Getting Ready for Spring and Beyond: UCLA's 2013 and 2014 Depth and Recruiting Needs - Part II: Defense

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Spring football is fast approaching, with Jim Mora and our Bruins returning to Spaulding Field on April 2. As we get ready for what we hope will be an exciting (and successful) second year of the Jim Mora era in Westwood, Bruins Nation takes a look at how our 2013 and 2014 depth chart projects to look like, all to assess where our coaching staff will need to focus their recruiting efforts. The second part of our three part series takes a look at the defensive side of the ball.

As I led off with yesterday, the Class of 2013 is signed and in the books, and with recruiting for the Class of 2014 already getting underway, it's time for us to take a look at how our depth chart projects, both this upcoming season (with spring practice beginning in just three weeks' time), and next season, as we begin assessing how Jim Mora and his staff are doing on the recruiting front. With the (admittedly very rough) special teams projection out of the way, it's time to take a look at the bread-and-butter of Jim Mora's new coaching regime: a vastly improved, hard-hitting, mean, nasty, 3-4 style defense.

Once again, this projection is way-too-early, with many position battles still to be fought. Calling it speculative would be generous, but as we have repeatedly discussed (and unfortunately learned during the Karl Dorrell era), part of successfully managing a football program is projecting what the roster will look like, not just for the upcoming season, but in the following years, as part of the process of making recruiting decisions for future recruiting classes. So, with that said, let's take a look at how Mora and Lou Spanos' defense looks, beginning with the projected depth chart for fall of 2013:

Defensive Line

Entering the fall of 2013, here's how I project the front-three will look for the Bruins:

DE NT DE
Owamagbe Odighizuwa (SR) Seali'i Epenesa (SR) Cassius Marsh (SR)
Ellis McCarthy (SO)
Donovan Carter (RS SR)
Brandon Willis (JR)
Sam Tai (RS SO) Brandon Tuliaupupu (RS SO)
Kylie Fitts (FR)
Eli Ankou (FR)
Kenneth Clark (FR)

The Bruins will have to replace graduating senior DE Datone Jones and have also lost some depth by losing experienced reserve Iuta Tepa (transfer to Hawaii) this off-season. However, the defensive line still looks very strong, with three seniors projected to take starting spots. And the reserve players are all very capable, with super-talented and highly-recruited sophomore DL Ellis McCarthy likely to spell Owa at DE, with experienced reserve Donovan Carter backing up Epenesa at NT, and Tar Heel-turned-Bruin Brandon Willis also likely to get a solid amount of playing time at DE. Sam Tai should be returning from a season-ending knee injury he got in last year's fall camp, Eli Ankou will be joining the program following his gray-shirt year, while Brandon Tuliaupupu provides depth at NT. Also joining the program are two highly-recruited and ranked defensive linemen: DT Kenneth Clark from Rialto (4 stars, #20 DT per Scout) and the-Trojan-recruit-turned-Bruin (thanks Lane!) DE Kylie Fitts (4 stars, #12 DE per Scout).

However, when we turn to the next season, fall of 2014, things start to really thin out:

DE NT DE
Ellis McCarthy (JR) Brandon Tuliaupupu (RS JR) Brandon Willis (SR)
Sam Tai (RS JR) Kenneth Clark (RS FR) Kylie Fitts (SO)
Eli Ankou (RS FR)

Obviously, the defensive line will need some infusion of talent in the next recruiting cycle. However, Mora and Company are already working on that angle, having extended offers to five DT prospects (all star ratings and rankings per Scout): Khairi Clark (5 stars, #1 DT), Bryan Mone (4 stars, #5 DT, committed to Michigan), Ainuu Taua (4 stars, #7 DT, the most likely prospect for UCLA, if they can beat away the likes of Oregon and Alabama), Travonte Valentine (4 stars, #9 DT), and Peyton Newell (4 stars, #21 DT). Likewise, as mentioned yesterday, Mora is already working heavily on elite OLB/DE prospect Rashaan Evans (4 stars, #15 DE), but has also made a handful of offers to DE prospects in the Class of 2014: Solomon Thomas (4 starts, #5 DE), Malik McDowell (4 stars, #6 DE), NIfae Lealao (4 stars, #7 DE, a promising possibility from Sacramento where Angus McClure and Mora have had recent success), the aforementioned Evans, and Malik Dorton (4 stars, #24 DE, a local prospect that UCLA should have an inside track on). Last year, the recruiting narrative was that UCLA needed help in the defensive secondary, and Mora went out and got the job done, bringing in an impressive haul of talented defensive backs in the Class of 2013. Now, let's see if he can repeat that feat with the Class of 2014 along the defensive front.

