UCLA has had a strong history of talented defensive backs, dating back to Kenny Easley and in more recent years, standouts and current NFL players Alterraun Verner and Rahim Moore. Last year's squad featured many upperclassmen in key secondary roles, including two starting senior cornerbacks, Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price, a senior safety in Andrew Abbott and a senior "nickel" backer in safety/linebacker hybrid, Dalton Hilliard. After years of getting burnt by Pac-12 receivers and being subject to the Toast Twins moniker and revolving door defensive backs, we saw significant improvements from the cornerbacks in the Mora regime, with better coaching from Bruins Nation favorite and ace recruiter, Coach Demetrice "Meat" Martin and Defensive Coordinator Lou Spanos's scheming.
That being said, this spring will provide ample opportunity for several youngsters to step up, provide consistently good play in the secondary and become the next great UCLA defensive back. In the spirit of "let the best players play regardless of seniority", the entire secondary will be open to fierce competition in the spring. Several talented members of the 2012 recruiting class will get the opportunity to impress the coaching staff before the vaunted 2013 recruiting class's secondary will get their shot.
Let's look at the depth chart previously posted in our depth previews:
2013 UCLA Secondary Projected Depth Chart
|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)|
Randall Goforth, Fabian Moreau, Anthony Jefferson, Brandon Sermons, Justin Combs, Ishmael Adams, Marcus Rios, Zumwalt, Librado Barocio, Mossi Johnson
Goforth, who was recruited as a cornerback, should get reps at cornerback but may play safety again this year depending on how many incoming DB's we hope to redshirt for future depth. Talented sophomores Adams (who hurt his shoulder and sat out part of the season) and Rios, who received reps and played on special teams last year, along with redshirt freshman, Combs will get the opportunity to lock down starting corner spots. Zumwalt and Barocio look to provide depth and experience.
Incoming freshmen Priest Willis and Johnny Johnson will get looks at cornerback in the fall. Mossi Johnson will likely redshirt due to an injury.
Goforth, Adams and Anthony Jefferson (listed as a corner) may get additional looks at safety as well.
At this point, both starting cornerback positions are up for grab, and against our talented and returning wide receivers corps, there will be plenty of opportunities for anyone to grab a starting role.
Stan McKay, Tevin McDonald, Taylor Lagace, Tahaan Goodman, Tyler Foreman, Dylan Price, Ishmael Adams and Randall Goforth
While some have predicted that McDonald will be penciled in as an automatic starter, there are more than a few of us that believe that he will have to prove himself all over again after letting the team down with his suspension for the Holiday Bowl. I expect to see McDonald and McKay duke it out in the spring for a starting free safety position and Price will get reps since we are limited in terms of depth at free safety. Last season, former walk-on Andrew Abbott thrived at the strong safety position despite being all of 5'8, and we may see Ishmael Adams and Randall Goforth continue to get reps at the safety positions as well.
Overall, I expect that the safety positions to remain competitive until the fall, and the true freshmen, Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman will get long, hard looks at safety during fall ball as well.
Hybrid Safety/Linebacker - Nickelbackers
Dietrich Riley, Kenny Orijoke, Nate Iese (?),
At the "nickel" safety/linebacker hybrid position, Dietrich Riley, who has the explosiveness and athleticism of Dalton Hilliard looks to pick up where he left off.
Riley, if you may recall, was a thumper as a safety, knocking the helmet off of former Oregon State RB/current Atlanta Falcons, Jacquizz Rodgers before sitting out the entire 2012 season recovering from a scary neck injury suffered during a 2011 game against California. He will likely face competition from converted safety Kenny Orijoke , whom the coaches are high on, and converted tight end, Nate Iese may take reps at this position as well. Expect to see all 3 get good looks.