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Prelude To 2010 Preseason Camp: UCLA Defensive Backs Depth Chart Analysis

We are done looking through the depth chart of our linebacker and defensive line units.  Time to shift attention over to our defensive backfield. We have talked over the years about how the school of Kenny Easley, Matt Darby, Eric Turner, Othello Henderson, Carlton Gray, Marvin Goodwin and many other Bruin greats contributed the reputation of UCLA being the "Secondary U."  This past decade hasn't been very kind to our Bruins yet we still saw some decent talents such as Chris Horton and Dennis Keyes roaming the Bruins' defensive backfield.  With ATV and Rahim Moore, it seems that tradition made a comeback in Westwood last two years.

Well ATV is gone to the NFL after 4 amazing years in Westwood. He was one of the unquestioned leaders of not just our secondary but the entire team during his last two years in Westwood. It is always going to be hard to replace someone in the caliber of ATV, who not only had elite talent, but also was in a class by himself in the way he represented our program with grace and excellence both off and on the field. Still I think we have number of reasons to be excited about this year's edition which will be led by Rahim Moore, who IMHO has the opportunity to emerge as one of the greatest Bruin legends of all time.

Rahim Moore is the other defensive captain (partnering with Akeem Ayers) and one of four elected leaders of 2010 UCLA football team. He is going to anchor our secondary with our returning starter - Tony Dye at SS - in what I am hoping will be a fun year for this unit. The question is going to how we are going to fill the void at CB (replacing ATV) with an experienced starter and number of talented reserves vying to make their mark as Bruins.

So here is how our depth chart looks heading into August camp. Just like I did with LBs and DLs, I filled this in based on spring depth chart and updated roster:

Sheldon Price (6-2, 178, So.) (11) Tony Dye (5-11, 205, Jr.) (13) Rahim Moore (6-1, 196, Jr.) (13) Aaron Hester (6-1, 203, So.**) (1)
Andrew Abbott (5-10, 178, So.**) (1)+ Stan McKay (6-1, 194, Fr.**) Dalton Hilliard (6-0, 192, So.) Courtney Viney (5-8, 168, Jr.**) (1)
Anthony Jefferson (6-1, 177, Fr.) Christian Ramirez (6-2, 215, Sr.**) (1) Alex Mascarenas (5-10, 189, Fr.**) Marlon Pollard (6-0, 177, Fr.**)
Brandon Sermons (5-11, 177, So.) Dietrich Riley (6-0, 201, Fr.) Tevin McDonald (6-0, 183, Fr.)

** notes redshirt
() notes game started
+ notes walkon status
Italics notes currently injured

Of course, if you guys see the depth chart a little differently and note anything I missed, please point them out in the comment thread.

The discussion here obviously starts with Rahim. I get the sense that he is going to be a different kind of leader (but just as effective) from ATV. ATV came across to me the quiet leader who always led by example with his performance on the field and the way he carried himself as the ultimate student athlete off it. I am not sure if we have seen any more perfect representative of UCLA (not just as athlete but as a student) in our school's recent history. He also made clutch plays after clutch players. So it was easy for him to lead his team-mates.

Now in Moore's case, IMO he is an athletic FREAK. He is a FREAK. No other way to describe his performances from his first two years that has him at the top of almost every All American list during this pre-season. His 10 picks were the most by a player in the Football Bowl Subdivision since 1993.  He also ranked second (tied) nationally in passes defended and enters his junior season with 13 career interceptions (Bruin record  is 19 by three-time All-American Kenny Easley). The guy is just a ball hawk, who also happens to make the huge plays when the team needs him.

What I love about Moore though is how he leads his team. ATV reminded me of Tyus Edney. Well Moore reminds me of AA. He can walk the walk but he also brings the talk and swagger that our program has desperately needed since the days of Cade McNown. What is going to be interesting to see how our defense feeds of him this coming season.  Now as much as I love Rahim, there are rooms for improvement in his game. Specifically, I think Rahim needs to get a little stronger physically so that he can provide better support to our run defense.  Rahim himself hinted the need to get more physical in an interview in recent weeks in response to a question re. what we can "expect from UCLA defense" this fall:

A: Physicality. We will be more physical this year. We're going to out-hit every opponent. I feel like we didn't do that enough last year. We need to out-hit people and make opposing teams fear us. We're going to approach every game like its going to be our last. And one thing you can expect from us is that we're going to put our hearts into it. I feel like if we put our hearts into it and fly around and make plays and make offenses fear us then we will be just fine. We have the right personnel to do it and our mentality is a lot different than last year.

Moore needs the physicality to complement and round out his ball hawking credentials as perhaps the best FS in the nation. It is something that will make him an elite first round draft pick, and it IMO should make him lean towards coming back for his senior season in Westwood. I hope CRN and our staff are not going to be shy about making that point to him during this coming season.

Complementing Rahim at SS will be True junior Tony Dye (5-11, 205), who returns after starting all 13 games at the same position last year. I like Dye's game a lot. He always manages himself to find in most of our players, evident in his 73 tackles during his sophomore season, which ranked him second among the returnees for this season.  So he will have an edge over others with that kind of experience at this spot. Still he should get some really stiff competition from talented youngsters, who will be itching to get themselves in our rotations.

I am specifically looking right at two guys - true sophomore Dalton Hilliard (6-0, 192) and Stan McKay (6-1, 194) - who should be looking forward to a great camp in few weeks to make a run for some PT in our safety spots. Over last two years we have heard a lot of good feedback about both of these guys playing with a lot of intensity displaying hard hitting skills.  While we have always have to be careful in how we are reading various practice, we can often discern trend lines when  particular players name keep popping up in the mix. These are two guys we have heard about a lot.

