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UCLA Secondary In 2009: Opportunity To Revive A Bruin Tradition

<em>Hester (21) and Dye (6) Looking To Emerge In 2009. Photo Credit: <a href="" target="new">dabruins07 </a></em>
Hester (21) and Dye (6) Looking To Emerge In 2009. Photo Credit: dabruins07

So I want to use this Humpday morning to finish our roundup through both the offense and defense here on BN. We have already covered the offense by going over our notes on QBs, RBs, WRs/TEs and OL. On the defensive side we have gone over the front-7 by breaking our notes up between LBs and DEs. Let's finish it up by going through our DB position. After I am done, ryebreadaz (who attended about 8-9 practices during the first two weeks of fall camp) will do separate posts on each of the positions and give his grades based on what he has seen last few weeks. So let's get to our defensive backs, who I think will have a shot to reestablish the tradition of "Secondary U" at UCLA in 2009. If they live up to their potential, they will bring back the memories of legends such as Turner, Easley, Darby, Goodwin and of course Carnell Lake who is coaching them up at Spaulding. [Note: Lake was a legendary OLB at UCLA before being converted to SS in the NFL].

Unlike the LB an DE positions, depth is not an issue in our secondary. Through his recruiting efforts of his last two years CRN has been able to stock up this specific unit of the defense with some serious talent. Of course the leader of these guys is none other than ATV. I don't think I have to go on about what this kid can do here on BN. His body of work which we have written about for last three years speak for itself. We all know about ATV's ability as a shutdown corner. We have seen his ability to throttle opposing receivers or his ability to win a game through game breaking picks.  He also happens to be an incredibly smart kid who happens to use his brain just as much as he uses his athletic ability to terrorize opposing QBs. That is why he rarely gets caught out of position and is always at the right place at the right time to make plays if the opposing QBs are foolish enough to test him.

The cool thing for Carnell Lake and Chuck Bulloug is that ATV is not the only anchor of our secondary this season. He is going to have Rahim Moore back there with him roaming the backfield as our FS. Moore lived up to the hype as a blue chip recruit when he came into the scene last season. Not only he started every game as a true freshmen, he ended up tying for the team lead with 3 picks and finished with 60 tackles (4th on the team). Moore has the lethal combination of size (6-1/197) and speed. He is the perfect centerfielder to anchor this secondary and he is absolutely fearless. I can't wait to see what Moore is going to do as a sophomore to followup his freshman season.

So with ATV and Moore anchoring our secondary, coaches are going to look to fresh talent to fill up our secondary this season (replacing Michael Norris (CB) and Bret Lockett (SS) who developed into dependable players as the season went along last year). To find out who the coaches will be looking to step up jump over the flip.

Let's start with the cornerback position. As discussed above, given ATV's history of terrorizing opposing QBs, they will probably looking to the other end of UCLA secondary. This means there will be a lot of pressure on Aaron Hester to step up and he has the athletic ability to answer the challenge. From the LA Times:

Hester's raw abilities are apparent to the casual observer. At 6 feet 1 and 203 pounds, "he is long and lean and strong," Lake said, making him a physical presence that can bring the noise at the speed of sound.

Hester excelled in track and football at Compton Dominguez High. He anchored the 1,600-meter relay team, which posted the fastest time (3 minutes 9.59 seconds) for a California high school squad since 1997.

Franklin, one of the fastest Bruins in pads, couldn't shake Hester this week. And he heard about it.

"He keeps telling me he's a stallion and no one can keep up with him," Franklin said. Yes, Hester can pester, but, "you've got to have that swag no matter what position you play," Franklin said.

"I'm not a jaw-jacker," Hester said. "I respect other players. I just say some things to let them know I'm here. First play, I want the receiver to know it's going to be a rough day."

Besides, his abilities do speak for themselves. During one game as a senior, he caught two touchdown passes and returned an interception for a touchdown.

Gotta love Hester's aggressive attitude. We have also read this off seaosn how ATV has taken Hester under his wings. So we are hoping ATV's aggressiveness and confident attitude will rub off on his understudy. One thing I am incredibly excited about is Hester's size. In recent years, we got used the images of tall, athletic opposing WRs just giving a total beatdown on our small, undersized DBs. I think Hester if he lives up to his athletic abilities will be able to make a dent in that perception.

