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"Safety U"?- The Return of Our Lethal Weapons

Those of you who grew up on UCLA football during the last three decades are especially familiar with these names:

- Kenny Easley
- Matt Darby
- Eric Turner
- Othello Henderson
- Marvin Goodwin

I am sure I am leaving out a few of that list. But, suffice to say, it is not a stretch to call UCLA "Safety U" given all the incredible collegiate talent that has passed through our football program during the last 30 years.

Well, this year Dorrell and Walker will have at their disposal probably one of the more talented defensive backfields that UCLA has had in last three decades. And, given the kind of athletes UCLA has offered up at this position, that is saying something.

The Bruin secondary not only has the potential to emerge as the most devastating, hard hitting unit in the Pac-10, but in the entire nation.

Here is the depth chart that features 4 returning starters with 13 starts.

23 Trey Brown (5-9, 190, Sr.**) (13) 14 Chris Horton (6-1, 209, Sr.**) (13) 11 Dennis Keyes (6-2, 203, Sr.**) (13) 3 Rodney Van (6-0, 173, Sr.) (13)
22 Michael Norris (5-9, 176, Jr) 25 Bret Lockett (6-2, 206, Jr.) 27 Arron Ware (6-0, 193, So.*) 1 Alterraun Verner (5-11, 178, So.)(11)
28 Matt Caldwell (6-3, 182, So.**)^ 24 Christian Ramirez (6-3, 206, So.) 18 Matthew Slater (6-0, 194, Sr.**) 30 Chris Meadows (5-11, 178, Jr.**)^
35 Matt Culver (6-2, 197, Jr.**)^ 26 Mike Angelo (6-1, 193, So.**)^

Every starter has 13 starts. Now that is pretty incredible.

Let’s start with talking about our safeties. Number 14 leads this unit and if you need a little sampling of his hitting abilities take a look:

Chris is a lethal weapon in the backfield. And I am sure his name is going to be on the radar of all the RBs and receivers who are getting ready to take on the Bruin defense this coming season. Chris is a warrior who is going to "bring it" every freaking play, targeting opposing players with the ball like a heat seeking missile. Horton had a team leading 95 tackles (5 of them for loss) and 3 picks last season. Just like Davis, he is on all kinds of pre-season honor list, and if this defense plays up to the hype, you can bet he will close out his senior season as one of the more decorated DBs in the history of UCLA football. Not too shabby for a kid from Louisiana who turned down offers from SEC and ACC programs in his quest to find glory out West. He is now in position to putting it all together.

Partnering up with Chris is Dennis Keyes, who can also bring the lumber. And I know this video has been posted here already, but it is worth seeing again:

Keyes has all the tools necessary to put together a huge senior season. However, I do think he needs to develop a little more consistency. His role is going to be a key in terms of how this defense matches up against teams with multi-dimensional, aerial attacks. He can’t afford to have the slip-ups he has had in the past finding himself in out of position in the backfield.

Among the players backing up Horton and Keyes, Aaron Ware is the most interesting athlete. Of course, many of you will remember that his older bro Matt Ware was a superb CB at UCLA before making his way into the NFL. Per practice observers and the coaches, Ware has done a good job of learning the FS position and should be ready to contribute when he is called upon this season. Lockett is also a solid backup who has the size and athletic talent to contribute if Walker calls his number. I am sure by now you are aware of moving Ramirez, another physical athlete to the TB position in order to add some depth at the position given recent injuries to Moline and Carter. That should work out well for the team given the depth we have at safety position. Dorrell himself said Ramirez wasn’t getting a lot of reps as safety.

At LC, Trey Brown is a solid DB. He led the team with 4 picks last season and also piled up 47 tackles. From CP at Bruin Roar:

When you look at Trey Brown, he doesn't strike you as an imposing figure. The 5'9" 185 lb red-shirt senior from Overland Parks, Kansas isn't the biggest or the fastest player in the secondary. However, Brown has emerged as a lock-down corner who has started almost every game during the last three years. He is considered one of the top corners in the conference and he anchors one of the best units on the team.

Trey has started in 30 consecutive games at UCLA and has played in every game since 2003. That's an incredible streak and he is by far the most experienced player on the defense. In my mind, he is the captain of the secondary and his leadership has helped turn them into a formidable and aggresive group.

Trey locks down whatever receiver he is assigned to cover. He led the Bruins last season with 4 interceptions and 9 passes defended despite the fact that opposing quarterbacks would rarely throw his direction. He also amassed 47 tackles and even got a sack on a corner blitz during the Stanford game. Despite his size he can land a big hit; just ask Arizona receiver Syndric Steptoe, who got knocked for a loop by Brown at the Rose Bowl.
So Trey is a steady presence in this unit and can more than hold his own in terms of playing the role of a shut down corner in the secondary.

Now the real battle in this secondary is going to be between the 2Vs: Van and Verner. Despite being unfairly scapegoated by Walker in public following the Washington game last season, Rodney Van went on to have a pretty decent season with 43 tackles in 13 games. He didn’t have any picks but he also tied Brown with a team leading 9 pass breakups (then again that could be a testament to Brown’s steadiness as opposing QBs were concentrating their assault on RV). But still, Verner was solid.

But the question is, can he hold off the spectacular ATV from taking away the starting spot this coming season? Yes, ATV:

Let me use the word SPECTACULAR once again:

Ok. I cheated a bit and used a video of dazzling plays featuring more than ATV. But you get the point.

This is a special player. It is crazy to think he is only a sophomore. When I watch this guy I just keep thinking of a Deon Sanders w/o all the jewelry (and, of course, an education). This kid has superstar written all over him if he stays on his current course. Walker will probably bring him in for nickel packages, but if Van slips up, look for him to get more and more minutes.

Norris is a solid backup. Another guy who could become a factor in this depth chart (currently not listed) is true freshman Courtney Viney, who Dorrell had said could be the only freshman to get some playing time this coming season (before moving him over to the scout team)

Overall, this bunch has the ability to become one the most exciting and effective defensive backfield UCLA has had in decades. All that’s left right now is for this unit (along with their colleagues in the front-7) to step up and deliver UCLA their first Pac-10 championship since 1998.

It’s just a matter of living up the hype and reestablishing the mantle of "Safety U."