UCLA Football Spring Practice: Taking a Closer Look at the D-Line

Spring football is fast approaching, with Jim Mora and our Bruins returning to Spaulding Field on April 1. As we get ready for what should be an elite, special year in the third year of the Jim Mora era in Westwood, Bruins Nation takes a look at how our 2014 and 2015 depth chart projects to look like, all to assess where our coaching staff will need to focus their recruiting efforts. This part of our series takes a look at the stocked defensive line, where UCLA has a deep and talented group of bigs.

IE Angel laid out his predictions for the Spring Football depth chart, which I generally agree with, and I'll slot the incoming freshman (Ainuu Taua, Matt Dickerson, & Jacob Tuiti-Mariner) at the bottom of the depth chart for now. Let's take a look at a depth chart with the freshman slotted in:

Right Defensive End

Defensive Tackle

Left Defensive End

Eddie Vanderdoes (SO)

Kenneth Clark (SO)

Owamagbe Odighizuwa (RS SR)/Ellis McCarthy (JR)

Kylie Fitts (SO)

Eli Ankou (RS JR)

Sam Tai (RS JR)

Ian Taubler (RS SO)

Ainuu Taua (FR)

Matt Dickerson (FR)/Jacob Tuioti-Mariner (FR)

There are two aspects about the defensive line depth chart that really stand out to me. First, positional versatility. Vanderdoes, McCarthy, Clark, Taua, and Dickerson are all capable of playing tackle or end. That versatility will really help the defense with creative packages and allow a lot of rotation along the line. Second, the overall depth of talent along the line is among the best that I can recall at UCLA in a very long time. Vanderdoes, Owa, and McCarthy were all 5* recruits. Clark, Fitts, Taua, Dickerson, and Tuioti-Mariner were all highly regarded 4* recruits. It's one thing to have a good rotation along the defensive line, it's another to constantly rotate supremely talented and fresh lineman into the game.

It's good thing that UCLA's cupboard is stocked along the line, because the team lost a lot of talent this offseason. Starters and major contributors on the defensive line Cassius Marsh, Keenan Graham, Seali'i Epenesa and Brandon Willis all graduated, and Brandon Tuliapupu transferred out of the program. It's a testament to the staff's recruiting along the line that so many players can depart without causing drastic concern about the depth chart.

Another concern is the recent news of Vanderdoes' broken foot. The injury will not likely caused any missed time next season, but Fitts and Taubler should get plenty of reps with the first team this Spring. The biggest concern with any foot injury is the inability to participate in conditioning, so Vanderdoes' status going into Fall Camp will be worth keeping an eye on. Fitts suffered through a wrist injury last season, but I expect him to make a major leap forward this year and earn a chunk of reps next season.

At the other end spot, there will be a competition for the starting job Owa and McCarthy, but both will see plenty of action next season. The two are very different players, as Owa is a pass rushing end and McCarthy is more of a run stuffing wall, and their competition will be fun to watch this Spring.

At tackle, Clark has a good grasp of the starting spot, and Vanderdoes and McCarthy will provide the main depth. Clark played very well as a Freshman last year, becoming a starting tackle by the end of the season. This Spring, Ankou will get a good opportunity to carve out his role for next season, and it will be his last opportunity before Taua and Dickerson arrive in the Fall. If he does not show well this Spring, he could have a very tough time cracking the rotation at UCLA.

Overall, the state of UCLA's defensive is fantastic. The team is deep and talented, and will only lose Owa to graduation after next season. In retrospect, Owa's injuries were a blessing in disguise, as he redshirted and will be one of only two upper classmen expected to play heavy roles in the rotation next season. Had he graduated, the line would still be in decent shape, but having his pass rushing skills and experience for another year will really help next season.

***

That concludes the Preview of the Defensive Line. Feel free to fire away with additional thoughts and comments, and be sure to check back in tomorrow for a look at UCLA's linebacking corps.

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