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UCLA Football Spring Preview: Defensive Backs

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With everyone returning to the secondary this year, including Graduate Fabian Moreau, the Bruins will have incredible depth and versatility in the defensive backfield.

Experience, talent, and depth!
Experience, talent, and depth!
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

When Coach Wooden was asked if he would rather have talent or experience, he chose talent. Well, fortunately for UCLA, when it comes to the secondary, Coaches Martin, Bradley, and Mora won't have to choose.

This year, all of UCLA's defensive backs will return, including Fabian Moreau, one of the three huge loses to injury the defense suffered last year. Along with all the experience returning, several incredibly talented young men who redshirted last year, will get their chance to compete for a spot in the rotation. Over the last few years, UCLA has brought in a lot of talent in the defensive back field and this will be the year when we should really see the fruits of that building process.

UCLA looks to be switching from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3, in large part due to their inability to stop the run last year. This will put more pressure on the secondary to carry the load when it comes to pass coverage. Of course with more guys on the line, including Eddie Vanderdoes, there should be more pressure on the quarterbacks, which should help the secondary.

With the change, the nickel back position will fade away, kind of like my bamboo which hasn't done well with the water cutbacks or fans in Pauley (which I don't think can be blamed on the drought). This raises the question of where best to play Ishmael Adams? As we have seen, Ish is a playmaker, and I’m sure the coaches want to keep him on the field. Ish has great anticipation, ball awareness, and quickness – and these qualities have made him an incredibly effective defensive back. However, with the depth in the secondary and the shrinking role of the nickel, will UCLA move Ish to corner or, even possibly,  to the other side of the ball?

Here is our projected depth chart. We've included nickel even though it should be at best, a less used position. Keep in mind that Mora and his staff don't like depth charts and that with all of this talent, whatever rotations they do go with, will probably be highly fluid.

Corner

Safety

Nickel  ?

Safety

Corner

Fabian Moreau (Grad)

Randall Goforth (RSr)

Ishmael Adams (RSr)

Jaleel Wadood (Jr)

Marcus Rios (RSr)

Nate Meadors (So)

Adarius Pickett(So)

Jaleel Wadood (Jr)

Tahaan Goodman (Sr)

DeChaun Holiday (RFr)

John Johnson (RJr)

Octavius Spencer (So)

Will Lockett (So)

Colin Samuel (So)

Denzel Fisher (So)

Leni Toailoa (Fr)

Experienced Talent!

Looking at the ones, you can see the incredible experience UCLA will have in the secondary. Fabian Moreau finally got to really show what he could do last year, starting in the first three games, before sustaining a lisfranc injury. Moreau decided not to go to the NFL, and if he is close to 100%  he will be a big, physical corner for UCLA. Randall Goforth and Marcus Rios both return as leaders in the secondary and Jaleel Wadood (the only Junior on this line) will continue to bring his great athleticism and tenaciousness. Tahaan Goodman also brings a lot of experience and hard hitting, but needs to learn to play with more discipline.  John Johnson was able to get back on track last year and might finally get to have his break out year.

Young talent!

Last year’s freshman should make a big impact this year. They are incredibly talented and I expect  to see several of them work their way into the rotation. Nate Meadors has already made his mark, showing great instincts, speed, and ability to get to the ball. Octavius Spencer saw some playing time last year and with that experience could challenge to move up the depth chart. Adarius Pickett lived up to his name, getting a pick against Virginia. He also made 3+ tackles in five games. I am really looking forward to seeing what four-star backs Colin Samuel and DeChaun Holiday will bring and debated which to put as a two. Right now they are both projected to be corners, but Holiday could move over to safety. They are both big, powerful, athletic backs (6’2", 195 and 6’2", 220 respectively) and bring a lot of physicality to the game. Will Locket and Denzel Fisher will also be in the mix, working to get into this deep and talented rotation. Freshman three-star db Leni Toailoa is an early enrollee and it will be fun to see what he brings.

Other DB’s UCLA has to work with this year spring, include Redshirt Senior Justin Combs, Senior Charles Dawson, Sophomore Jason Baker, Redshirt Juniors Alex Staff and Dylan Luther.

In fall, the secondary will be joined by 4 * Athlete Brendon Burton, possibly at safety, and Keyon Riley, a 3 * safety out of Servite HS.

Back to Coach:

I'd rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.

This quote reminds me of the days, not so long ago, when the Bruin secondary had a lot of experience, but only pockets of talent. I remember so many busted plays and the longing that a coach would put in the young talent and not base personnel decisions on seniority. Well, this secondary has both - a lot of experience and a lot of talent and a lot of experience with a lot of talent - and the competition to get on the field should be fierce. Finding the right schemes and combinations, along with developing skills (like turning around when the ball is coming), could really take this secondary to a whole new level. With the front being reconfigured to stop the run, the secondary will have more responsibility for stopping the pass game. However, this group should be able to meet any challenge. If the defense becomes more aggressive and pivots away from bend don't break, or as I like to call it, the kill us slowly defense, the secondary will be greatly challenged to play close and stop the big plays. The talent is there. The depth is there. The only question remains, will the coaches run a defense that is suited to the talent the players are bringing?

Practice begins on Tuesday, I can't wait to see all these young men back on the field.

Have a good week, and as always ...

Go Bruins!