Spaulding Spring Football Preview: Defensive Line

Stephen Dunn

We take a look at the deep defensive line, led by three starting seniors.

Welcome to Part 5 of our spring football previews. We've already previewed the special teams, defensive backs, and linebackers, but we're turning our focus to the defensive line today.

A few weeks ago, Bellerophon wrote a good preview of the UCLA defense moving forward in 2013 and beyond. In that preview, UCLA's pre-spring anticipated depth chart looked like this:

DE

NT

DE

Owamagbe Odighizuwa (SR)

Seali'i Epenesa (SR)

Cassius Marsh (SR)

Ellis McCarthy (SO)

Brandon Tuliaupupu (RS SO)

Brandon Willis (JR)

Sam Tai (RS SO)

Kenneth Clark (FR)

Kylie Fitts (FR)

Eli Ankou (FR)



Obviously, starting three seniors along the defensive line will be a big advantage for UCLA this year. While the line will be replacing graduating starter Datone Jones and transferring reserve Iuta Tepa, three experienced starters will go a long ways towards softening the blow.

On the outside, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Cassius Marsh form a pretty imposing pair. The most recent roster indicates that Odighizuwa is an imposing 6'3 265 lbs., and Marsh is a tad bigger at 6'4 268 lbs., but is much slimmer than his previous weights. The two were both highly touted out of high school in 2010, and probably underperformed until last season, but Marsh really excelled last season with 6.0 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss, while Odighizuwa got his first extended playing time and tallied 3.5 sacks and 6 tackles for loss despite playing behind Jones.

There is good depth behind the starters. Ellis McCarthy, Brandon Willis, and Kylie Fitts for a trio of talented lineman that will be able to keep the starters fresh. McCarthy is the biggest at 6'4 330 lbs., and he'll probably get a chance to play nose as well. He got good experience last year, but he was hampered by a preseason surgery and never really seemed to get fully conditioned. He underwent another surgery after the season, but he should be healthy for Spring. Willis was set to be the starting nose after Spring last year, but he has been unable to keep the weight on necessary for the position. At 6'1 268 lbs., he's probably going to remain at end again this year, but he does have the capability to move inside on passing downs. Willis' career has been an odd one between transfers to and from UNC, but he's very talented and should get an opportunity to play extensively this year.

The wild card of the group is Kylie Fitts, the true freshman enrolling early this year. He has enough size to play early at 6'4 260 lbs., and he'll be given the opportunity to break into the rotation in Spring ball.

Sam Tai and Eli Ankou fill out the defensive end position. Ankou is an impressive 6'3 290 lbs., and Tai adds good size as well at 6'2 276 lbs., but they'll have a tough road in beating out the talented group ahead of them. However, after Odighizuwa and Marsh graduate, they'll move into the rotation and will be contributors in the future.

Keenan Graham has also returned to the defensive end position according the the latest roster, but at 6'1 246 lbs., he seems to be too small to make much of an impact.

At nose, the line is in good shape with Seali'i Epenesa and Brandon Tuliaupupu. Epenesa is a stout 6'1 316 lbs., and Tuliaupupu stands 6'1 302 lbs. Epenesa started all season last year and did a solid job, while Tuliaupupu played in 5 games. McCarthy will likely be given a shot at this position as well, and it would not be all that surprising to see other players get more snaps at nose than Epenesa in the current state of college football. On passing downs, or against the various spread offenses in the Pac-12, one of the ends could move inside and allow the defense to add another pass rusher.

Fire away with any additional thoughts and comments, and be sure to check back in tomorrow when the previews jump to the other side of the ball and focus on the offensive line.

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