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UCLA Football - Pre-Fall Camp Preview: Defensive Line

Don't be surprised if Owa chases down a starting spot.
Don't be surprised if Owa chases down a starting spot.

It's only fitting that we start out this year's positional previews with arguably the poorest performing unit last season. As a unit, the defensive line only accounted for 9 sacks and 34 tackles for loss last season. As a team, UCLA ranked 108th in sacks and 68th in tackles for loss. The rushing defense wasn't much better. UCLA ranked 95th in stopping the run, including 7 games where UCLA's opponents gained over 200 yards and only 2 games where UCLA held their opponents to under 100 yards. Needless to say, a change was needed, which is precisely what Coach Mora and Coach Spanos will bring.

The move to the 3-4 this season should help the defense by allowing more (any?) creative blitz packages, and the names along the DL look like they should be a mess for any opposing OL to handle. While the defensive line may be the deepest unit on either side of the ball, and likely as talented as any unit on the team, the inability of the line to apply consistent pressure last season really hurt the pass defense and let other teams move the ball and score a lot of points. The rush defense was awful last year in large part due to an all too familiar large amount of missed tackles. We're all hopeful that the coaching change makes a difference in that regard. If this unit lives up to its potential, the D will be in really good shape this season.

This year we'll only have one "DT" on the field, and at least one pundit thinks that's a good thing. Ted Miller recently ranked the Pac-12's DT's and had the Bruins at #9. Of course, he admitted that he really doesn't know much about player expected to start at the position:

UCLA: The Bruins are much like the Huskies. Bad last year. Switching to 3-4. Plenty of potential to be above average. Of course, we know next to nothing about North Carolina transfer Brandon Willis, who was No. 1 on the post-spring depth chart.

Ted Miller is right in that we don't know much about Brandon Willis, but we do know that he was one of the stars of Spring practice. We're all hopeful that he can keep it up.

At end, Ted Miller has UCLA ranked a little higher, but still in the bottom half of the Pac-12. Miller echoes our concerns regarding the line:

UCLA: The Bruins are hard to figure: Plenty of big names, but they ranked 11th in the conference in run defense in 2011 and their measly 14 sacks also ranked 11th. Perhaps a switch to a 3-4 scheme will help? Datone Jones and Owamagbe Odighizuwa are on the left side, while Cassius Marsh and Odighizuwa are Nos. 1 and 2 on the right side, meaning the coaching staff feels good about three guys.

We'll take a look at the post-Spring depth chart and the incoming freshmen after the jump.

The Defensive Line

Mora's post spring drills depth chart looked like this:

Defensive End

Defensive Tackle

Defensive End

Datone Jones

6-4, 275, RS Sr

Brandon Willis

6-2, 280, So

Cassius Marsh

6-3, 275, Jr

Owamagbe Odighizuwa

6-3, 270, Jr

Donovan Carter

6-1, 305, RS Sr

Owamagbe Odighizuwa

6-3, 270, Jr

Sam Tai

6-3, 275, RS Fr

Seali'i Epenesa

6-1, 310, Jr

Iuta Tepa

6-2, 255, RS Jr

Kevin McReynolds

6-1, 300 RS Fr

Wesley Flowers

6-5, 254, RS So

Brandon Tuliaupupu

6-1, 315, RS Fr

The first thing that you'll probably notice is that no incoming freshmen are listed. While the defensive line may not see a lot of freshmen contributing, it is safe to assume that Ellis McCarthy will make a serious impact. Will he start? Maybe. Is he a nose? Maybe. Is he a beast? Undoubtedly. At 6'5 330 lbs., he's already the most physically imposing defensive lineman on the roster. He can and probably will line up at any of the three places on the line. In fact, the latest official roster doesn't list his position. He's big and strong enough to hold point, and he's quick enough to penetrate.

Speaking of the official roster, you may notice that there has been some down-sizing along the defensive line. This is in regard to both height and weight, and I think it's probably fair to say that Coach Mora is simply using a more accurate measurement system. Otherwise, how could you explain everyone losing an inch or two on height?

At defensive end, Both Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh solidified their spots at starting in the spring. Similarly, Owamagbe Odighizuwa had a great spring and the coaches are anxious to get him on the field on either side, as evidenced by the depth chart. At this point, I still think Owa's talent will be enough to keep pushing Jones and Marsh to the point where they can't feel comfortable during the fall camp. Regardless, with the DL rotation that will likely be employed, all three will get their share of playing time. In addition to Jones, Marsh, and Owa, Brandon Willis is officially listed at defensive end, despite his solid camp at nose.

At nose, Donovan Carter, Seali'i Espenesa, Kevin McReynolds, and Brandon Tuliapapupu are officially listed at the spot. Of course, the aforementioned Brandon Willis and Ellis McCarthy are expected to play at least some of the time at nose and project at the top of the depth chart.

The official roster also lists incoming freshmen Nate Iese and Jeremy Castro at linebacker rather than end. While they both might be linebackers, I suspect that they'll both be used as more hybrid type players that will really blend the defensive end and outside linebacker posts. Iese is also wearing #89 and might end up at the Y.
That concludes the pre-fall camp preview of the defensive line. Fire away with any additional thoughts, comments, and observations and be sure to check back in tomorrow for a preview of the linebackers.