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Mora Recruiting: UCLA Football's Future Depth and Recruiting Needs - Part I: Defense

Who will step up for the defense in 2013 to make sure UCLA's defense can get it done? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Who will step up for the defense in 2013 to make sure UCLA's defense can get it done? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Well, football season is finally upon us, with our Bruins opening up against Rice in just a little over a week. With that, in the intervening 6 months since we took a look at our future depth chart projections, a lot has changed with UCLA's roster. There's been some significant medical retirements (Patrick Larimore being the top example), a couple of transfers (such as Wesley Flowers), the roles of the incoming freshmen has become much more clear (as to both redshirt status and positional alignment), and of course, our QB battle has been settled on the heralded shoulders of redshirt freshman Brett Hundley.

So, with these developments in mind (plus the continued development of Mora's next recruiting class), it's time to take an updated look at our future depth chart projection of UCLA's depth chart. The first edition to come out in the Jim Mora era rolled out this past February, with a major caveat:

So, since our current depth chart and composition of next season's roster are totally up-in-the-air with the soon-to-come wave of medical retirements, transfers, and other miscellaneous ways that our roster will get reduced to 85 guys, it seems kind of speculative to project what the team will look like going into, not this fall, but the fall of 2013.

Fortunately, that picture has become a little clearer, at least going into this season (well, you'd hope so, since we kick off against Rice in slightly over a week). We'll start with our current season depth chart (at least as it's shaped up so far), and project not this season, but the next season (2013). For reference, you'll find this year's defensive projections here: defensive line, linebackers, defensive backs.

So, let's take a look at how UCLA will look in the fall of 2013, after the jump.

Defensive Line

Entering the fall of 2013, here's how I project the front-three will look for the Bruins:

Owamagbe Odighizuwa (SR)
Ellis McCarthy (FR)
Cassius Marsh (SR)
Iuta Tepa (RS SR) Kevin McReynolds (RS SO)
Brandon Willis (JR)
Sam Tai (RS FR) Seali'i Epenesa (SR)
Eli Ankou (FR)
Brandon Tuliaupupu (RS SO)
Kenneth Clark (FR)

On paper it's an impressive front three. Ellis McCarthy presents Mora with an interesting (but very welcome) problem: he's fast enough to penetrate the offensive line and disrupt play in the backfield, but he's also got the size (as well as the frame to add muscle weight and strength) to hold the line at the point of attack. In other words, he can line-up in any of the three defensive line positions. Likewise, Brandon Willis has the same versatility, although the obvious natural gifts that Ellis has. Cassius Marsh, Owa, Tepa, and Tai are all pretty much locked in as defensive ends. McReynolds, Epenesa, and Tuliaupupu provide depth along the line, but rate more as inside linemen.

In 2013, Mora has get grey-shirted Eli Ankou at DE, and has so far added DT Kenneth Clark from Rialto (4 stars, #21-ranked DT) (all ratings and rankings by Scout unless otherwise noted) and, among the uncommitted players, he has offers out to Justin Manning from Dallas (5 stars, #6-ranked DT; zero possibility he signs with UCLA), Lowell Lotulelei from Utah (3 stars, #34-ranked DT; very low possibility he signs with UCLA), Kennedy Tulimasealii from Hawaii (3 stars, #50-ranked DT; low possibility he signs with UCLA), and Vita Vea from Milpitas (3 stars, #63-ranked; medium possibility he signs with UCLA). On the ends, among the uncommitted players, Mora hasn't brought in a DE in the Class of 2013, but has an offer out to Joe Mathis from Upland (4 stars, #13-ranked), although it looks like UCLA will have to beat out some top-tier competition (Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and U$C have all also offered) to land his collegiate services.

However, DE is going to need to be a priority for Jim Mora. By 2014, UCLA will only have Sam Tai, Brandon Willis, and Ellis McCarthy as linemen who would be able to line up on the ends, with Owa, Marsh, and Tepa all poised to graduate. Of course, he could always shift hybrid DE/OLB types, such as Jeremy Castro and Nate Iese into a more DE-oriented role, using the off-season to have Alosi put weight on those guys. But, importantly, Mora will need to make sure the Class of 2013 and the Class of 2014 have some quality DE prospects to re-stock the defensive line.


Jordan Zumwalt (SR) Aaron Porter (SO)
Eric Kendricks (RS JR)
Anthony Barr (SR)
Keenan Graham (RS SR) Isaiah Bowens (RS JR)
Ryan Hofmeister (RS SO)
Aaron Wallace (RS SO)
Aramide Olaniyan (RS JR)
Todd Golper (RS SR) Nate Iese (RS FR)
Nate Iese (SO)

Jeremy Castro (SO)
Deon Hollins (FR)

Cameron Judge (FR)
Myles Jack (FR)

UCLA still looks very solid in the linebacker corps entering the fall of 2013. Kendricks and Zumwalt are the presumptive favorites to start next season, and with the retirement of Patrick Larimore, it's likely Aaron Porter, a very talented freshman middle linebacker will see significant playing time this yea, so he has a very good shot at being a starter next season. The other OLB spot will be a battle between Anthony Barr, Aaron Wallace, Keenan Graham, Nate Iese, Aramide Olaniyan, and Jeremy Castro, with performance during the 2012 season likely to be the biggest determining factor. If one of those guys can make a splash this year, that will go a long way to solidifying the other OLB starting spot. The interior will get some depth help with the return of Isaiah Bowens from a season-ending ACL injury this year, with Hofmeister and Golper being available for depth. Don't be shocked if someone shifts inside, given how thin the position is looking (bear in mind that Dalton Hilliard just got moved from safety to inside linebacker due to injury and depth issues this year).

