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2015 UCLA Football Fall Preview: Defensive Line

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The Bruins have extensive experience at the starting positions and some experienced back-ups, but depth could be an issue if the Bruins suffer injuries on the D line.

UCLA's Eddie Vanderdoes
UCLA's Eddie Vanderdoes
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Welcome to the second part of Bruins Nation's series of articles on the 2015 UCLA football team. Today we will focus on the defensive line.

UCLA lost two important players on the defensive line from last season. Owagambe Odighizuwa was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft by the New York Giants, after using up all of his eligibility at UCLA. Ellis McCarthy opted to forego his senior season at UCLA to enter the NFL. Although McCarthy was not drafted, he signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Miami Dolphins. McCarthy did not start any games for UCLA in his junior season, although he provided depth behind Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark. UCLA will miss Owa and Ellis and BN wishes them all the best going forward with their NFL careers.

The major change that may affect the defensive line this season is the departure of former Defensive Coordinator, Jeff Ulbrich, and the addition of Tom Bradley, who had extensive experience with some of the great Penn State defenses of yesteryear.  Coach Bradley was most recently the defensive line coach at West Virginia last season.

Although there is great uncertainty with the addition of a new coach, it is expected that UCLA will continue to use a 3-4 base defense. UCLA defensive line coach, Angus McClure, continues in the role he has held since 2012, which should help with the transition to Coach Bradley. There could also be a lot of 4-2-5 nickel defense and the staff would be wise to employ a 4-3 defense against certain opponents (Stanford, anyone?). For the purpose of this article, we will assume that the base defense will continue as a 3-4 and will list our anticipated depth chart accordingly.

Here is a table showing all of the potential defensive line players, along with a little information about each player:

Number
Name
Weight
Year
Comment
35
Ainuu Taua
296
RFr.
4* Recruit in 2014
47
Eddie Vanderdoes
305
Jr.
Expected starter at DE. Can play DE or NT.
60
Jesus Moreno
285
RFr.
Can also play longsnapper
72
Jake Jones
245
RJr.
Has not seen game action in 2 eligible seasons
76
Alex Rassool
225
RFr.
Walk on
77
Taylor Prenovost
215
RFr.
Walk on
78
Justin Rittman
240
RFr.
Walk on
89
Thomas Schwab
250
RSo.
Has not seen game action in 1 eligible season
91
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
262
So.
Played in 10 games as a true freshman
94
Najee Toran
275
RFr.
Started @ UVA as true freshman on OL. Did not lose eligibility for 2014
96
Eli Ankou
295
R.Jr.
Played in all 13 games in 2014.  Expected to provide depth at NT in 2015.
97
Kenny Clark
308
Jr.
Expected starter at NT
98
Takkarist McKinley
230
Jr.
Expected starter at DE
99
Matt Dickerson
270
So.
Played in 12 games in 2014.  Expected to provide depth at DE in 2015.
Unk
Rick Wade
225
Fr.
4* recruit who could make it into the 3 deep as DE
Unk
Keisean Lucier-South
208
Fr.
5* recruit who could play DE or OLB (probably the latter due to his weight)

UCLA does not have any seniors on the defensive line, although it is possible that one or more of the players might declare for the NFL Draft after this season.

The defensive line will be headlined by juniors, Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark, both of whom are returning starters, both of whom have been named to Phil Steele's Preseason All PAC 12 Team (as defensive tackles), and both of whom have been named to the preseason Outland Trophy watch list. The Outland trophy is awarded to the best interior lineman in the country, on offensive or defense.

Vanderdoes is a returning starter and has been a significant contributor in both his freshman and sophomore seasons.  Although he weighs more than 300 lbs., Vanderdoes' incredible athletic ability allows him to play both the defensive end and defensive tackle positions. Eddie is expected to start at DE, but could also see action at DT, especially in 4-3 and 4-2-5 situations.  Eddie registered 50 tackles last season, including 5.5 tackles for a loss. Vanderdoes was also used on offense a few times, and managed to score a rushing touchdown against Utah.

Kenny Clark came on strong last season (which was one of the reasons why Ellis McCarthy did not start, and may have influenced McCarthy's decision to go pro), starting in all of UCLA's games.  Clark registed 58 tackles, with 5.5 tackles for a loss. Kenny is expected to start at NT, anchoring the defensive line.

The other defensive end position is a bit more of a toss up, but we expect junior Takkarist McKinley to start.  McKinley, a junior college transfer who was not eligible to play in UCLA's first three games, saw action in UCLA's remaining ten games, and started against UC Berkeley. McKinley registered 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss last season. Expect his role to expand with the departure of Owa to the NFL.

McKinley could see competition at the starting defensive end position from true sophomores, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Matt Dickerson.  Tuioti-Mariner and Dickerson played in 10 and 12 games, respectively, as true freshmen last season.

Redshirt junior, Eli Ankou, and redshirt freshman, Ainuu Taua, should see action this season as back up defensive tackles. We are giving the second string nod to Ankou, who saw action in all 13 games last season, based on his experience. Ankou also played a bit in 2013, after returning from a knee injury.

Rounding out the 3 deep on the defensive line, we believe that 4 star true freshman, Rick Wade, could make an impact and see some action at DE. The spot for the other third string DE is wide open. Although Keisean Lucier-South, a 5 star true freshman, can play DE or OLB, we expect him to be slotted at linebacker. Based solely on time in the program, we are slotting redshirt junior, Jake Jones, who has not yet played a snap in his UCLA career, into the 3 deep at DE. Jones played on the scout team in 2014.

Depth is incredibly important on the defensive line, especially in the PAC 12, with teams like Oregon, Cal, and Washington State running a, no huddle, up-tempo offensive with a large number of offensive plays. It is important to be able to be able to frequently substitute out "the big fellas" on defense when they are gassed and get fresh bodies into the mix.

Here is a table showing what we believe to be the 3 deep depth chart for the defensive line in the 3-4 scheme:

Defensive End Defensive Tackle Defensive End
Eddie Vanderdoes Kenny Clark Takkarist McKinley
Matt Dickerson Eli Ankou Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
Rick Wade Ainuu Taua Jake Jones

Of course, certain players could make great strides in pre-season camp and (knock on wood) the injury bug could affect this projection. It is reasonable to conclude that the only true "locks" to start (barring injuries) are Vanderdoes and Clark.

Well, there is BN's defensive line preview for 2015. This unit could be a strength for UCLA if the players are able to minimize injuries during the season. Here's to hoping that Coach Bradley and Coach McClure have the big guys ready to go come kickoff on September 5th against Virginia at the Rose Bowl.  Speaking of Virginia, that game and UNLV the following week could be great opportunities to test some of the lesser experienced players on the D line, if UCLA can establish big leads in those games, thereby laying the foundation for using those guys later in the season and beyond.

Let us know your thoughts on our preview or if you disagree with the depth chart below.

And, as always, Gooooo Bruins!