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2017 UCLA Football Spring Preview: Reloading in the Secondary

The secondary saw some attrition, but shouldn’t see much of a drop-off.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think Coach Demetrice Martin gets enough credit for the job he’s done at UCLA.

When he came to UCLA, the secondary was considered the weakest group of the defense by a country mile, yet by 2015 UCLA was leading the PAC 12 in Opponent Passing YPG, only allowing 203.2 YPG, good for 32nd in the nation. Last year’s group was just as good, only allowing 210.5 YPG, good for 3rd in the PAC 12 and 36th in the nation.

As an aside, yes I realize part of the reason is that teams were able to run almost at will against the defense, but considering the Bruins saw an almost 30 yard drop in the rushing YPG allowed the past 2 years while the PYPG allowed remained pretty static, it seems obvious that opposing offenses recognized that the Bruin secondary was a strength, and that attacking the defense was the equivalent of picking your poison.

That said, the Bruin secondary suffered some serious attrition this offseason. Fabian Moreau, Randall Goforth, Tahaan Goodman, and Marcos Rios are now all gone, having used up their eligibility. Moreau in particular had grown into a lockdown corner, and looked to be a potential 2nd round pick before suffering an injury during UCLA pro day, but the Bruins will miss what he brought to the defense.

So without further ado, let me present this projected depth chart, because that starting group features an interesting name.

Secondary Depth Chart

Left Cornerback Safety Safety Right Cornerback Nickelback
Left Cornerback Safety Safety Right Cornerback Nickelback
Darnay Holmes (Fr.) Jaleel Wadood (Sr.) Adarius Pickett (RS Jr.) Nathan Meadors (Jr.) Jaleel Wadood (Sr.)
Johnny Johnson (RS Sr.) Brandon Burton (RS Fr.) William Lockett (RS So.) Colin Samuel (RS So.)
Denzel Fisher (RS Jr.) Octavius Spencer (Jr.) Keyon Riley (RS Fr.)

Yeah, I’m putting incoming freshman Darnay Holmes into one of the starting spots. While I think Johnny Johnson might get the starting nod at the beginning of camp, just having Holmes in camp should help him lock down that starting spot opposite Nathan Meadors.

Most of the other starting spots seem pretty simple. It’s hard to think of Jaleel Wadood as a senior, but as a 3-year starter, he’s basically a lock to start his senior year, and it’s hard to argue he wouldn’t deserve it, as he seems to be in line to be the defensive captain this year (along with Kenny Young).

Opposite him should be Adarius Pickett, who had a breakout season last year while sharing playing time with Randall Goforth, and the UCLA secondary should be much better with Pickett playing full time and not having Goforth.

PS, it’s time for Uncomfortable Truth Corner, but just having Randall Goforth graduate should make the UCLA defense better. Look, I love Goforth; I think he’s a tremendous Bruin. But you could have made a solid amount of money betting on Goforth allowing a big play, and the UCLA coaching staff loved to play him despite having better options available (LIKE ADARIUS PICKETT WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU COACH MEAT?!?).

Nathan Meadors started last year, and was a bit of a revelation defensively, forming an incredibly solid tandem with Moreau at the corner positions. There was actually a few games in the middle of the season where Meadors did not play due to injury, and the secondary suffered a noticeable drop-off. Last season wasn’t fun for a multitude of reasons, but the rise of Meadors was definitely a bright spot.

Maybe the biggest question of the spring will be what UCLA does with the nickelback position. UCLA will go into a nickel package rather consistently when it needs an extra coverage back, taking out a linebacker to do so, and last year that usually meant that UCLA was playing Wadood, Pickett, and Goforth all at the same time. With Goforth gone, the coaching staff will need to figure what they want to do here.

My assumption is that Wadood will slide into the nickel position when necessary, and Brandon Burton, fresh off a redshirt season, will be in line for an increased role in the defense. Burton seems destined to star at some point, and giving him an increased role in the defense now seems like a good idea.

Figuring out the pecking order of the rest of the secondary should be a pretty important subplot to watch this spring as well, especially considering the incoming class that will arrive in the fall. In particular, Elijah Gates has the potential to break into the rotation early, so this spring will be important for guys like Octavius Spencer, William Lockett, and Keyon Riley to show what they can do.

The 2017 UCLA secondary definitely lost a few key components, but Coach Martin has them primed to reload rather than rebuild, which is one of the more positive developments of the offseason.

Go Bruins!