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UCLA Bruins Football 2015 Fall Preview: The Secondary

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Yesterday we took a look at the linebackers as we head into the 2015-2016 season. Today we continue our series with a look at UCLA's talented defensive backfield.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't that long ago, Bruin fans were pulling their collective hair out watching the inability of our secondary to stop long plays and cover short ones. Too many times we watched the coverage give a 10 foot cushion on 3rd and 5 or men wide open up the middle for long game changing receptions. As recently as 2012, UCLA's pass defense and pass defense efficiency both ranked 11th in the Pac-12. We were not making it up. It was bad. It was frustrating for the players and the fans. We have had some incredible talent, Rahim Moore to name one (his 2010 team was last in passing defense), but the success of the secondary comes not just from the collection of talent on the field. It comes from talent, how well that talent works together, the defensive schemes, and the success of the talent in front of them. In other words, the sum of the parts cannot be greater than the whole. We can not just count the stars on the field. They must be in a position to align.

Well, progress has been made. In 2014 UCLA's pass defense and pass efficiency defense both ranked 2nd in the Pac-12. This happened in a season where their leader, Randall Goforth, was sidelined for most of the season. It also happened in a season during which UCLA's defensive plan seemed to be missing a consistent component of what I will call intelligent aggression. As a result, there were many times last year where the backs were left to cover far too long because no pressure was being placed on the opposing quarterback or because they didn't know how to hide what they were doing. After the Colorado game IE Angel wrote:

The blitz packages are still a mess with Ulbrich. UCLA shows their blitzes so insanely early that there is no element of surprise for opposing offenses. The corners or safeties show it pre snap and never drop into coverage that I can recall. If they show, they come. If they don't, they're in coverage. Makes the protection much easier to pick up when all that is required to show the defense's hand is a hard count.

With the return of Goforth, another year of experience among a talented group, and some interesting newcomers, the talent and the team work will probably be there. The question for me then remains, will Tom Bradley be bringing the kind of intelligent aggression to this defense that can help our secondary shine even brighter? If he is, UCLA should be set to put the Pac-12's best secondary on the field this season.

Personnel Changes

The Bruins return without last year's third leading tackler (and leading tackler out of the secondary), Anthony Jefferson. While AJ is working with the Chicago Bears, UCLA will get safety and leader Randall Goforth back. Randall was sidelined for the season after separating his shoulder during the Memphis game. Johnny Johnson also returned to spring practice, was limited, but should be ready to go next week. Along with Goforth and Johnson, Jaleel Wadood will keep bringing his smarts and his boom, and Marcus Rios, Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau will be competing for the two starting corner back slots.

UCLA also lost three other defensive backs since the end of the season: Priest Willis transferred to Texas A&M, Jalen Ortiz has gone to Wyoming, where he may be looking to play on the other side of the ball, and Zach Whitley left school in January. As far as we know, Justin Combs is still at UCLA and will hopefully continue with the team and continue to work towards his degree at the greatest university in the world.

New talent. UCLA will also be bringing in some really good talent to the secondary this year. Nathan Meadors worked out at safety in the spring and impressed lots of people. He could be making his way into the rotation. He showed not only good speed, but good instincts and is a really smart young man, (he made the honor roll as a early enrollee!).

DeChaun Holliday (4 *), William Lockett (3*), Colin Samuel (4*), and Octavius Spencer (3*) are coming in at cornerback, but all could possibly work at safety as well. Four star Athlete Stephen Johnson, could also end up on the defensive side of the ball as a back, but it sounds like Mora plans start him as a receiver when fall camp opens. There is tremendous talent here and it will be fun to see who emerges where, as camp gets underway. This group also gives the defense a lot of flexibility behind our more seasoned players and, in time, should provide some quality depth.

Projected Depth Chart

Secondary

Cornerback Safety Safety Corner Third Cornerback
Fabian Moreau SR Randall Goforth SR Jaleel Wadood SO Marcus Rios RS JR Ismael Adams RS JR
Ismael Adams RS JR/Denzel Fisher RS FR Nathan Meadors FR Tahaan Goodman JR John Johnson RS SO Charles Dawson JR
Justin Combs RS JR Dwight Williams RS FR Adarius Pickett RS FR Erick Zumwalt RS SR
DeChaun Holiday/Colin Samuel FR
Octavius Spencer/Will Lockett FR

As we went into spring, it looked like Ismael Adams would be a lock on the second corner spot opposite Fabian Moreau. Marcus Rios came on really strong however, and now looks to be holding that spot with Ish moving to the nickel. Marcus showed incredible athleticism (fully recovered from his illness) and fight and has more height (6') to bring to the position. Opposite Rios will be Moreau. You may remember last year's high expectations for Fabian as he was showing great things at camp. Unfortunately, those expectations fell short out on the field. With another year under his belt, hopefully he will be able to bring his best to the game. There is a solid group behind the starting corners. John Johnson looked like a force to be reckoned with before his shoulder injuries, and Mora says his feet are "still magical". Whether he can get his full ability and confidence back or not, is really the only questions with Johnson. Denzel Fisher is a long, fast cornerback and it was fun watching him give some of the receivers problems in spring. We usually start the guys who haven't hit the practice field at the bottom of the depth chart. However, no one would be surprised to see Freshman DeChaun Holiday end up playing with the twos at corner.

At safety, UCLA will have great leadership, ability and experience. Getting Goforth back as the director of the backfield should really help. Last year we could see the talent, but sometimes the secondary just looked a bit lost. Randall should help bring more consistency to their efforts. Jaleel Wadood is a beast at safety, bringing the boom and intelligence (also on the honor roll!). I did a second take when I remembered he was just a true freshman last year. This year, expect Jaleel to be able to play with even more confidence and knowledge. Behind Goforth and Wadood, UCLA has experience and talent with Tahaan Goodman who saw a lot of action last year and who had some great hits. It is less certain who will be end up behind the 2nd safety spot. The team seems to be using Adarius Pickett on offense and Dwight Williams and Nathan Meadors are still learning. So fall camp will do a lot to determine who will earn that back up position or whether the staff needs to bring someone else (like Stephen Johnson) over from the other side of the ball.

The Bruins come into this year with a great deal of talent in the defensive backfield. Pacific Takes projects UCLA to have four out of the top twelve DBs in the conference in Adams, Moreau, Wadood, and Goodman. The coaching staff has done a great job bringing in all of this high quality talent. This should be the year where UCLA has a defensive coordinator that can maximize that talent and deliver to UCLA the best defense in the conference.

Have a great day, and as always ...

Go Bruins!