We are now just a few days away from the start of Spring football practice, and time for us on the front page to start getting ourselves back into football mode. Following in the footsteps of AHMB's spring preview of the Bruin Defensive Line, here is a look at the Linebackers.
Let's start by taking a look at the projected depth chart, as IE Angel put together last week.
Left Outside Linebacker
Right Outside Linebacker
Myles Jack (SO)
Isaako Savaiinaea (SO)
Eric Kendricks (SR)
Kenny Orjioke (JR)
Taylor Lagace (SO)
Deon Hollins (SO)
Zach Whitley (FR)
Ryan Hofmeister (RS SR)
Aaron Wallace (RS JR)
Jayon Brown (SO)
Aaron Porter (RS SO)
Cameron Judge (SO)
Keep in mind that this depth chart reflects the players who will be enrolled and available to the Bruin coaches at the start of Spring practices. Having enrolled early, Zach Whitley will be able to practice with the rest of the team next month. As for the other linebackers who committed to the Bruins last month, we will have to wait until Summer to see Cameron Griffin, Dwight Williams, and Kenny Young don the Blue and Gold, and see themselves added to the UCLA roster and depth charts.
Of course the big story - two big stories really - will involve the competition for the starting spots vacated by Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt. Once you factor in Owa's return compensation for Cassius Marsh and much of Seali'i Epinesa's playing time having been taken by last year's freshman stars, those are the only two truly open starting spots on the defense.
Starting with Barr's old spot on the outside, it looks like we will be seeing a two-way battle between redshirt junior Aaron Wallace and true junior Kenny Orjioke. Wallace has the advantage of having started three games last fall, and has been at least been a solid performer in his role on the outside. Orijoke is a closer to filling the role of physical freak that Barr gave us the last two seasons, but has not yet shown the overall skillset to be the every-down answer. My guess is that Wallace will make it though practices on target to be the starter come the opening game trip to Virginia - but with Orijoke getting a solid amount of playing time, especially in passing situations - though I would love to see Kenny work himself into that starting spot. He has the talent to be another disruptive force on the Bruin defense, and still just 19 years old, still room to grow in his 2 remaining years. Deon Hollins is also in the mix, and is likely to end up in a reserve role on the outside.
Joining Eric Kendricks on the inside will be either sophomore Issaco Savaaiinaea or freshman Zach Whitley. Issaco has the advantage of having a year in the system and playing experience as Kendrick's backup last fall, though he did have some struggles, especially in extended action at Oregon and Stanford (admittedly not the easiest opponents for a true freshman to impress against). IE Angel mentioned Whitley's impressive measurables last week, noting that his January workout numbers matched those that Myles Jack put up after getting to campus last summer. After a few months of work with Sal Alosi, he could be an absolute beast. Right now it is hard to pick a leader, though like IE I would not be surprised to see the kid who broke Nick Saban's heart starting for the Bruins in Charlottesville. Ryan Hoffmeister will be gunning for playing time in his final season in Westwood, while Cameron Judge looks to move up from his freshman special teams role and Aaron Porter looks to impress to coaches before Kenny Young and the other freshmen reach campus for Summer practices.
At the Nickel/Mini Backer spot, Jayon Brown and Taylor Legace enter Spring ball coming off of freshman seasons (redshirt for Taylor, true for Jayon) that saw them both contribute on special teams and at times on the defense.
As AHMB noted a couple days ago, the overall state of the UCLA defense is fantastic. While the linebacking corp cannot fully replace Barr and Zumwalt, the returning pair of Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks provide a great foundation for our younger talent to shine, and the addition of another outstanding group of recruits just adds to our depth, with the talent to push their elders every week on Spaulding FIeld.