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UCLA Football 2014 Pre-Season Preview: Defensive Backs

As part of Bruins Nation's ongoing Fall Camp preview series, out attention shifts to UCLA's talented defensive backfield.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Below is the depth chart put together from last Spring's defensive back preview and incorporating the incoming freshmen and injury to Johnny Johnson:





Third Cornerback

Fabian Moreau (JR)

Randall Goforth (JR)

Anthony Jefferson (RS SR)

Ishmael Adams (JR)

Priest Willis (SO)

Adarius Pickett (FR)

Tyler Foreman (RS FR)

Tahaan Goodman (SO)

Librado Barocio (RS SR)

Marcus Rios (RS SO)

Denzel Fisher (FR)

Ron Robinson (FR)

Justin Combs (RS SO)

Jaleel Wadood (FR)

Charles Dawson(SO)/Erick Zumwalt (RS JR)

Johnny Johnson (RS FR)(Out for season due to injury)

As you see, the depth chart envisions five starting defensive backs, which is split into three corner positions and two safety positions.  In the modern defense, a 7-man (4-3 or 3-4) front is used less often than a 5-man defensive backfield. That's just the way things are, and there has been talk of the UCLA defense moving to more of a 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 to add speed to the defense.  Regardless whether the team's base defense is changed, a team's third (and even fourth) cornerback are vital to having a successful defense. Whether that corner stays on the outside (when Sermons came in the game last year) or bumps down to the slot (something that Ishmael Adams did a great deal in the Nickel package) is irrelevant because the 3rd corner or (sometimes) safety gets a ton of playing time.

With Johnny Johnson set to miss another season due to injury, I list Priest Willis and Marcus Rios as the third and fourth corners.  These two, along with the backup safeties (Goodman and Foreman), should emerge to set up UCLA defensive backfield in 2014. Incoming players from the 2014 class in the defensive backfield will likely factor in the mix as well, as 4* Adarius Pickett (6' 185) and 3* Ron Robinson (6'2" 195) enrolled early for Spring practice and were said to have performed well.  The other incoming defensive backs are 3* Denzel Fisher (6'2" 175) and 4* Jaleel Wadood (5'11" 175). Wadood is a very versatile defensive back, and he could fit at either corner or safety.  I list him here as a corner.  All four of the incoming freshmen are talented enough to break into the rotation in some role or on special teams as freshmen.  I suspect that all four will not see game action, and of the group, Robinson is the most likely red shirt candidate.

The Bruins defense will have the luxury of having equal parts experience and talent in the defensive backfield, as upperclassmen like Anthony Jefferson (89 tackles, 2 INT, 2 FR and 7 PDs), Randall Goforth (78 tackles, 3 INT, 3 FF, 7 PDs), Fabian Moreau (51 tackles) and Ishmael Adams (61 tackles, 4 INT and 8 PD) all have seen multiple seasons worth of action and have been contributors throughout their careers as Bruins.

This is probably the best returning defensive back field that UCLA has had in some time. The safety spots are locked down for Jefferson and Goforth, both very talented players that have a great deal of versatility playing deep safety and walked up into the box. With Jefferson's experience at corner, it allows the Bruins to take a lot of risks in man coverage with confidence. Some feel like Fabian Moreau's starting position is in the most jeopardy, but the coaching staff and Pac-12 recognized him as an All-Conference Honorable Mention over Ishmael Adams. I would be surprised to see a scenario (barring injury) where the 4 returning starters aren't the first group on the field when the Bruins play Virginia. That is a testament to the talent of the starters because the depth in the defensive backfield is ridiculous.

The real competition is the third corner position and reserve positions. Willis played sparingly on defense in 2013, registering 7 tackles and 1 pass deflection. The former 5* recruit should probably have the first opportunity to prove himself. Marcus Rios played as a freshman in 2012, but had a scary nasal infection that kept him out of 2013. Thankfully, Rios is expected to be full-speed in 2014 and he already showed that he is capable of holding his own against Pac-12 talent. Had Johnny Johnson not been injured, he would have been a third challenger for that spot.

Picket, Wadood, and Fisher will all be fighting Librado Barocio, Justin Combs, Charles Dawson, and Erick Zumwalt for back up positions at corner.  Realistically, the incoming freshmen are all more talented than the group, and eventually they will each pass them on the depth chart, but it will be interestingly to see which incoming frosh can take charge early and move into the rotation right away.

The defensive backfield will be a strength for UCLA in 2014 and should be fun to watch the rotation work itself out throughout Fall camp and into early next season.

Go Bruins!