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Prelude To 2010 Preseason Camp: UCLA Linebackers Depth Chart Analysis

With just three weeks left till the opening of 2010 preseason summer/fall camp (BTW how do we refer to it? Summer camp? Fall camp? I feel like I have seen both), let's get the position reviews started. Given all the hullabaloo recently over Josh Shirley and the impact on our LB depth, thought LB would be a great position to begin our pre-season review and notes.

Note the pre-camp depth chart is not out yet. So I used the depth chart from spring (page 20 on the PDF) and the updated roster (which includes incoming freshmen) to come up with the following tentative depth chart heading into August:

Akeem Ayers (6-4, 255, Jr*) (13) Steve Sloan (6-4, 228, Jr.**) Sean Westgate (5-11, 217, Jr.) (1)
Isaiah Bowens (6-1, 241, Fr.**) Patrick Larimore (6-3, 249, So.**) Jared Koster (6-1, 213, Fr.)
David Allen (6-2, 225, So.**) Todd Golper (6-0, 228, Fr**) Glenn Love (6-4, 220, Jr.**)
Aramide Olaniyan (6'2, 202, Fr) Jordan Zumwalt (6-4, 225, Fr) Mike Schmitt (6-1, 231, Sr.**)
Eric Kendricks (6-1, 213, Fr)

** notes a RSed season
() notes game started

Obviously we will take note of any noticeable changes when the new depth chart comes out (I am assuming sometime in next couple of weeks).

I listed Sean Westgate and Steve Sloan as the starting LBs at WLB and MLB. I think the reality is that Patrick Larimore and Glenn Love (who has put on additional weight (4 lbs) this off-season) are charging hard for the starting spot and might get it by the end of August. We will see. For now I am keeping them there because well that is what the official status is at this point of time.

Akeem Ayers is of course the dominant name in this bunch. He is the unquestioned leader of this crew and one of the four Bruin captains of 2010 team. He is virtually on even single pre-season All American list and we will probably see his freakish TDs against Oregon and Temple, whenever various talking heads discuss our defense during the pre-season. Let's hope that he can stay healthy and remain on trajectory he has been since his arrival in Westwood.

Akeem was noticeable raw most of his freshman season. Even last year early in the season he ran around for a while like a missile without a guidance system. However, towards the later part of the season when Chuck Bullough started using him as a hybrid DE/LB, something really clicked which resulted him in emerging as a dominant force in our defense.  The question this year is going to be how Akeem will react and adjust as I am sure all of our opponents might be scheming around him. It will also open up opportunities for other LBs in this unit and defensive ends (like Dantone, Owa, Graham etc) to emerge as a menacing force in our defense. Full analysis after the jump.

Since we are on the topic of Akeem, I should also bring up a point a friend of mine made to me last week. He made the point that UCLA coaches - especially Rick Neuheisel - should already be thinking ahead about re-recruiting Akeem and Rahim Moore for their senior seasons. I think in Moore's case it will make sense for him to come back for another year. However, in Akeem's case, if he continues to develop at an explosive rate, Neuheisel will have some recruiting to do. CRN should be making the points how Akeem might have the opportunity to do something really special in his senior season in Westwood (if he makes similar decision to the ones made by LBs from Florida and Alabama who have had a history of coming back for their final years). At the end, a coach should always be supportive of his student-athletes' decision but CRN should make sure it is a well researched and an informed one.

Behind Akeem, very excited about 6-1, 241, redshirt frosh Isaiah Bowens. Not sure anyone can match Ayer's freakishness, but Bowens has elite speed and he is developing a huge frame. He has the potential to emerge as a factor from this corp.  David Allen is an interesting story. He is a transfer from Tulane, and "appeared" in 12 games on special teams.  According to the official site both Bowens and Allen were " co-defensive winners of UCLA's Outstanding Scout Team Player award."

Right now I have Aramide Olaniyan at the fourth spot at SLB. From what I have heard that is where he could potentially fit in. However, if any of you have otherwise please let us know. Either way, he will most likely be redshirting this season focusing on getting bigger and stronger, heading into his second year in the program.

Moving on to Mike position, as mentioned the competition between Sloan and Larimore for the top spot is going to be heated. Sloan didn't start any games this past season. However, the year before he started few games due to Reggie Carter's injury. He didn't do anything spectacular however, he also didn't hurt the defense. He was somewhat steady. Not sure if that experience will given him an edge. Larimore from what I have heard have been impressive in the off-season through his work in the weight room. He is going after it.

There  is also overlooked Todd Golper. He hasn't been mentioned as much for the top spot. However, fwiw his name popped up as one of the leading tacklers in this year's spring game. I think Golper will end up being a solid player. Keep in mind he was recovering most of last season from an injury he suffered in his final high school season.

The question for all of these guys IMO is going to be their command and control over Bullough's defensive scheme. The guy I keep thinking about is Christian Taylor, who perhaps was not the biggest and most athletic LB out there, but under him our defense was always steady and intense because Taylor's perfect role playing as the quarterback/brain of our defense. Whoever among these guys can get ahead in that area, will ultimately win out the spot. As for Jordan Zumwalt, see the notes on Aramide. He will have his time at UCLA but this will be his year for preparation, learning and getting stronger and bigger in Westwood.

As the Will position, as mentioned above, it will be interesting to see whether Westgate can hold of Love. Glenn Love seemed to make a pretty decent transition from SS to WLB this spring. Love embraced his new role as picked away Ayer's brain in meetings off the field and on it. He has also put on some weight this off-season gaining 4 lbs to date. I think his speed and athleticism at this position could be a boost and make our defense faster.

That said can't really count out Westgate, who has always given exceptional effort as a special team making things happen for Bruins.  In 2009, Westgate played in all 13 games, including seven on defense, and started once. He made 18 tackles and blocked two punts, one of which resulted in a safety (v Washington State). Westgate scored a touchdown on a blocked punt as a freshman. He has now blocked three punts in two years.  So the kid brings it every game.

Koster is a gray shirt, who joined the program in January after recovering from a sport hernia. He was a solid athlete out of high school. As he continues to develop, he should be able to provide depth in this position.  As for Eric Kendricks, the younger brother of stand our Cal LB Michael Kendricks, he is headed towards a RS season joining Aramide and Jordan.

The guy I didn't include in this group is incoming freshman Anthony Barr. Right now Barr, who I think is operating around 90 percent (recovering from an injury from his freshman season) will get his shot at offense (particularly at the F-back position in revolver formation). However, Barr has the size to give a shot at SS or at WLB. Guess we will find out how the August camp turns out.

So to sum up there is plenty reasons to be excited about this bunch. I don't think we have had this kind of compilation of size and speed form our LBs in a while. Yet the question remains how ready they are to contribute given their lack of experience. I am hoping for a steady performance under the leadership of number 10, which will form the foundation for a solid run in 2011.