Following the official release of the tentative fall practice depth chart, we began this three part preview with a special teams unit in flux. Now, we turn to a defensive unit looking to turn itself around after a rather disappointing 2010 campaign. Rather than languishing under Chucky "Base D" Bullough, Neuheisel has staked his future in Westwood, in large part, on Joe Tresey's defensive style. In theory, this year's squad should be more aggressive, more likely to blitz, and if Tresey's past record holds up, will generate more turnovers, which should translate to more victories.
Obviously, the unit loses two elite, NFL-level talents in safety Rahim Moore and athletic specimen/football freak of nature/linebacker Akeem Ayers. While losing Moore, in terms of position depth, isn't a major blow (due to Tony Dye, Dietrich Riley, Dalton Hilliard, Stan McKay, and Alex Mascarenas), it is a significant blow in the loss of leadership on the defensive unit. Make no mistake about it: Rahim was the heart and soul of this unit last year.
Losing Akeem, on the other hand, won't be a major problem in terms of intangible leadership stuff, but his loss will be a major blow to the linebacker corps. Yes, there are ample replacements, but none have the same raw, athletic, playmaking ability that Ayers had. After all, when is the last time you saw an outside linebacker not only get to the QB but leap into the air, deflect a pass at point blank range, reel it in, and drag his feet to turn it into an instantaneous interception/touchdown. Glenn Love and Jordan Zumwalt will have huge shoes to fill as Akeem's replacement alongside returning starters Patrick Larimore and Sean Westgate.
With that, let's take a look at the tentative fall practice depth chart:
|Datone Jones||Cassius Marsh||Justin Edison||Damien Holmes|
|Owamagbe Odighizuwa||Nate Chandler||Donovan Carter||Keenan Graham|
|Iuta Tepa||Sam Tai||Seali'i Epenesa||Wesley Flowers|
|Uche Amajoyi||Tre Hale||Derrick Bryant|
|Glenn Love||Patrick Larimore||Sean Westgate|
|Jordan Zumwalt||Isaiah Bowens||Eric Kendricks|
|Aramide Olyanian||Phillip Ruhl||Ryan Hofmeister|
|David Allen||Todd Golper||Jared Koster|
|Aaron Wallace||Robert Franco|
|Aaron Hester||Dietrich Riley||Tony Dye||Sheldon Price|
|Andrew Abbott||Dalton Hilliard||Alex Mascarenas||Anthony Jefferson|
|Brandon Sermons||Stan McKay||Tevin McDonald||Brandon Sermons|
|Librado Barocio||Dylan Price||Anthony Thompson||Jeff Dickmann|
If it looks familiar, you're not seeing things: the defensive depth chart hasn't had any movement since spring camp.
Let's break it down further after the jump.
Now, this depth chart only includes the newcomers who enrolled early and participated in spring camp. Joining the defense this fall will be defensive linemen Kevin McReynolds and Brandon Tuliaupupu, along with linebacker Mike Orloff.
Up front, Cassius Marsh will look to build on an impressive freshman campaign in his second year in Westwood. Starting alongside him will be senior Justin Edison, with jack-of-all-trades Nate Chandler, Donovan Carter, and Seali'i Epenesa filling out the regular defensive tackle rotation. In fact, given how talented Kevin McReynolds is, I wouldn't be shocked if he moves up the depth chart quickly and sees a decent amount of action this season.
While losing Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore is a big blow, on the flip side, UCLA does return disruptive defensive end Datone Jones, who missed last season with a foot injury. Getting Jones back, and the accompanying pressure on opposing QBs, is going to pay major dividends this year for Tresey's defense. Opposite Jones, Damien Holmes is named as the starter, although I'd expect to see a healthy rotation of Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Holmes, and Iuta Tepa. If Owa makes the expected talent/ability jump as a sophomore, he'll be a force to be reckoned with that Tresey will have to find a place for.
On the ends, however, the Bruins enjoy a wealth of talent. Datone Jones, returning from injury, re-claimed his starting position. Surprisingly, Damien Holmes has edged out the competition to claim the other starting end spot, beating out super-freshman and athletic super-freak Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Don't expect Owa to spend too much time on the sidelines: he's simply too explosive and talented (although still young and raw) to not have on the field. The Bruins also return steady reserve Iuta Tepa from injury. Sadly, Keenan Graham, despite coming in with a lot of promise and high marks from the folks at Scout.com, has failed to live up to his potential. He's a solid reserve player, but thus far, he hasn't shown anything that really wows you.
In the linebacker corps, both Patrick Larimore and Sean Westgate return this season and have, thus far, held on to their starting jobs. That being said, there are a lot of bodies in the linebacker corps and a lot of guys vying for time, especially Eric Hendricks, who reportedly was very impressive during spring camp. Trying to fill the very large shoes left by Akeem Ayers will be converted safety Glenn Love and true sophomore Jordan Zumwalt. Zumwalt was impressive as a freshman, but apparently, didn't get it done during spring camp, losing the starting berth to Love. Bear in mind that Love couldn't displace Sean Westgate last season, so unless he's just absolutely blown up, the fact that Zumwalt has fallen behind Love is of major concern.
Finally, in the secondary, despite the concern-trolling from goobers at the Trogan Times, the Bruins actually have a lot of talent and depth. Three out of the four starters return in Tony Dye, Aaron Hester, and Sheldon Price. Joining the three will be hard-hitting, super-talented true sophomore Dietrich Riley. Backing the four up are experienced nickel corner Andrew Abbott, Dalton Hilliard, Stan McKay, Tevin McDonald, Alex Mascarenas, and Brandon Sermons. While Anthony Jefferson is temporarily out of the mix, he could return during the season, instantly giving UCLA another talented, potential playmaker in the defensive secondary.
Until the Bruins can find consistent QB play, it's going to be up to the defense to keep UCLA in games, so in Neuheisel's make-or-break season, this is a unit he'll have to keep close eyes on if he wants to hold on to his job.