Welcome back to our Spring Previews. We now switch to the defensive side of the ball starting with the line.
Before we talk about the players, an important question is whether UCLA will use a 3-4 or 4-3 as their base defense. In the 2016 recruiting class, the Bruins loaded up on DL talent, taking 3 DTs and 4 DEs, with the headliner being Boss Tagaloa. Does this mean the Bruins are planing to switch to 4-3? Not necessarily. The Bruins also have an unfair (not quite) amount of talent at linebacker (we are LBU, after all--sorry PSU). It's a delicate balance but what's certainly true is that the Bruins need to do a better job at stopping the run. Last year, they ranked #98 in Run Defense, but it felt much worse at times. Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley will need to do a much better job in year two.
So, who's gone? Three year starter Kenny Clark is off to the NFL after being the anchor to our DL last year. He was already good as a true frosh, improved in his sophomore campaign and still elevated his game higher last year. He will be missed, great kid. But his BFF, Eddie Vanderdoes, is coming back from injury and he is a freak athlete himself (I get chills thinking about him pitching in HS). I hope he's all healed up and ready to be the anchor to the DL this year. It's strange how "young" UCLA has been since we do not lose too many seniors, rather true or redshirt juniors.
On the roster
This is without counting walk-ons.
1. Eli Ankou
2. Ainuu Taua
3. Nick Terry
Eli Ankou played a significant amount last season and I think he did a decent job. He improved as the season progressed so he could have a nice senior campaign. I certainly remember him making some nice plays and thinking who's that? Ainuu Taua will most likely back-up Ankou, though, he's not going to be as good in stopping the run. Nick Terry is coming in as a junior college transfer so I'm not sure what to expect.
1. Eddie Vanderdoes
2. Matt Dickerson
3. Osa Odighizuwa
Eddie Vanderdoes (former 5* recruit) tore his ACL last season in the first game (perhaps trying to lift Kenny Clark on a touchdown celebration) so we didn't get to watch him and KC dominate the line as expected. But that means he's the man now and will be looked upon to provide leadership. His recovery is going well by all reports and he'll be limited in the Spring (don't want to rush that), but we all know what he can do so he should be ready to go in the Fall. I'll also add that he was very engaged last season during meetings so I have a feeling his football IQ has increased and he's ready to put theory into practice. He's a freak athlete so I wouldn't be surprised if the DC Bradley gets creative, or if OC Polamalu wants to borrow his services for the "Doffense."
Matt Dickerson will back-up Vanderdoes but he'll still need to add a bit of weight to his frame (reports say he's almost all muscle at 275). I can see him playing alongside EFV if they throw in some 4-3 at times. Though his back-up role will certainly be pushed by incoming blue-chipper Boss Tagaloa. While we won't see Tagaloa in the Spring, it's tough to project how soon or how much playing time he'll see. Also, I had to list Osa Odighizuwa since, well, we all love the Odighizuwa family here at BN! Likely, he'll redshirt this year.
1. Takkarist McKinley
2. Rick Wade
3. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
Takkarist McKinley is technically a senior but has only been with the program a bit less than 2 years (and thanks to Angus McClure's hawk eye book-keeping). He's been a good-to-very good player who can make some explosive plays. He's a DE/OLB tweener and I'd like to see him unleashed more because of his very good pass rushing skills. Watch out for Rick Wade. He's a starter in the making and will push the current No. 1s in the spring. He can probably play tackle or end with his large frame so expect to hear his name. Expect him to be there for running plays (and less Hollins). Don't count out Jacob Tuitoti-Mariner either. I'd say he's neck and neck with Wade, maybe even in the lead. In a 4-3 formation, you can expect to see Wade, Mariner, and Dickerson get some snaps.
I could throw in a few linebackers into the mix at the end (har har). Deon Hollins, another BN and fan favorite, and Keisean Lucier-South, who quietly redshirted last year, will probably line up in the trenches as well. Both have a freakish first step and can blow up plays in a hurry if you don't watch out. Of course, this is assuming the the DC Bradley lets them fly (big IF).
There are other players who will add depth to the line: Najee Toran (who might move to OL though), Jake Burton (incoming frosh), Breland Brandt (incoming frosh) and others.
The defensive line has fewer departures than the offensive line. Yet, as a group they didn't have a good year in 2015. We've got good players and talent to stop Pac-12 opponents but, as Mora admitted, they need to "get bigger." I trust Alosi can get that job done assuming that Mora gives that directive. To do that, though, the nutrition program needs to step it up as UCLA Football doesn't even have a dedicated dining hall (another AD Guerrero failure). Keep an ear out for news on this as the Wasserman complex is being built.
Where was I? Back to the line. As someone likes to say "line wins something, something." I'm interested in seeing what the young guys can do (Rick Wade, Boss Tagaloa) but would much rather see the elder players step up their game and dominate. That's it for now, I hope you enjoyed the DL preview!