I will reiterate what I wrote during my spring secondary analysis. If both of these guys emerge as viable options this coming season, perhaps the coaches will consider trying out Tony Dye at our secondary spot. I think it could be really something to have a secondary lineup of Dye, Hilliard/McKay, Moore and Hester, who at least on paper would be an imposing presence in our defensive backfield.

I shouldn't forget about redshirt freshmen Alex Mascarenas (5-10, 189). He has been in the program for two years now and from what I have heard he is always giving it everything he has during practices. I think he can be counted on pushing all of these guys pretty hard, and will be valuable in terms of adding depth to our safety position.

Moving over to our CBs, let's hope for a solid season from Aaron Hester. We were all so excited about the redshirt sophomore last season. By all accounts he had an outstanding redshirt freshman season as he put in the work during practices at Spaulding.  He seemed well position to emerge as a reliable corner on the other side of ATV with his size and speed, until he suffered an unfortunate injury in our season opener against San Diego State. He got healthy and made an attempt to come back during the season, but he wasn't the same. I think we can be cautiously optimistic about him having a solid season this year. He is going to have a chip on his shoulder, looking to make up for the disappointment of this past season.

On the other side, it will be interesting to see the development of Sheldon Price. The true freshman was thrown to the wolves this past season as he was pressed into the starting gig following ATV's injury and Courtney Viney's suspension. He got dinged up pretty good at times as he looked physically overwhelmed against D-1 receivers. Yet, I actually was encouraged to see how he hung in there and I think his game did improve as the season went along (which was exclamated by his effort against Washington when he provided a key assist in Rahim's game clinching pick). Through off-season reports, it appears that Sheldon has been putting in the work, gaining 15 lbs from his freshman season. Hopefully he will build on some of his encouraging moments and emerge as  dependable corner in his sophomore season in Westwood.

Both of these guys should be pushed by redshirt junior Courtney Viney (5-8, 168), redshirt freshman Marlon Pollard (6-0, 177) and redshirt sophomore Andrew Abbott (5-10, 178). Viney was in the coach's doghouse following the suspensions after Tennessee game (in which he actually played pretty well). He never really made it back in the rotation following that suspension. He is undersized but he has shown the propensity of being a pretty physical player. 

Marlon Pollard might have an opportunity to break in. He flashed his potential during spring game with a pick-6. He has the size and speed and he plays with lot of aggression. Abbott sets the tone with his work ethic. Coaches have always raved about the effort he brings every day during practices. I think we can count on him to continue that through his redshirt sophomore season in Westwood.

I am assuming Brandon Sermons is still recovering from an unfortunate injury from this past spring practice. It was a bummer for Sermons and for the entire team because he is supposed to be a solid secondary prospect. Hopefully he is healing up and rehabbing well.

There will be three freshmen who will be pushing all of these guys. Cornerbacks Anthony Jefferson (6-1, 177) from Los Angeles, CA, Tevin McDonald (6-0, 183) from Fresno, CA, and safety Dietrich Riley (6-1, 201) of La Canada, CA, are going to look to make their mark during upcoming Fall camp. I think McDonald is headed for a redshirt season. What happens with Jefferson and Riley will be very interesting. Jefferson has the potential to emerge as an outstanding corner and he might have enough freakish athleticism to break in his first year.

Speaking of freakish athleticism, everyone here knows the hoopla around Dietrich. He was the exclamation point in our class this past season when he picked us (by basically PWNing the Trogans). There has been talk about coaches using him on the offensive side in our wildcat formation. So he is definitely someone we will need to keep an eye on this Fall.

The chatter on Riley is a good jumping point to discuss another freshman Anthony Barr. We will talk about him when we are discussing our running backs, as he will get his first shot perhaps the F-Back slot in the revolver formation of Chow's modified offense. As discussed before Barr is someone who has the natural talent and potential to perhaps be a good fit at SS. With his size and speed, he could potentially be devastating. Again it will be fun to see where the coaches fit him in. It has been a while since the coaches have had this kind of personnel "problem" (guess we can call them "fun puzzles") in Westwood.

Don't forget about Christian Ramirez either. Ramirez hasn't been able to emerge as an everyday back in Westwood. He still has the size and athleticism to make some meaningful contributions in his last year in Westwood. Kind of like Barr, I am guessing the coaches will be trying out as F Back. He could also be moved over to defense in the safety slot. Again Ramirez has the athletic talent. He has gone through a lot of adversity over the years. However, it will be up to him to bring the effort consistently during practices and on Saturdays.

This unit has come a long way since CRN's first year in Westwood when the depth chart was filled with walk-ons all over the place. What is cool about this group is we don't have any seniors even though it is anchored by solid experience. Hopefully these guys will continue to emerge and develop under Moore's fiery leadership. They have all the potential. Some of them will make their share of mistakes due to lack of experience.  We have to be patient through those roller coaster rides and at the end I think it will be worth it because I do believe these guys will lead us back to those glory days in next two years.

The challenge for these guys will be not to get caught up in any kind of hype or expectations. They shouldn't be considering UCLA is picked to finished somewhere between 6th and 8th in the Pac-10 in pretty much all Pac-10 predictions. Hopefully these guys will keep driving each other hard during this off-season and then get after it in a fiery competition this Fall.

So that's what I got. As mentioned above, let me know if I missed something obvious or if you see the depth chart shaping up a different way.