This article makes me both a little sad and a little happy. While looking forward to the talent we have coming in and predicting the next level to which our defense may rise, we also have to look at what we’re losing. A good portion of the line is gone this year, and the NFL will be the benefactor. Eddie Vanderdoes, Takk McKinley, Deon Hollins, and Eli Ankou are all projected draft picks, and Ankou is even being scouted by the CFL (he is currently the third ranked player in the CFL Scouting Bureau Top 20!). Size wise, we’re losing our two biggest defensive lineman, with everyone else weighing in at less than 300 pounds. We may never hear, “Panda! Panda!” called from the line again and we may not see a defensive tackle score a touchdown for some time (the doffense was fun, wasn’t it?). These four individuals have contributed in countless ways to the UCLA football program, and we wish them well.
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Matt Dickerson will be the senior members of the line next year. Tuioti-Mariner played as both an end and a tackle last year, and was ranked sixth on the team in tackles. He started in nine games, so his experience and leadership will be important for the guys coming in. Dickerson ranked ninth on the team with 37 tackles last year and started in eight games. He was a four star coming out of high school, so his complete potential may not have even been realized yet. Rick Wade is returning as a redshirt sophomore after seeing action in 12 games last year on special teams and as a reserve on the defensive line. He too was a four star coming out of high school and was the number six defensive end in the west, so there is yet another well of untapped potential. The continued development of these guys is essential. Sometimes our biggest recruits are already on the team.
Both Keisean Lucier-South and Boss Tagaloa saw action in the 2016 season and came in highly touted. Lucier-South was a five star prospect out of high school in 2015 and Tagaloa was a four star in 2016. Both saw action in 12 games last year, and with a year under their belts in the program and skill sets, they should be able to replace some of what was lost on the line. Tagaloa has the size we need at the tackle position and can use that to plow through our opponents’ offensive lines for some beautiful sacks.
Additionally, Osa Odighizuwa, Chigozie Nnoruka, and Nick Terry could compete for jobs on the line. Spring is all about competition and experimentation, so we will look to these individuals to provide depth and versatility to the defensive line.
UCLA did VERY well on the defensive side of the ball on National Signing Day. Jaelan Phillips was the only five star recruit in the 2017 class, and committed on the day of the Army All-American game. He has enrolled early and will be participating in spring ball. Hudl.com also has him listed as an outside linebacker, and with his quick 4.59 on the 40 and skill level, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him moved around. He may very well be the next Anthony Barr.
So what does the crystal ball say? Here is my prediction for starters:
Tackles: Tuioti-Mariner, Dickerson, Tagaloa
Ends: Wade, Lucier-South, Phillips
Of course, these could shuffle depending on how spring ball pans out. Competition with your own teammates can sometimes bring out the best in you, so the battle for starting jobs on defense should be fun to watch.