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2010 Spring Thoughts/Reflections On UCLA's Defense

With just one week left in Spring Ball, guess now is a good time to reflect a bit and attempt to put together some of our general impressions from last three weeks of practice.  We will start with the defense because the official site released a video over the weekend entitled, "UCLA Football 2010 Spring Defense Review" with impressions from Kevin Prince and Jeff Baca about our defense from last three weeks (looks like bruinfan94 already fanshotted it this am):

There is no question the offense gained some ground on our defense this spring. It is difficult to pin point any specific reason for that because there are multitude of factors in play. First, our guys at offensive skill positions are more experienced. Second, we have had a noticeable talent upgrade as laid out in our various depth chart analysis leading up to this spring. Third, we have also had some continuity with our offensive line.  Lastly, our defense has been dealing with loss of experienced starters such as Brian Price, Reggie Carter, Bosworth brothers, and ATV. Despite all those factors the defense at least on paper seemed to have held their own in last three weeks.

The biggest question mark is still around our defensive line. From what we have heard (including comments from Kevin Prince and Jeff Baca in the video above and also from David Carter and Rick Neuheisel), it sounds like Nate Chandler's transition to DT has been encouraging. Per Carter Nate is already being called "Nasty" and he registered 2 sacks during the second full scrimmage. The question is how will Chandler adjust against real completion. There is also the question of stamina and endurance.

At the start of spring practice Chandler was listed at 6-5, 291. I think it might be ideal if he puts on few more lbs of muscle this off-season, enabling him to keep his weight up through the season. The question re. depth remains this spring. David Carter is anchoring our front line. Chandler has emerged as a possible viable option. After that it still gets a little hazy. Here again was the depth chart from p. 21 of 2010 Spring Guide (PDF) at the outset of this spring. We didn't hear a lot about red shirt sophomore Donovan Carter (6-1, 271) this spring. Jeff Baca mention of Justin Edison was the first reference I have heard about the red shirt Jr. (6-4, 289) this spring.  Andy Keane was injured during practice.

UCLA coaches could mix things up to get their best 4 on the field, which could mean having Datone Jones and Damien Holmes playing inside. According to Todd Howard (our DL coach), "If we had to play a game today, Damien Holmes would be the starting right end." However, Howard hinted at flexibility wrt to combination in our front 4:

Given Howard's viewpoint and the fact that UCLA is replacing three of its starters on the line from last season, Holmes might not stay on the end.

Howard said the only job spoken for belongs to left end Datone Jones.

Tackles David Carter and junior Nate Chandler, who played tight end last season, are the first-team tackles but still have something to prove.

"Ideally, you want to play your best four guys and you work off of that," Howard said.

"Damien could play inside. Datone could play inside. Both of those guys are strong and athletic."

This is interesting because Holmes was listed behind Jones at LE at the start of spring practice. The reviews from number of accounts on Keenan Graham (6-2, 243 RS Fr) has been encouraging. Luta Tepa (6-1, 244 So.) can also be effective. So I can see Howard mixing it up with Jones and Holmes in the middle to make sure we are not gassing Chandler and Carter early.

Either way this summer Cassius Marsh or Sealii Epenesa will probably find themselves in the two deep. I think they will get a chance to contribute (along with Owa). I'd really hope we can find a way to redshirt to one of those guys to build out more depth and bring in few more DTs (along with OLs) in this year's class.

At LB position Prince complimented the efforts of Patrick Larimore (6-3, 250 RS frosh), Steve Sloane (6-4, 232 RS Jr) and Sean Westgate (5-11, 216 Jr). I get the sense that Larimore might have a bit of edge at Mike LB position because he (at least from what I gather) has bit of a tough steak. The key for this position though is defensive smarts and having command of the coach's scheme. It is for this reason I thought Christian Taylor was a more effective MLB than Reggie Carter even though Carter was unquestionably the better athlete. Guess we will find out who is the better defensive QB during in game actions or perhaps from the final scrimmage next Saturday.

Sean Westgate by all accounts always go full speed at Spaulding. However, he might have a tough time holding back a hard charging Glenn Love, who seems to have had an effective transition (at least practice report wise) from SS to Will LB. If Taniela Maka makes it in by this Fall this is going to be another fun position battle to watch.

In the backfield coaches continue to have lots of options to mix and match. Rahim is the Lord. Around Aaron Hester has the RC locked up. It sure seems like he has heeled up well as he kept up stride for stride with speedsters like Randal Carroll during few players when I saw him out in Spaulding.

It is too bad about the injury to Brandon Sermons.  He is going to be out for few months. Let's hope for a speedy recovery. Sheldon Price seems to be having a decent spring. Marlon Pollard looked good to me when I saw him out in Spaulding. Still both of them need to do more work in the coming months (even though they have already made solid progress in terms of S&C this winter).

I still am intrigued about the idea of trying out Tony Dye at LC. I think Dye has the speed and athleticism to play that position (he already played as nickel back in his freshman year). He would also be more effective in run stoppage. If we get Dye at LC we can try out hitters such as Stan McKay (6-1, 194, RS Fr) or Dalton Hilliard (6-0, 199 So.) at SS. Hilliard is listed as a FS behind Rahim but the dude seems to have the mental toughness and ability to hit which is suited for the FS spot.

So there are lots of options to mix & match for our coaches all over this defense. I would love to hear more from you guys on what you all think about this. We haven't had this kind of options to move players around in our defense in a while. It is kind of fun.