Linebackers

As we go into the fall, this might be the most talented and deepest group of linebackers UCLA has had in a very long time, in large part due to the return of Pac-12 defensive player of the year front-runner OLB Anthony Barr. So, this is how UCLA looks to line up in 2013:

OLB
ILB
ILB
OLB
Anthony Barr (SR) Jordan Zumwalt (SR) Eric Kendricks (RS JR) Nate Iese (RS FR)
Keenan Graham (RS SR) Aaron Porter (RS FR) Isaac Savaiinaea (FR) Aaron Wallace (RS SO)
Myles Jack (FR) Aramide Olaniyan (RS JR) Cameron Judge (FR)
Kenny Orjioke (SO) Ryan Hofmeister (RS JR)
Deon Hollins (FR) Jayon Brown (FR)

While experienced linebacker Damien Holmes has graduated, Mora's staff more than made up for it, bringing in an absolutely stacked linebacker class this past Signing Day. If Jeremy Castro becomes eligible and gets in the mix, then we'll have more bodies than we'll know what to do with at LB. There's an abundance of riches in depth at OLB, so don't be surprised to see Mora, Spanos, and Ulbrich slide one or two of these guys to an inside position. I really think Savaiinaea and Jack have the talent to see solid playing time this season, despite being true freshmen. Aaron Porter projects to be a very solid back-up ILB this upcoming season. The big question mark will be who fills Damien Holmes' former starting OLB spot. I think the dark-horse candidate, Nate Iese from Elk Grove, makes the job his. Based on his build and measurables, I see a lot of similarity to Anthony Barr, and I think Mora and his defensive staff can turn the athletic LB (played TE and DE in high school) into a solid contributor. Of course, Jack, Wallace, or any number of other solid options are available for UCLA.

In 2014, things still look very solid in the linebacking corps, although the interior gets a bit thin, especially if Kendricks has an outstanding junior season and leaves for the NFL a year early:

OLB
ILB
ILB
OLB
Myles Jack (SO)
Aaron Porter (RS SO)
Eric Kendricks (RS SR) Nate Iese (RS SO)
Kenny Orjioke (JR)
Aramide Olaniyan (RS SR) Isaac Savaiinaea (SO) Aaron Wallace (RS JR)
Deon Hollins (RS FR)

Cameron Judge (SO)
Jayon Brown (RS FR) Ryan Hofmeister (RS SR)

So, obviously, the Bruins will be losing single-man wrecking crew Anthony Barr, along with Jordan Zumwalt. Hopefully, Kendricks follows in Barr's footsteps and returns to Westwood for his senior season. If he leaves, UCLA will need to replace both starting interior linebackers, and while both Aaron Porter and Isaac Savaiinaea project to be very good replacements, it would be less than ideal from a depth perspective. Outside linebacker looks very solid, with the Class of 2013 providing the bulk of the bodies.

So far, Mora has made a half-dozen offers to OLB prospects in the Class of 2014 (half coming from California, half from Florida): Dwight Williams (4 stars, #6 OLB), D.J. Calhoun (4 stars, #10 OLB), Dillon Bates (4 stars, #13 OLB), Marquis Ware (4 stars, #14 OLB), T.J. Harrell (4 stars, #24 OLB), and Richard Yeargin III (3 stars, #29 OLB). And that list doesn't include DE/OLB recruit Rashaan Evans, so it seems like UCLA is looking to keep their OLB group well-stocked. On the interior, Mora has already made 7 offers in the Class of 2014, but none come from California: Clifton Garrett (4 stars, #2 ILB), Raekwon McMillian (4 stars, #5 ILB), Nyles Morgan (4 stars, #6 ILB), Kenny Young (4 stars, #8 ILB), Kevin Crosby (3 stars, #12 ILB), Shaun Hamilton (3 stars, #18 ILB), and Greg Miclisse (3 stars, #28 ILB).

