One of the consistent themes of last year for the UCLA Bruins football team was the youth on the defensive line, with 3 true freshman and 2 more underclassmen logging a large amount of snaps throughout the season. The group constantly showed their inexperience, which was to be expected, but over the course of the season they continued to show improvement, which is a good sign going forward.
That said, things are not going to be easier for this group next year. Let’s break down who’s gone, and who’s back for Spring.
- Chigozie Nnoruka
- Marcus Moore
Nnoruka transferred out of the program following the conclusion of the season, and it’s honestly a bit disappointing. Nnoruka was a project coming out of community college, having only played football for a short period of time, but he flashed in a huge way in 2017, making a case for potentially being UCLA’s most consistent defensive lineman. Unfortunately, that success never translated over to the 3-4 defense, which left Nnoruka without a natural position, and while he flashed at times, it became more obvious as the season progressed that the freshmen were more deserving of the reps.
As for Moore, he really looked like UCLA’s best defensive lineman in 2017, but really struggled after Chip Kelly took over, being suspended for violating team rules multiple times. Reports say he left the program following the season, which, at the end of the day, is another hit to UCLA’s depth.
- Atonio Mafi
- Otito Ogbonnia
- Tyler Manoa
- Osa Odighizuwa
- Martin Andrus
- Rick Wade
- Steven Mason
On paper, that’s a solid, young group. Rick Wade is the only senior among them, with Odighizuwa, Andrus, and Mason all juniors now, while Mafi, Ogbonnia, and Manoa are now sophomores. Better still, it’s a group that will have gotten stronger, thanks to a full year in a college strength program, which is crucial for developing linemen.
This should also be a competitive group coming into Spring. Last season, being the starter was more of an honorary title than anything, as there were heavy rotations to keep everybody fresh. That meant everyone got plenty of experience in game situations, but no one truly stepped away from the pack and locked down a position. With the way UCLA and defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro utilize the defensive line, I wouldn’t be surprised if that trend continues, but it will be interesting to see if any of these guys take a majority of snaps with the first team or if they rotate between 1st and 2nd team throughout the Spring. As of right now, I’d lean towards 1st and 2nd team being a constant rotation to give guys a chance to grow, but a more solid depth chart probably will not come until the fall and even that is liable to be filled with OR all along the defensive line.
- Moses Robinson-Carr
Finally, we come to Robinson-Carr, who was suspended indefinitely in November of last year, but his status has not been confirmed since then. I imagine we will find out more once Spring Training starts.