Mora's linebacker corps is getting a big talent boost with the Class of 2013, bringing in three highly-ranked OLB prospects: Deon Hollins from Texas (4 stars, #13-ranked OLB), Myles Jack from Washington (4 stars, #19-ranked OLB), and Cameron Judge from Westlake Village (4 stars, #22-ranked OLB). There's an offer out for Tyrell Robinson of San Diego (3 stars, #26-ranked OLB; low possibility he signs with UCLA), as well as very-highly rated MLBs Isaac Savaiinaea from Hawaii (4 stars, #2-ranked MLB; medium possibility he signs with UCLA) and Kevin Palma from Tulare (4 stars, #9-ranked MLB; very good possibility he signs with UCLA). The word is that Palma is Mora's to lose, but if Mora and Spanos can also reel in the Flyin' Hawaiian, that would be a huge boost for a unit thin on the interior by fall of 2013 (and very thin by the fall of 2014).

Defensive Backs

Marcus Rios (SO)
Anthony Jefferson (RS JR)
Tevin McDonald (RS JR)
Ishmael Adams (SO)
Brandon Sermons (RS SR)
Dietrich Riley (RS JR)
Stan McKay (RS SR)
Randall Goforth (SO)
Justin Combs (RS FR)
Kenny Orjioke (RS FR)
Taylor Lagace (RS FR)
Fabian Moreau (RS FR)
Jermaine Kelly (FR)
Dylan Price (RS JR)

Erick Zumwalt (RS SO)

This unit will be Mora's biggest question mark, but since his reputation was built as a secondary coach, he should be able to find solutions for UCLA in the defensive secondary. Next fall, UCLA will return only one starter from this season in Tevin McDonald. Hester, Price, and Abbott will all graduate, which will leave Mora turning to a very young unit. If Dietrich Riley is able to return next season (Mora has already stated Riley is definitely out this year, which will likely mean a redshirt season), he'll likely be competing with Anthony Jefferson for the starting SS spot, with Jefferson having made the switch to safety recently. While Mora will probably be able to put together an experienced pair of safeties (Stan McKay will return for his senior year in 2013), his starting corners are likely to be a pair of true sophomores: Ishmael Adams and Marcus Rios, the highly sought-after corners who joined the Bruins as part of the Class of 2012. Brandon Sermons, Randall Goforth, Fabian Moreau, and Justin Combs will provide depth, but in a Pac-12 with an increasing number of spread-style multi-WR offenses, you need a lot of defensive backs.

Mora seems to realize he'll need a lot of help in 2013. So far, on the cornerback front, he's only brought in CB Jermaine Kelly of Los Angeles (3 stars, #29-ranked CB), but (of the uncommitted CBs left) he's made a lot of offers: Priest Willis of Arizona (5 stars, #3-ranked CB; low possibility he signs with UCLA), Johnny Johnson of Fresno (4 stars, #5-ranked CB; medium possibility he signs with UCLA), Cole Luke of Arizona (4 stars, #18-ranked CB; very low possibility he signs with UCLA), Dashon Hunt of Westlake Village (4 stars, #21-ranked CB; very low possibility he switches back to UCLA after his decommitment), L.J. Moore of Fresno (4 stars #22-ranked CB; high possibility he signs with UCLA), Nadir Barnwell of New Jersey (4 stars, #26-ranked CB; low possibility he signs with UCLA), Tyree Robinson of San Diego (3 stars, #34-ranked CB; medium possibility he signs with UCLA), Daquawn Brown of Los Angeles (3 stars, #61-ranked CB; medium possibility he signs with UCLA), and Marcellus Pippins (3 stars, #83-ranked CB; high possibility he signs with UCLA, if UCLA still has an offer for him).

On the safety end, the commitment of Su'a Cravens to U$C hurts UCLA since safety is a huge need for UCLA in the coming years; that and Cravens was a special talent, and now he'll be laying the lumber on our guys instead of laying the lumber for us. And of course, losing Hatari Byrd to Oklahoma sucks, especially since he was an in-state guy a lot of UCLA watchers thought Mora would be able to reel in. Mora has offers out for a handful of uncommitted safety prospects (while I expect he's also still working on guys verbally committed to other programs), including: Vonn Bell of Georgia (5 stars, #3-ranked S; zero possibility he signs with UCLA), Tahaan Goodman of Rancho Cucamonga (4 starts, #5-ranked S; medium possibility he signs with UCLA), and Tyler Foreman of Encino (4 stars, #21-ranked S, low possibility he signs with UCLA).


With that, that's how our defense projects not this season, but next year. With that projection in mind, we can properly gauge Mora's recruiting efforts. Obviously, the projection is just that: an educated guess on what will happen in the future, which will definitely change due to unforeseen events (injuries, medical retirements, transfers, someone having a breakout season this year, etc.). So, with that, feel free to pick it apart, put up your own projections, and figure out how we'll need to recruit in the Class of 2013 to ensure UCLA's depth chart is fully stocked.

Tomorrow, we'll turn to the offensive side of the ball, re-examine the way-too-early offensive projection for 2013 and take a look at how Mazzone's half of the squad looks heading into not this season, but next.

Fire away in the thread with your thoughts, additions, disagreements, and/or analysis. You all know how this works by now.