Defensive Backs

The defensive secondary is the obvious, glaring question mark. Three out of the four starters from last year's team (Andrew Abbott, Aaron Hester, Sheldon Price) are gone, leaving just Tevin McDonald and three vacant positions. But, if Mora's impressive recruiting haul wasn't limited to just the linebacking corps: the Class of 2013 brought some very talented secondary players to Westwood. Here's how the depth chart looks going into this season at this snapshot of time:

CB SS FS CB
Marcus Rios (SO) Dietrich Riley (RS JR) Tevin McDonald (RS JR) Randall Goforth (SO)
Priest Willis (FR) Tahaan Goodman (FR) Tyler Foreman (FR) Ishmael Adams (SO)
Librado Barocio (RS SO) Taylor Lagace (RS FR) Dylan Price (RS SO) Fabian Moreau (SO)
Brandon Sermons (RS SR) Johnny Johnson (FR)
Mossi Johnson (FR)
Anthony Jefferson (RS JR)

Dietrich Riley returns to football after a terrifying neck injury that many thought would mean the end of the hard-hitting safety's football career. If Riley can improve his coverage ability and improve his reading of the run game, his big-hitting ability could take him to playing on Sundays. He'll certainly be pushed because elite freshman safety prospect Tahaan Goodman will certainly make it interesting come this fall. At corner, I think Rios and Goforth have the edge, simply because they got a lot more playing time last year. Adams, unfortunately, got hurt early in the season, so I think he'll have to make up a decent amount of ground to take a starting job from Goforth or Rios. Both are young corners, so there will be growing pains, but there is a lot of talented players in the program, with experienced reserves in Brandon Sermons, Anthony Jefferson, and Librado Barocio.

Mora went out and got a lot of talent to boost our secondary depth in the Class of 2013, bringing in elite cornerbacks Priest Willis and Johnny Johnson, alongside elite safeties Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman. Any of the four could see significant playing time as true freshmen, despite the number of players already in the program at their respective positions. For now, Willis looks like a prototypical Mora corner: big size, large frame, and the ability to get physical with the receiver at the line, and keep tight coverage down-field. Eventually, he may transition to safety as he gets larger, but I wouldn't be surprised if he sees playing time at corner as a freshman. Bear in mind, Mora will likely need to call on all four of his big-name freshman prospects as UCLA will face numerous spread offenses (Oregon and Arizona immediately come to mind).

When we take the next step and look at the roster for 2014, things look very good for UCLA:

CB SS FS CB
Marcus Rios (JR) Dietrich Riley (RS SR) Tevin McDonald (RS SR) Randall Goforth (JR)
Priest Willis (SO) Tahaan Goodman (SO) Tyler Foreman (SO) Ishmael Adams (JR)
Librado Barocio (RS JR) Taylor Lagace (RS SO) Dylan Price (RS JR) Fabian Moreau (JR)
Mossi Johnson (RS FR) Johnny Johnson (SO)
Justin Combs (RS SO)
Anthony Jefferson (RS SR)

In case you missed it, no one is leaving (barring career-ending injury, transfer, or early departure to the NFL), except for reserve corner Brandon Sermons (graduation). The Bruins will have a very deep secondary in 2014, one stocked with elite talent. If Mora is indeed a secondary guru, he'll have all the tools he needs at his disposal to show us how devastating he can make this unit. But, not content to rest on his laurels, Mora has made nearly a dozen offers at safety alone in the Class of 2014: Juju Smith (5 stars, #1 S, an exciting prospect from Long Beach Poly), Quin Blanding (5 stars, #2 S, committed to Virginia), Jamal Adams (4 stars, #3 S), Budda Baker (4 stars, #5 S), Brandon Simmons (4 stars, #8 S), Todd Kelly, Jr. (4 stars, #10 S, committed to Tennessee), Armani Watts (4 stars, #20 S, committed to Texas A&M), Nick Glass (3 stars, #29 S), Quincy Wilson (3 stars, #32 S), Mattrell McGraw (3 stars, #37 S), and Andrew Godfrey (not rated or ranked). Likewise, Mora is on the hunt for corners, making eleven offers so far: Tony Brown (5 stars, #1 CB), Adoree Jackson (5 stars, #2 CB, a Serra HS product), Jabrill Peppers (5 stars, #4 CB), Edward Paris (4 stars, #7 CB, committed to LSU), Nick Watkins (4 stars, #8 CB), Adarius Pickett (4 stars, #24 CB), Jonathan Lockett (4 stars, #25 CB), Jermaine Roberts (3 stars, #38 CB), Kyle Gibson (3 stars, #53 CB), Vashon Tucker (3 stars, #64 CB), and Cornellius Sturghill (3 stars, not ranked).

So, that's your very preliminary look at how our defensive squad will look over the next two seasons. Feel free to pick it apart, put up your own projections, and tell us how UCLA will need to recruit in the Class of 2014 to keep the defense looking lock-solid

Stay tuned (next week) for the third and final part of BN's three-part series on our way-too-early pre-spring-practice football depth chart, which will take a look at how Mora and Mazzone's spread offense will evolve following the loss of Johnathan Franklin, Joe Fauria, but with another year of development for super-sophomore QB Brett Hundley.

Fire away in the thread.

GO BRUINS

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