Speaking of potential, let's talk about the competition between Dye and Love for the SS spot at UCLA. It looks like Dye right now has a very slight edge in a heated competition per Jon Gold in the Daily News:

"We both have our advantages and our disadvantages," said Love, who at 6-foot-4 has a marked size advantage over the 5-11 Dye. "I think right now it's about even. By us battling this out right now, it's helping the team out. If just one of us goes down, we'll be fine. We're not losing a step. I think we're both going to get an opportunity to play."
Right now, Dye is relishing his opportunity to work with the starting group, particularly because some did not expect it.

Switching from nickel back to safety this season, the true sophomore has had to prove his doubters wrong, those who said that 5-11 doesn't pack enough punch.

"Of course I'm happy about the opportunity; I'm ecstatic about the opportunity," Dye said. "I appreciate that I got the shot, that I actually received this chance. A lot of people didn't think, coming from the cornerback spot, that I could, that I was too small. I'm glad I got the opportunity to show myself; I'm feeling real comfortable right now."
Both are focused on limiting the bad over making the good. At this point, a blown coverage is more damaging than a quick pick-six is helpful.

And the biggest mistakes, Dye said, are in the eyes.

"Bad eyes is a real thing at the safety position," Dye said. "You're keying the tight end, and if he releases, it's a pass. If he stays in, it's to block. A lot of safeties get away from that. They won't pay attention to the tight end.

"They'll make wrong run reads and get thrown over the top. To minimize all those mistakes, you have to have great eyes."

I think in terms of raw talent whoever takes over at this position will bring more to the table than Brett Lockett. However, I do think early on we are going to have to be patient because of their lack of experience. They are going to make some mistakes and we will have to live through it. Key for them will be to roll with the punches and develop the same way Norris and Lockett did last season.

As for rest of the guys in the depth chart we need to take note of Courtney Vinney and truh freshmen Sheldon Price and Marlon Pollard. From Sam Saig at All Pac-10 Blog:

The most experienced corner besides Verner has only played for one season and it’s sophomore Courtney Viney. Last season, Viney played mostly as a nickel back and finished with 17 tackles while also contributing on special teams. Two years ago, he was the Scout Team Player of the Year.

At 5-8 160 pounds, Viney is small even by cornerback standards, but he plays with aggressive determination and never stops coming. Coaches have praised Viney for his competitiveness and work ethic. He has tremendous leaping ability, and the quickness to cover an opposing team’s speediest receiver. Viney is also a surprisingly good tackler with deceptive strength. The Fresno (CA) native was given four-star recognition from while he was at Edison High School. [...]

The 6-2 163 pound Price has a long frame and should put on considerably more weight during his career. He has wasted little time impressing the coaches, and could become a pivotal part of the defensive backfield as the season progresses.

Price provides the Bruins with another corner (along with Hester) that can cover taller receivers. The Chino Hills (CA) product was given 4-star recognition by, and was a PrepStar All-American selection while at Bishop Amat High School.

The 6-0 158 pound Pollard also has a lot of physical developing to do, but he has been very impressive this fall. He is an explosive athlete with great ball skills and also possesses excellent quickness. Rivals and rated him as a 4-star prospect, and he was also a PrepStar All-American selection. The San Bernardino (CA) native could factor in for the Bruins as a nickel back and on special teams.

Price and Pollard are building blocks for the future. Both of those guys will most likely be redshirting this Fall.

Also, per Saig other players competing for time this Fall Campu are freshmen Brandon Sermons, Stan McKay, Andrew Abbott, Alex Mascarenas, and senior Aaron Ware. I have heard great feedback on McKay who apparently has been dishing out some serious hits on Bruin receivers at Spaulding.  Also, remeber ATV gave Mascarenas a shout out during his summer blogging in last few weeks. Sermons is a talented recruit and Abbott has been persistent with his fiery competitive spirit out at Spaulding. As for ware, no doubt he will be looking to go out on a great note in his last year at UCLA. I think he will be ready to step up if he is called upon this year at the Rose Bowl.

So in conclusion, this is definitely the deepest position in terms of talent in our defense. I am fired up to see what kids like Hester, Dye and (a healthy) Love can do this year to complement ATV and Moore. I think if our defenise fron-7 can stay healthy and they can gel together early on with this unit, we could be looking at a fun year for Bruin defense. I am sure these guys are going to be antsy to come out and make a statement early on against San Diego State. If the youngsters can get off to a good start, it is going to bode really well for us rest if the season.