Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
We finish our recap of UCLA's fantastic signing day with a look at the defensive class.
Friday, we took a look at the status of UCLA's recruiting efforts on the offensive side of the ball, which is impressive. The staff signed potential stars at the skill positions and loaded up with an incredible group of offensive lineman. That said, the defensive side of the ball is what really stands out to me. UCLA essentially signed an entire defense of 4 and 5 star recruits. They added depth along all three phases of the defense, and the majority of the class has the ability to play early.
The defensive line is in good shape for next year. Seali'i Espenesa started all season as a Jr. and will be back at NT for his Sr. season, and Cassius Marsh and Owamagbe Odighizuwa will form arguably the most talented pair of ends in the Pac-12 in both of their Sr. seasons. However, behind the starters there is some youth and question marks.
Last year's big prize, Ellis McCarthy, will figure in the two deep along the defensive line. In fact, he'll probably play both end and tackle and get as many snaps as the starters. Brandon Willis will also figure into the rotation, and has the ability to play both end and tackle if he can keep his weight up. Brandon Tuliaupupu figures to play NT, and Eli Ankou and Sam Tai will play end, but those three are pretty big question marks at this point. It wouldn't surprise if Kevin McReynolds switches back from guard to the defensive line given the newly recruited offensive line depth, and Jeremy Castro might fit in at end as well.
This year, the staff indicated early on that they were going to take as many as 3-4 defensive lineman, but recruited only elite players who could help right away. The staff ended up landing only two lineman, but both of them are elite talents capable of filling some of the depth concerns along the line next year.
4* DT Kenneth Clark was the first lineman to commit. At 6'2 285 lbs., Clark projects as a solid 3-4 DT with some growth, but he could probably play some end as well. He committed early on and never wavered, but his talent should not be overlooked.
In contrast to Clark's early commitment, Kylie Fitts came late to the party after spurning USC. Fitts is ranked as the #10 DE in the country, and at 6'4 260 lbs., he'll be able to play right away. He's also an early enrollee and will get a head start this spring.
Lou Spanos' defense helped the linebackers shine last year. Anthony Barr was absolutely dominant, racking up 13 sacks in his first season at linebacker. Inside, Eric Kendricks led the Pac-12 with 149 tackles, and Jordan Zumwalt really took off when he was moved inside. Damien Holmes is the only starter that needs to be replaced. He looked good in his first season at OLB opposite Barr, but having a natural linebacker at that spot will help the defense.
The depth behind the starters is a concern. Aaron Wallace and Aramide Olanyian are talented, but undersized, and it wouldn't surprise if Kenny Orjioke bypasses them both at OLB. Aaron Porter red shirted last year, but he does project as a solid inside backer. Jeremy Castro may also end up at OLB rather than DE, and Dietrich Riley may ultimately fit in as the nickel linebacker when he returns.
Given the concern, the staff made the linebacker position a priority, and it paid off, landing four incredibly talented linebackers. Myles Jack, Deon Hollins, Cameron Judge, Isaac Savaiinaea and Jayon Brown form an impressive group of linebackers that could contend with anyone in the country at the position.
Jack is originally from Georgia and moved to Washington during high school. He is an incredible athlete and brings great size at 6'3 230 lbs. Jack may be able to play a similar role as Anthony Barr. Scout lists him as the #4 OLB in the country, and he is a prime candidate to play a substantial role next year.
Hollins is a Texas native who can really rush the passer. At 6'2 222 lbs., he has good enough size to play early in a situational role. He played DE in high school, but Scout rated him as the #21 OLB in the country.
Savaiinaea is easily the top ILB prospect in the west, and Scout ranks him as the #3 ILB in the country. The Hawaiian native is 6'3 230 lbs. and can play right away, adding depth to the MLB spots.
Judge is an Oaks Christian product where UCLA has been doing well lately. He is a little light at 6'2 215 lbs., but he has a solid frame and could add weight easily. He is a candidate to play both OLB and ILB. His father played at Oregon in the early 80's.
Brown is a bit of a tweener who will fit in as a nickel linebacker. He's smallish at 6'0 205 lbs., but he has good coverage skills and will have a nice role in Lou Spanos' defense. He's also a Long Beach Poly grad, and it's good for the staff to keep going to that well.
With Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price graduating, both starting cornerback spots are up for grabs. UCLA did bring in Ishmael Adams and Marcus Rios last year, but they will both have to earn the starting spots. Other than those two, there are a lot of question marks on the roster. Brandon Sermons and Anthony Jefferson have not proven much yet, Fabian Moreau is learning the position, and Randall Goforth appears to have found a home at safety. Thankfully, the staff brought in two very talented corners.
Priest Willis played both corner and safety in high school and will get a shot at corner in college. He brings excellent size at 6'2 190 lbs. and is an explosive athlete. Scout ranks him as the #4 corner in the nation. There has been some delay in getting his LOI in, but he'll probably be one of the leading candidates to start once he steps on campus.
Johnny Johnson played for Central in Fresno in a secondary that included Oklahoma signees LJ Moore and Hatari Byrd. Johnson is smallish at 5'9 165 lbs, but the staff made an exception to their preference for big corners and are chased Johnson hard. Scout ranks him as the nations #8 corner, and he'll also be a candidate for early playing time.
Safety was a position of need going into recruiting. Tevin McDonald returns with starting experience, but he needs to mature both on and off the field to hold on to his starting spot at FS. Randall Goforth played very well as a freshman, and he'll push McDonald, but he may ultimately end up at corner. Dietrich Riley should return this year, and he'll likely compete with Stan McKay for both the SS and nickel linebacker roles, but Riley is returning from a serious injury and will need some time to return to form. Taylor Lagace will also add some depth at SS and nickel linebacker after red shirting last season.
The staff managed to land two safeties that can play both FS and SS. Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman are both 6'2 and 190 lbs., and rated as the #7 and #8 safety in the country, respectively. They're both big hitters who can support the run, but they're also athletic enough to play deep coverage. They should both play early, and both are capable of pushing for starting roles.
UCLA also got a commitment from P Sean Covington, one of the best punters in the country. He'll take over for Jeff Locke next year.
That concludes our post signing day recap of UCLA's 2013 recruiting efforts. Fire away with any additional comments.