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The End of the Thin Blue Line?

So, I will continue with the analysis of various units of our football team. I started it off with a look at our backs yesterday, today the focus will shift on to the other side of the ball by taking a look at our linebackers and defensive line, probably the weakest two units of the entire team last season.

These guys made a lot of above average Pac-10 running backs look spectacular last season. Here is just one of those painful reminders:

Luckily, thanks to the DO and MJD, we were able to pull out a miraculous win like we did against a few other craptacular teams last season. Well, this year we may not be so lucky again. So, it will be imperative for new defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker to get these guys to put up a fight (i.e. tackling someone, anyone, before they eat up 5-6 yards on first).

Let?s start with the linebackers and here is the current depth-chart:

12 John Hale (6-4, 235, So.)(7) 33 Christian Taylor (6-0, 225, Jr.*)(1) 2 Eric McNeal (6-2, 218, Sr*)(1)
55 Korey Bosworth (6-1, 235, Fr*) 51 Reggie Carter (6-1, 230, Fr.*) 42 Arron Whittington (6-2, 209, Jr.*)(2)
49 Fred Holmes (6-1, 245, Jr.) 54 Kyle Bosworth (6-1, 230, So.) 8 Shawn Otis (6-0, 225, Fr*)
46 Chad Moline (6-0, 238, Jr.)^ 56 Nicky Rodriguez (5-10, 215, So*)^

This is probably the most inexperienced part of our defense. As you can see, the most experienced player from this bunch is John Hale, who started 7 games this past season. But Hale may (should) miss the first game because of the off-field incident he was involved during the off-season. Besides Hale, McNeal is probably the most talented athlete of the starting LBers. But, even McNeal may miss some action this season according to a post on BRO's message board (non-premium):

mcneal might not be eligible, i was talkin to him yesterday and he said that he needs to get 2 B's this summer to make up for an F he got in the spring...The bosworth's look exactly the same but are looking good, Oatis just got back from a car accident so its gonna take some time w/him...carter has the potential to be good but his work ethic isn't the greatest...Umodu looks like a beast in the weightroom and has great work ethic and should be a good player in the future...the only spot taken is by christian taylor at MLB...
According to the poster, he is an intern with the strength and conditioning program of the football team. His post does jive with Brian Dohn, who also didn?t sound very optimistic about talented red-shirt freshmen Reggie Carter in our interview with him. It doesn?t look that great at this point in time. But, really no need to reach for those razor blades yet. We are starting the season with a very soft schedule. So this will give some of the inexperienced kids in the depth chart time to show what they are worth. This may be the chance for Korey Bosworth to step up and shine, and Whittington had some good moments last year.

The wild card in this LBing crew may be incoming freshmen #45 ? Toby Umodu ? a 5-11, 220 LB out of West Covina. Normally, you?d like your freshmen to redshirt, bulk up and add depth to the rotation, but the lack of depth at LB may give a kid like Umodu an opportunity to impress coaches during training camp and earn some playing time in the first few games.

Besides, the depth at our LB position may be problematic, but it?s not the end of the world. Last year we had two great LBers in Spencer Havner and Justin London, who ended up not being so effective because of the zero support they got from the line up front. Well, this year should be different. Even though our LBers currently don?t have a lot of experience, they can be helped out if the play of our defensive line improves substantially. If our DL can play up to their potential (as detailed below) they should be able to wreak havoc with the opposing O. If the D-line is not losing the war in the trenches every time, it will take a lot of pressure off our LBers (and the DBs) from not having to make the stop every single time as they seemed to be doing last year.

