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UCLA Football: 2012 Spring Preview of Bruin Linebackers

Two images I want to see this season: (1) pressure on opposing QBs from our defensive front-seven and (2) the return of our shoulder stripes instead of the bastardized garbage Adidas, Chianti Dan, and Morgan Center provided this past year.
Two images I want to see this season: (1) pressure on opposing QBs from our defensive front-seven and (2) the return of our shoulder stripes instead of the bastardized garbage Adidas, Chianti Dan, and Morgan Center provided this past year.

We're now well into the meat of our 2012 spring practice preview, and in this installment of our on-going multi-part (program overview, head coach and coordinators, individual positions coaches - first part here, second part here, new defensive scheme, and the defensive line) spring football preview, we're going to take a look at our revamped 2012 linebacker corps and discuss how our Bruins will line up in Mora's and Spanos' 3-4 defensive scheme.

With the new coaching staff, the linebackers will now take their direction not just from Mora and Spanos, but their new position coach: former San Francisco 49er linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, who embodied the tough-nosed blue-collar mentality that Mora and Spanos will want to bring to Westwood, to a squad prone to arm tackling and playing soft.

Now, of course, with more information coming out about our defense, this depth chart will be a very rough sketch of our base defense, because, as Odysseus highlighted, expect to see a lot of different looks from Spanos, including more diverse sets like the 1-5-5 'psycho' or the 1-4-6. So while I expect us to routinely put three down linemen on the defensive side, what lines up behind those three big uglies is going to be (at least they claim) very fluid, so this base defense depth chart will be more of a tool of how the talent will shake out among itself than a set defensive line-up you'll see every down.

With that, let's look at the projected depth charts after the jump.

When I put up our way-too-early projected depth chart for spring practice right after Signing Day, this is what our educated guess was for how our depth chart would look:

Aramide Olaniyan
Patrick Larimore
Jordan Zumwalt
Eric Kendricks
Owamagbe Odighizuwa Isaiah Bowens
Aaron Porter
Aaron Wallace
Jeremy Castro
David Allen
Todd Golper
Anthony Barr
Ryan Hofmeister

Keenan Graham

Obviously, the big miss was Owa being kept at DE, although he will probably still see time in the hybrid DE/OLB rush spot given his raw talent and athletic ability. Also, it looks like Mora and Spanos intend on using Eric Kendricks (who I would put money on leading the team in tackles this upcoming season) on the inside as the complement to Larimore, last season's leading tackler (which, given the amount of time he got versus the amount of time Kendricks got, isn't too impressive when their numbers are compared). Here's how we think it will look when we head to Rice, as we get ready to head into spring ball:

Keenan Graham Patrick Larimore
Eric Kendricks Jordan Zumwalt
Jeremy Castro Isaiah Bowens Aaron Porter Anthony Barr
Damien Holmes Aramide Olaniyan Todd Golper Aaron Wallace
Mike Orloff

Ryan Hofmeister

Olaniyan's move inside is a bit of head-scratcher, just because he's undersized to be an interior LB, but it could be a place to stash him for depth if Mora and Spanos intend on using more talented, younger guys on the outside (Castro, Iese, Orjioke). On the inside, I think Aaron Porter is too good to leave on the bench and Mora will use him next season. If Larimore gets hurt or doesn't produce (or if Kendricks doesn't adjust to the inside as Mora and Spanos want), I think Porter will be in play to nab a starting job. As Mora said, he's playing to win right away and he has no problem putting the best guy on the field, regardless of seniority. Hmm, a meritocracy, what a novel concept (maybe Ben should take note). Bowens, Golper, and Orloff are nothing more than depth guys and special teams contributors: don't expect any of them to make a move up the depth chart short of a Lattimer-esque outstanding off-season and spring showing.

Looking on the outside, Zumwalt will stay on the outside, and given the lack of experience with this group, he'll have the inside track for locking down one of the starting outside jobs. The other spot remains a wide-open race between guys who are either new to the position on the college level (Graham, Holmes, Barr), young and unproven at this level (Castro, Wallace, Iese, Orjioke) or the Westgate-esque undersized-for-Division I heart guy (Hofmeister). My guess would be Graham would have a good shot because the OLB in the 3-4 has enough similarities with the 4-3 DE that he is familar with for him to make the transition, although I'm concerned about his ability to drop back into pass coverage. Barr is probably the best athlete of the group, but he'll have to catch-up to the pack, having spent his entire UCLA career wasted as the seldom-used F-back in Rick's failed Pistol offense experiment. If he can't adjust, I wouldn't be surprised if Aaron Wallace, who was reportedly very strong on the scout team last season, moves past him on the depth chart. On the other side, I like Castro's chances and he's a very talented true freshman,and he has a lot more upside than Damien Holmes, who is making the transition as a redshirt senior, with no collegiate experience having to drop back into coverage. Considering the depth issues here, I think Castro will play right away, while his fellow freshmen, Iese and Orjioke, will end up redshirting.

Now, bear in mind, with the kind of offenses we'll be seeing against Leach's Washington State, Kelly's Oregon, and Rich Rod's Arizona, don't expect to see the base defense four linebackers on the field often. Given what we know about Spanos' inclination to use multiple looks, expect to see formations with guys from the secondary mixed in and any combination of LBs being used. And besides, doesn't having a defensive formation known as "the psycho" just sound awesome. I mean, it makes you totally think of this guy.

And with that last image in your head, it's your turn to chime in with how you see the linebacker corps shaping up for this next season. Fire away in the comment threads with your takes and stay tuned for the next part of our spring football preview, with the defensive secondary preview up next.