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Defensive Line Reset: Coaches Dealing With Depth Concerns

<em>Price (92) and Jerzy (90) will anchor the Bruin DL this coming season. Photo Credit: E. Corpuz</em>
Price (92) and Jerzy (90) will anchor the Bruin DL this coming season. Photo Credit: E. Corpuz

Now that we have gone through the LBing position let’s shift our attention to the defensive frontline. Before we even get through the depth chart we have got some brand new shift in personnel in light of injuries to back up tackles Reggie Stokes and Jess Ward. If you didn't read through the injury post, Reggie Stokes is out indefinitely because of a torn cartilage while Jess Ward is probably going to be out 2-3 weeks with a sprained MCL. As a result coaches made some immediate changes yesterday moving OL Sean Sheller and Connor Bradford to defense. Here is the reset from the LA Times:

"Part of it was in the event of an emergency, and part of it was we have the luxury of time to take a look," UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said about the Sheller and Bradford moves.

Ward, who has played in 24 games, was expected to be the team's No. 3 defensive tackle. Sheller will play defensive tackle.

"Hopefully, we can bring him up to speed so he can play 15, 20 snaps for us," defensive line coach Todd Howard said.

Will be interested from hearing from the practice goers in the coming days how Sheller and Bradford are performing with their new unit.  So basically, just like the situation at LB the same themes are also in play on the defensive frontline where we have solid talent at the starting positions, but have depth related concerns that will stretch beyond this season.

Obviously, the guy who will be anchoring this unit will be superstar Junior Brian Price (6-2, 300). We don’t need to go through what Brian can do over here at BN. He is on pretty much every pre season award watch list. If the kid can stay healthy (knocking on wood) through his junior year and continue to develop the way he has first two years, he would have a strong shot at that award along with having the opportunity to be a first round NFL pick next season. Yeah, I know. We would all like for him to come back for one more year after this season. But I am not going to hold my breath and instead am planning to enjoy watching number 92’s every snap his junior year in Westwood. As Reggie Carter noted to the LA Times there are not many OLs in the country, who has the ability to block Brian:

"I would like to see someone block Brian Price for a while," Carter said at the Pacific 10 Conference’s media day. "I have never seen that."

Ted Miller from ESPN's Pac-10 blog wrote how Brian is on a mission in 2009:

"Every player thinks about one day playing there (NFL) but I'm just thinking about this season," he said.

In a revelation that will surprise no one, Price said he and his teammates are not big fans of last season, when the Bruins went 4-8. The defense was generally good, but the numbers were hardly spectacular because the woeful offense provided little help.

"That's all we talked about this summer -- 4-8," he said. "We've got to get UCLA back."

Now Brian should be able to wreak havoc in the opponent’s backfield if he gets some help from his team-mates on the frontline. And right now the way that line is shaping up, it has the look of emerging as a solid one at least among the starting group. More on them after the jump.

Last year Brian had a great partner in senior Brigham Harwell who had a solid career at UCLA. Now that Harwell is gone it will be  Jerzy Siewierski’s - 6-2/296 monster’s – turn to step up. Jerzy has all the potential in the world. Both Foster in his writeup and captainqtp in his upgrade-downgrade series mentioned Coach Howard’s reference to his athletic prowess of having the ability to dunk a basketball.  That seems like a fairly scary proposition. If he can exert his own version of pressure down in the trenches, it will be incredibly helpful to Brian Price, who I am sure might be drawing double teams if he develops along his projected potential.  So Jerzy’s contribution this year will be key. More on Brian and Jerzy’s team-mates on the defensive frontline after the jump.

Price and Jerzy will be flanked by two solid athletes in Korey Bosworth and Datone Jones. Coach Howard in his pre camp interview with Bruin Report Online (BRO) sounded excited about both of these youngsters:

On what he saw in Bosworth that translated to the d-line, to end:

"He just could run, and he was flexible. When you get guys like that, that’s your recipe. How do you not play guys like that? How do you not play guys like that? You don’t want guys that you look at on film who aren’t hustling, don’t look like they love football, they aren’t hustling, they’re walking. And then you’ve got a guy like Boz? This is all you need. You don’t talk about what he can’t do. This is all you need to do. If he can run, and his aggression and his attitude are like this on the football field, you let those guys play. They’re going to win more than they lose. I just like guys that like to fly around. You may not know what to do, but you can at least chase the ball like it’s a piece of meat and you haven’t had anything to eat."

On Jones and his future at UCLA:

"He’s hungry. He does what you ask him to do. If I were to tell Datone, ‘Hey, man, when you get up in the morning do 10 jumping jacks,’ he would get up and do 10 jumping jacks. That’s the kind of guy that he is. He’s a hungry player and I think he has a chance to be better than any end I’ve coached since I’ve been here. That kind of lets you know what I think of him."

On what Jones has to do to become that dominant player:

"Just get the experience. We’ll see this year what he’s going to be. I mean, you can talk about potential all you want. Until we see this year how he approaches the games and how he produces, that’s going to tell you. Damien Holmes is not far behind. He might not be as gifted as Datone is, but he listens. He studies. He understands what’s going on."

So after the starting lineup up Bosworth, Price, Siewierski, and Jones, depth becomes a question mark for the Bruins. Few weeks ago the LA Times noted how the coaches were going to look to Jess Ward and little used David Carter for depth. Obviously now David Carter is going to be a key figure in this depth chart. From the LA Times:

[T]he weight of the defensive tackle depth falls mainly on David Carter, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound junior.

Carter was converted from defensive end during the off-season with UCLA needing more bodies inside. That concern was heightened when Brandon Warner, a transfer from Compton College, didn't get into UCLA because of transcript issues. The move required Carter to gain 30 pounds.

"When you're on edge, a lot time you're the contain guy, you have to be athletic," Howard said. "Inside, you're going against more beef."

Carter was more than willing and began to rework his game.

"It definitely involves different techniques," Carter said. "You have to move your feet differently and learn how to play with the big boys."

Bradford will play defensive end, which is also down in numbers.

Per Coach Howard few weeks ago Holmes "made big strides since last fall." So he is going to be counted on to back up the DE position.

Coach Howard in his BRO interview also indicated he was going to closely monitor how incoming freshman Keenan Graham (who ran a 4.56) performs in the special teams. His plan was also to keep an eye on Iuta Tepa.

Our main hope right now is for these kids to stay healthy because we don’t have a lot of depth. If they can stay healthy, I feel good about these guys feeding off the drive and hunger of Brian Price, who has certainly proved himself both on and off the field in his total dedication of being a Bruin.

I also think the first game of the season is going to be telling (I am not going to look ahead to the Tennessee game … no way). We will have to see how this unit comes out and sets the tone on against the Aztec rushing attack and the pressure they are able to generate on the QB from the get go. If they come out and make a statement in that very first game, I think it will serve as a building block for rest of the season.

These guys will have their hands full all year long going up against lightning quick, game breakers in a number of Pac-10 squads. While the line has been steady last few years under Walker, they have had rough times against teams with quick backs and receivers. Moreover, they haven’t been able to generate the kind of pressure on QBs Davis and Hickman were able to do couple of years ago. So it will be up to Jerzy, Bosworth and Jones and rest of the guys in the depth chart to rise to Price’s level at least in terms of effort and determination, so that we can see the kind of intensity we experienced during 13-9, not just for big games but for every game through the coming season. We are going to need that if the team wants to take the next step by going bowling this season

We will wrap our look through the defense by going over the defensive backs rosters in the next few days.