For the first time in a while, we are going to have some depth on our defensive line. Here is the current depth chart:

44 Bruce Davis (6-3, 250, Jr*) 77 Kenneth Lombard (6-1, 265, So.*) (3) 50 Chase Moline (6-1, 300, So.) (9) 17 Justin Hickman (6-1, 265, Sr.) (12)
96 Nikola Dragovic (6-3, 250 Jr*) (4) 93 Brigham Harwell (6-1, 295, Jr.) (11) 75 Kevin Brown (6-2,300, Jr*) 48 William Snead (6-4, 265, Jr.*) (5)
82 Will Peddle (6-6, 280, Sr*)^ 52 Jess Ward (6-3, 300, Fr*) 61 Brian Ruziecki (6-4, 300, Sr.*)^ 47 Chinoso Anyanwu (6-4, 218, Fr*)
95 Steven Urrutia (6-3, 290, Jr*)

Here are some encouraging notes:

? Kevin Brown, the huge 6-3, 300lb tackle is back. Kevin is one of those great DL?s who should be able to clog up the running holes, and provide much needed size to this thin blue line (from last season), who will be able to effectively challenge the running backs who were bursting through the line unchallenged last season. Last year the team gave up an average of 4.75 yds. per rushing attempts on first down. The defense gave up 10 yards or more on first down an astonishing 39 times (207 attempts ? 9 times for over 20 yards!) [See]. Although I hate excuses, his injury did have a huge impact on our run defense last season. He comes back this season and, if he can stay healthy, should play an important role in stabilizing the atrocious run D from last season.

? From a quick glance at the depth chart it will be apparent that these kids are a little bigger. Perhaps the off-season training regimen set out by UCLA strength and conditioning coach Doc Kries is working? Bruce Davis has gained 20lbs (up to 250), Moline is up 26 lbs (to 300!), Harwell is up 19 (to 295) and Peddle is up 29? (280).

? Speaking of Brigham Harwell it's interesting that he is currently behind Lombard. What does that tell us? Either Lombard was beyond impressive during spring practice and off-season workouts or perhaps Harwell is not performing up to the coaches's expectations? Whatever it is I think we can expect Harwell to be a major contributor. Afterall Harwell was second in the team with 4 sacks (behind Hickman's 5.5 sacks) and led the team with 11.5 tackles for loss last season while IIRC he was sometimes dealing with the injury bug. Harwell should have a better season provided his team-mates in the DL who are bigger, healthier, and hopefully hungrier can generate lot of pressure on QBs and clog up the running lanes this season.

? Jess Ward is moved down to the 3 spot on the depth chart. Again, we should expect him to miss the season opener. However, losing him for one game shouldn?t have that big of a negative impact. BTW he gained 16lbs (up to 300) from this past spring. Not bad.

? It sounds like Nikola Dragovic (no not everyone from Serbia doesn't have that name) is healthy. Dragovic started 4 games last season and, if you checkout the highlights from the Oklahoma game last season, the kid can play like an animal. If he can stay healthy, he would be a key contributor to this line.

? The depth chart above doesn?t include reference to any of the incoming freshmen. This is also another unit where we may be able to have some blue chipper get in and make an impact, getting some time in the rotation. Two names to keep your eyes out for ? #97 Darius Savage (6-4, 315) DT out of San Diego and #56 Jerzy Siewierski (6-3, 300) DT out of Nevada ? are supposed to be monsters. They may end up redshirting this season. But, if the coaches go by the 'ole adage of going with talent (who perform during practice) over experience, they may get to rough up some backs and QBs this year at the Rose Bowl. Also keep an eye out for #85 David Carter (6-3 240) DE from Fontana who runs.
Well, those are some initial thoughts. I usually try not to get swept up in these numbers lighting up so much optimism in the message boards every July/August, but still it?s encouraging. This line, at least on paper, is much bigger and more experienced than the line from last season. With the new defensive coordinator in place, I don?t see why we can?t have the expectation that these guys will come out like gangbusters, fight, scratch, and improve upon the humiliating performance of last season, when they made superstars out of so many above average running backs. There should be no excuses for running backs from Washington State and the Arizonas of the world, who should never be running for over 300 yards and an average more than 7 yds. per carry against UCLA. That is just embarrassing, humiliating, and unacceptable.

So, if we expect reasonable improvements on our defensive front line (which is not as thin as last year), which is more experienced, healthier, and should be playing with a purpose under the new DC, we don?t see why we shouldn?t be optimistic about a decent season from this UCLA football team, which of course means 9 wins and beating SC.