We've already taken a look at Coach Mora, Offensive Coordinator Mazzone, and Defensive Coordinator Spanos, as well as the offensive position coaches, but now we'll take a look at the defensive position coaches and highlight their strengths and weaknesses in year one.
Defensive Line/Recruiting Coordinator Angus McClure
I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't high on Coach McClure as defensive line coach. He hadn't coached defensive line at any of his previous coaching stops, and in fact hadn't even coached on the defensive side of the ball. I'll also be the first to admit that I was wrong.
UCLA's defensive line was essentially the same as last year's in terms of personnel, but the defense switched from a 4 man front to a 3 man front, yet the difference in production from 2011 to 2012 is remarkable. Last year's defensive line accounted for 9 sacks. This year's line accounted for 15. That might not sound like a huge jump, but when you factor in that there was one less defensive lineman rushing the passer, you can see how big of a difference it was. Individually, Datone Jones' production jumped from 3 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss to 6.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. Cassius Marsh made a similar leap from 2 sacks and 4 tackles for loss to 5.5 sacks and 9 tackles for loss. Overall, these are very impressive gains.
On the recruiting front, there never really has been much of a question about Coach McClure's ability. Coach McClure is the recruiting coordinator, so he gets some credit for the entire class. He's also done a good job of getting UCLA's foot in the door with elite DT Eddie Vanderdoes, and if he can manage to beat out Ed Orgeron and Tosh Lupoi for his services, he would probably get some recognition for his recruiting ability.
Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers Coach Jeff Ulbrich
Coach Ulbrich is one of the harder coaches to evaluate. As a linebacker coach, there's no question that he did a fantastic job, despite some early personnel mishaps. However, our special teams unit was littered with poor blocking and turnovers, but also managed to block a number of kicks and had good kick coverage all year. If anything, it was an inconsistent first year that provided very low lows and very high highs.
Coach Ulbrich's job with the linebacking corps was outstanding. Anthony Barr was a monster all season, racking up a nationally leading 13 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. Erik Kendricks was also impressive, tallying 137 tackles. However, the decision to start the season with Jordan Zumwalt outside and Damien Holmes inside was a mistake, and the defense improved dramatically once those two swapped positions.
On the special teams front, there isn't any way to sugar coat the poor return game. The punt return unit was abysmal, and the mistakes generally had to do with poor decision making. Those things can be excused occasionally, but not when they are repeated numerous times. The kick return game was nearly as bad. The blocking unit didn't do their job, and our returners displayed poor ball security. However, the kick and punt block units were excellent. UCLA blocked more kicks than I can ever recall, and it's fun to see a special teams make those type of game changing plays. If only our return game could do the same.
Passing Game Coordinator/Defensive Backs Dematrice Martin
The defensive backs can be viewed two ways. On the negative side, UCLA gave up a lot of passing yards, a high completion percentage, and a very high quarterback rating. On the positive side, the unit improved all season long, and were playing solid defense by the end of the year. When it comes to Coach Martin, I tend to look at the positive given the fact that the defensive scheme was new and puts a lot of pressure on the defensive backs.
The style of defense that Coach Spanos employs requires a lot of risk. The defense blitzes frequently, and the cornerbacks are often left playing one on one coverage. Granted, the defense did become a little more conservative later in the season, but you it would be pretty hard to argue that Sheldon Price and Aaron Hestor did not show vast improvement throughout the season. It's scary to think about how good they could have been with better coaching throughout their careers.
It would also be unfair to Coach Martin to fail to talk about his impact on the team in other areas. Coach Martin introduced the "Boom" chant that got all of BruinsNation fired up. He provides energy during the game as well, and if you pay attention you'll constantly see him chest bumping and high fiving players after big plays. He's an impactful recruiter as well, and gets credit for the commitment of 4* RB Craig Lee, 4* DT Kenneth Clark, and 4* OLB Deon Hollins. Boom.
Strength & Conditioning Coordinator Sal Alosi
Arguably the most important hire of Coach Mora's tenure wasn't a position coach. It's football dedicated strength and conditioning coordinator Sal Alosi. Anyone who has been around the UCLA football program knows that nagging injuries have hampered the program for a long time. UCLA's athletic program was notoriously cheap, and our players suffered the consequences. The bottom line is that you need football strength to play football, and in one short year, Sal Alosi managed to transform a soft team into a physical one. Our guys looked stronger in all phases of the game, and the work they put in with Sal Alosi is a big part of it.
Feel free to fire away with your own evaluations.