UCLA Football Pre-Season Camp Preview: Defensive Line

Stephen Dunn

With UCLA's pre-season football camp in San Bernardino on the horizon, Bruins Nation will preview the 2013-14 roster with a look of each positional group and offer some thoughts about the Bruins' projected depth chart. We continue today with our look at the Defensive Line.

In our ongoing series of positional pre-camp previews, we'll shift our focus to defensive line today. ICYMI, you can catch gbruin's preview of the offensive line here, Patroclus's preview of the defensive backs here, IE Angel's preview of the linebackers here, and bruinclassof10's preview of the wide receivers and tight ends here.

In the Spring camp preview, I was very optimistic about the state of UCLA's defensive line. The line looked to be starting three seniors and had a lot of potential depth. Unfortunately, a couple injuries have shaken things up a bit. Nose tackle Brandon Tuliaupupu was lost for the year to a knee injury in Spring camp, and there is concern that left end Owamagbe Odighizuwa may miss the year due to a hip injury. On the bright side, Eddie Vanderdoes decided to flip to UCLA, adding a potential game changer on the line. Of course, his eligibility for this season is still up in the air, meaning UCLA's line could be incredibly stacked if Owa and Vanderdoes are both able to play, or it could be thin without them.

Here is how I see the depth chart shaping up this year:

LE

NT

RE

Owamagbe Odighizuwa (SR)

6-3 268 lbs.

(Possibly)

Seali'i Epenesa (SR)

6-1 310 lbs.

Cassius Marsh (SR)

6-4 260 lbs.

Eddie Vanderdoes (FR)

6-4 305 lbs.

(Possibly)

Ellis McCarthy (SO)

6-4 330 lbs.

Kylie Fitts (FR)

6-4 270 lbs.

Brandon Willis (JR)

6-1 275 lbs.

Eli Ankou (FR)

6-3 290 lbs.

Ian Taubler (SO)

6-4 257 lbs.

Keenan Graham (SR)

6-1 255 lbs.

Kenneth Clark (FR)

6-2 305 lbs.


Sam Tai (SO)

6-2 265 lbs.



The biggest question on the line is at left end, where the team will have to fill the void left by first round pick Datone Jones. If healthy, Owa will pencil in at the spot. At 6-3 268 lbs., he has good size and has elite athleticism. As a rotational player last year, Owa managed 44 tackles and 3.5 sacks, and really showed off his explosiveness for the first time in his career at UCLA. Vanderdoes would also likely play left end if eligible this season. At this point, Vanderdoes is still in the appeal process at I have no idea whether or not he'll be able to play this season.

If Owa and Vanderdoes are unable to play, UCLA will likely turn to Brandon Willis and Keenan Graham at left end. Willis was an elite talent coming out of high school, but dealing with eligibility issues for two seasons, he's still waiting for his first real chance to play. Last season, Willis came out of spring as the leading candidate to start at nose but was unable to keep enough weight to stick at the position. At 6-1 275 lbs., he's more natural at end and could surprise a lot of people this year. Like Willis, Graham was a defensive end in high school, but he was converted to OLB last year. He's made the switch back to end, but at 6-1 255 lbs., he may be a little light at this point. Assuming he can put on some weight, he'll challenge for playing time. Sam Tai is returning from a torn ACL suffered last August and will be able to work through his injury slowly.

At right end, Cassius Marsh will look to build on his outstanding junior season where he registered 49 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks. Like Owa, Marsh was highly touted coming out of high school but disappointed before breaking out last season. Marsh has the benefit of Anthony Barr behind him at linebacker, and the duo reminds me of Justin Smith and Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers in the way that they can overmatch one side of the offensive with stunts and pressure.

If Owa and Vanderdoes are both able to play, Brandon Willis would likely settle in as Marsh's back up. If Willis plays left end, UCLA will likely use a combination of freshman Kyle Fitts and converted tight end Ian Taubler in the reserve role. Fitts may be a true freshman, but he's 6-4 270 lbs. and should be able to compete immediately. He was slowed in Spring due to a wrist injury that he suffered in high school, but I think he'll make an impact on the line this year. Taubler played last year as a blocking tight end and seemed to do well, but given the nature of Mazzone's offense Taubler's skills are probably better served elsewhere. Taubler played end in high school at a very high level and had offers from major D1 schools at the position, so the position switch should not be a problem. He will need to put on weight, but I suspect he'll play in the rotation this year.

At nose, the line is in good shape with Seali'i Epenesa and Ellis McCarthy. Epenesa is a stout 6-1 310 lbs., and McCarthy is a monster at 6-4 330 lbs. At this point, I list Epenesa as the starter simply because he started every game last year. He didn't have a particularly good Spring though, and McCarthy has a decent shot of unseating him as the starter. McCarthy did not have a great year last year as a freshman after missing a lot of Fall camp due to a surgery, but he is reportedly in great shape and hopefully become the elite player that we all expect him to be. The duo has different skillsets, and I could forsee the coaching staff using Epenesa as the prototypical nose and McCarthy as a penetrating tackle. It also wouldn't surprise me to see McCarthy moved around the line as the case was last year given his unique abilities.

Despite losing Tuliaupupu for the year to injury, the depth at nose remains solid. As I expected last year, Eli Ankou has moved to nose. Ankou is a lean looking 6-3 290 lbs., and he's not even 19 years old yet. Another youngster that could get into the mix is incoming freshman Kenneth Clark, who is listed at 6-2 305 lbs.. Clark is from San Bernardino and will have an edge when Fall camp opens. It wouldn't surprise me if both Ankou and Clark earn rotational roles this year, as they are both capable of playing end and tackle.

Fire away with any additional thoughts and comments.

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