staff is not slowing down in recruiting them. Jordan Zumwalt and Damien Holmes emerged from the Spring on top of the depth chart at OLB, with Aaron Wallace, Keenan Graham, Aramide Olanyian and Anthony Barr behind them.
Inside, Patrick Larimore and Eric Kendricks need to stay healthy, and Aaron Porter will almost certainly have to contribute as a true freshman. Unfortunately, this isn't exactly a big year for ILB recruits out west, but signing one is all but a necessity at this point.
Commits: Deon Hollins
Targets: OLB Myles Jack; OLB Michael Hutchings; OLB Cameron Judge; OLB Kevin Palma; ILB Isaac Savaiinea
Outlook: Hollins is a Texas native who committed to UCLA despite never having visited. At 6'2 222 lbs., he has good size and projects as a good pass rushing OLB. The staff will have to continue recruiting him to fend off schools from all over the country who have shown interest in Hollins.
Jack is originally from Georgia and recently moved to Washington. His family is apparently close to the Mora's, and UCLA is in good position with the highly sought after LB. At 6'3 230 lbs., Jack may be able to play inside.
Hutchings is one of the top OLB prospects in the country. He is out of De La Salle and is currently considered by most to be a USC lean. Our staff shouldn't and won't give up on this elite prospect, but he looks like a longshot at this point.
Judge is an Oaks Christian product where UCLA has been doing well lately. His father played at Oregon in the early 80's, but Oregon has yet to offer. He is a little light at 6'2 215 lbs., but he has a solid frame and could add weight easily.
Palma is a little under the radar, but he reminds me of one of my favorite recruits from last year's class, Nate Iese. At 6'3 248 lbs., he has the size to play right away. Like Iese, he plays TE on offense. He has been impressive in the camp circuit and will camp at UCLA this summer.
Savaiinea is a current Stanford commit that is easily the top ILB prospect in the west. He reminds me of another recent Hawaiian ILB prospect, Manti Te'o. Prying him away from Stanford would be a coup, but definitely worth a shot.
Status: With Aaron Hester, Sheldon Price, Brandon Sermons, and Anthony Jefferson, not to mention Marcus Rios and Ishmael Adams, the depth at CB looks good this year. However, given that Sermons, Jefferson, Rios, and Adams all have questions marks due to injuries and youth, as well as the fact that Hester and Price are Sr's, the staff is appropriately looking at bringing in multiple CB's.
Commits: Dashon Hunt
Targets: LJ Moore; Johnny Johnson; Cole Luke; Daquawn Brown; Darius Allensworth; Tyree Robinson
Outlook: Quite simply, the defensive back class out west, both for cornerbacks and safeties, is loaded in the west this year.
Hunt committed to the Bruins under Coach Neuheisel, and there has been some chatter that he may not be as committed as he once was. The Westlake product is a little smallish at 5'9 175 lbs., but he has a ton of talent and is one of the best CB prospects in the country. He's also explosive out of the backfield, but he is considered a better CB prospect.
Moore and Johnson both play for Central in Fresno, as does one of UCLA's top S prospects, Hatari Boyd. Moore is a prototypical big corner at 6'1 175 lbs., and Johnson is the opposite at 5'9 165 lbs. They both have offers from all over the country, and UCLA looks to be doing a little better with Moore at this point.
Luke is another top CB prospect out of Arizona. He has good size at 6'0 165 lbs. and has offers from all over the country. I don't know if he has a leader at this point, but he comes from the same town as Brett Hundley, Javon Williams, and Paul Perkins.
Brown, Allensworth, and Robinson are all less heralded than the others, but they do all hold UCLA offers. Brown is a Dorsey product and supposedly has favored UCLA for a long time. Allensworth is currently committed to Arizona but may camp at UCLA, and Robinson is a big corner (6'2 180 lbs.) whose twin brother is a top S prospect.
Status: While there may be decent depth this year at CB, the S positions looked depleted during the spring. Andrew Abbott and Tevin McDonald are very solid starters, and Stan McKay and Dalton Hilliard will back them up, with Hilliard attempting to play on both sides of the ball.
Targets: Hatari Byrd; Su'a Cravens; Priest Willis; Max Redfield; Tahaan Goodman; Tyrell Robinson
Outlook: Each of the safeties recruited by UCLA are special talents. The depth of the safety prospects this year is incredible.
UCLA is probably doing the best with Byrd. Byrd is a big guy at 6'2 200 lbs. and projects as a SS. He's expressed interest in playing collegiately with teammate LJ Moore, who UCLA is also doing well with.
Cravens appears to be a USC lean. He's considered by most to be the best safety prospect in the country, and the staff won't give up on him easily.
Willis plays CB/FS and will likely move to FS in college. He's 6'2 190 lbs. and is an explosive athlete. He has offers from all over the country, and the Arizona native does not appear to be ready to make a decision any time soon.
In other years, Redfield and Goodman could easily be considered the top prospects in the country. They're both 6'2 190 lbs., rangy athletes. Of the two, UCLA seems to have the better chance with Goodman.
Tyrell Robinson is Tyree Robinson's twin brother. Tyrell is also 6'2 180 lbs. but projects as a safety. The brothers have indicated interest in playing both basketball and football in college.
That concludes our first look at UCLA's 2013 recruiting scene. Fire away with any additional comments.