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2019 UCLA Football Fall Preview: Bruins’ Defensive Line Is Still Young

While the Bruins’ defensive line is still really young, they will benefit from last year’s experience.

Arizona v UCLA
While Atonio Mafi has trimmed down from 380 to 363, he should still play a really big role holding down the Bruins’ defensive line.
Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Last season, the Bruin defense left a lot to be desired. If you believe Chip Kelly, a lot of the team’s performance last season was due to the team’s youth. If there was a position group where that could be seen the most, it might have been on the defensive line. There wasn’t a single senior among the defensive linemen last season.

While the defensive linemen all worked hard and gained a lot of experience last season, there still isn’t a single senior in the group.

Who’s Gone

Part of that has to do with the fact that the two guys who would have been seniors this season have left the program. The first is Rick Wade, who opted to graduate and accept a job offer. The other is Chigozie Nnoruka who has gone to Miami as a grad transfer.

Two more defensive linemen won’t be returning this year. Marcus Moore took a medical retirement while Moses Robinson-Carr was dismissed from the team.

Who’s Back

Just because there aren’t any seniors on the team, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of experience. There are plenty of guys on the defensive line who saw playing time last year including Osa Odighizuwa, Otitio Ogbonnia, Atonio Mafi, Martin Andrus Jr., Tyler Manoa and Odua Isibor, who will move to the defensive line after working at linebacker last year.

Who’s New

There are five incoming freshmen and one transfer. Datona Jackson is the transfer. He joins the UCLA Bruins after two season at the College of the Desert. Jackson comes to Westwood with a slight chip on his shoulder. He was set to head to Southern Cal before being told that the Trojans didn’t have a scholarship for him. He’ll be looking to make them sorry about that this November.

Of the five freshmen, the biggest name is Siale Liku, who head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro recruited from Oakland HS in Oakland, California. While Liku is one of the biggest guys on the team, he’s not the biggest freshman defensive lineman. That honor goes to 388-pounder Ulysses Aburto, who joins the Bruins from Riverside Poly High School. Aburto is one of four walk-ons on the defensive line. With a lot of depth on the unit, it’s safe to expect the walk-ons to redshirt this season.

Let’s look at the entire defensive line roster.

UCLA 2019 Defensive Line Roster

# Player name Height Weight Year
# Player name Height Weight Year
44 Martin Andrus, Jr. 6-1 302 Jr.
50 Tyler Manoa 6-4 295 So.
51 Ethan Matus 6-5 245 R-Fr.
53 Winston Polite 6-3 265 R-Fr.
55 Steven Mason 6-8 259 R-Jr.
56 Atonio Mafi 6-2 363 So.
58 Datona Jackson 6-4 271 Jr.
59 Siale Liku 6-2 336 Fr.
61 Carson Drake 6-4 247 Fr.
90 David Vardanian 6-1 278 Fr.
91 Otito Ogbonnia 6-4 344 So.
92 Osa Odighizuwa 6-2 278 R-Jr.
93 Ulysses Aburto 6-3 388 Fr.
94 Dovid Magna 6-3 273 Fr.
97 Odua Isibor 6-3 240 R-So.

Projected Depth Chart

With a lot of players who gained experience last season, it won’t be surprising to see the defensive line shifting frequently all season like a hockey line in an attempt to keep guys fresh. At the same time, someone has to start. I think we’ll see a lineup that looks a lot like last season with Ogbonia and Odighizuwa on the outside and Mafi at the nose.

I also expect Jackson to get a lot of playing time along with Andrus and Isibor, but I won’t be surprised to see Tyler Manoa and Siale Liku get plenty of playing time, too.

Let’s look at the projected depth chart for the defensive line.

UCLA 2019 Projected Defensive Line Depth Chart

Defensive End Nose Tackle Defensive End
Defensive End Nose Tackle Defensive End
Otito Ogbonnia Atonio Mafi Osa Odighizuwa
Datona Jackson Martin Andrus, Jr. Odua Isibor

Of course, performance in training camp could turn this projection entirely on its head. So, we’ll have to wait until the Cincinnati game on August 29th to know for sure who the starters will be.

That wraps up our 2019 preview of the UCLA defensive line.

Go Bruins!!!