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UCLA Football: Freshmen Defensive Linemen Discuss “Improvement Week”

Classes at UCLA start this week and so does Pac-12 Conference play for the Bruins.

NCAA Football: Fresno State at UCLA Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has been made about the youth on the offensive side of the ball, but that youth continues for the Bruins on the defensive side of the ball as well, and the defensive line has been a prime example of the UCLA Bruins’ youth movement. Freshmen defensive linemen Otito Ogbonnia, Tyler Manoa and Atonio Mafi have given Bruins fans reason to believe the future is bright on the defensive side of the ball.

That future includes a continued baptism by fire for the freshmen as they will be exposed to game play at 5,360 feet above sea level as they visit Folsom Field this Friday. That’s 4,530 above what they are accustomed to when playing at the Rose Bowl.

So having the bye week has allowed the Bruins to attempt to get ready for the challenge of traveling to Boulder, Colorado. One of the things that has to happen when true freshmen get thrust into playing is learning to play together and getting to know one another. After practice yesterday, Ogbonnia talked about the bye week as an opportunity for him to get to know his teammates better and work on fundamentals like tackling.

Ogbonnia also touched on the fact that he has been moving around on the defensive line and how the UCLA coaches are helping him to prepare to play the nose tackle position and 4i (4i is a defensive end in a 4i-technique playing on the center side of the tackle).

A lot of you will pause at the 3:07 mark of this interview as Ogbonnia has some interesting comments about his home state of Texas.

Thanks so much to Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the Los Angeles Daily News for both of today’s interviews.

Another one of those young defensive linemen is 6’4”, 290-lb. freshman Tyler Manoa. It seems that Chip and company knew they were going to be short-handed this year and made it very clear to this freshmen class that they were going to play. “The coaches did a really good job recruiting us,” Manoa said. “They told us to come in ready to play and not ready to shirt or anything. They said, ‘The best man is going to play.’ and we’re here and we’re just getting the experience.”

Part of the experience for Manoa is lining up next to his close friend, roommate, and high school rival from the Bay Area, Atonio Mafi.

Manoa spoke about lining up against Mafi in high school. “You just gotta know that he’s gonna bring his his big body frame with his strength so you gotta know what to do against that,” Manoa said.

Manoa said that this week of practice was called “improvement week” and I think we can all say that might be the understatement of the year so far. There is a lot of room for improvement. Manoa talked about strength and conditioning this week specifically and, in light of the location of Friday’s game, conditioning will definitely be a factor.

In light of Joe’s article about recent UCLA recruits, one of the scary things that came out of this interview is the obvious chance that Manoa can leave after this season for his LDS mission. Manoa said that he should have a decision by the end of the season.

Check out the rest of Tyler’s engaging interview, again compliments of Thuc Nhi Nguyen.

Go Bruins!