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2019 UCLA Football Spring Training Preview: Defensive Backs Are Ready to Make a Jump

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After taking a bit of a step backwards in 2018, the defensive backs should be ready to take a leap forward in 2019.

Jerry Neuheisel works on a drill with Darnay Holmes during Spring Practice last year. Holmes will be the dean of the Bruin DBs this fall.
Joe Piechowski

2018 in Review

In my Spring Football preview of the secondary last year, I noted that UCLA had dropped from seventh in Team Passing Efficiency Defense in 2016 to 72nd in the nation in 2017. In researching for this article, I was surprised to learn that the UCLA Bruins dropped again in Team Passing Efficiency Defense last season when they were ranked only 87th in the country.

The good news, if you want to call it that, is that UCLA gave up 19 touchdowns last season, the same number of passing touchdowns that they did in 2017. Opponents increased their completion percentage again last season. It was 57.1% in 2017 while it was 60.9% in 2018. While the Bruins increased their interceptions from eight in 2017 to 11 in 2018, they also gave up 394 yards passing last season.

Overall, that’s a disturbing trend and it’s one that Paul Rhoads needs to fix in 2019.

Who’s Gone?

The Bruins have lost three defensive backs from the secondary since last season. The first two are guys who have graduated. They are Adarius Pickett and Nate Meadors. The third is Colin Samuel who announced on January 24th that he will leave the team as a graduate transfer for 2019.

To be sure, UCLA will miss each of these guys, but Pickett is the biggest loss here. He started all 12 games last season at safety while Meadors started seven and played in ten games. Samuel’s departure will have the least impact as he only saw action in five games last season.

Who’s New?

The Bruins signed three defensive backs in the 2019 recruiting class, but it looks like only one, William Nimmo, has enrolled early and will be able to participate in Spring Training. Carl Jones and Shamar Martin don’t appear to have enrolled yet and won’t be able to participate for that reason.

Who’s Back?

The loss of Adarius Pickett is certainly a big one for the Bruins, Paul Rhoads will have to find someone to step up and fill Pickett’s very big shoes as UCLA heads into the season. The most likely candidate to take over at strong safety is Mo Osling III who was listed second on the depth chart at the end of last season.

Elijah Gates and Nate Meadors were both listed as possible starters at the end of last season. So, it would seem that Gates will probably take that job over full-time in 2019, but we’ll have to see what happens. Quentin Lake and Darnay Holmes should both be able to retain their starting roles at free safety and left corner, respectively.

With Osling, Lake, Gates and Holmes providing leadership in the unit, the real battle will be to see who else can earn playing time this Fall. One guy to keep an eye on is Kenny Churchwell III who is returning from a preseason injury. I also expect redshirt sophomore Shea Pitts to earn a lot of time.

Outlook

Despite the presence of Adarius Pickett, the unit was still really young last season. This year, the unit is anchored three true juniors and four redshirt sophomores. So, overall, the defensive backs should be ready to make a big jump this season.

Let’s look at the expected secondary roster for the start of Spring Training on Tuesday.

2019 UCLA Football Spring Training Defensive Backs Expected Roster

Number Name Height Weight Year (as of Fall 2019)
Number Name Height Weight Year (as of Fall 2019)
1 Darnay Holmes 5'10" 198 Junior
3 Rayshad Williams 6'2" 183 R-Freshman
4 Stephan Blaylock 5'10" 180 Sophomore
7 Mo Osling III 6'1" 187 Junior
18 Elijah Gates 5'10" 180 R-Sophomore
19 Alex Johnson 6'0" 170 R-Freshman
23 Kenny Churchwell III 6'1" 190 R-Freshman
24 Jay Shaw 5'11" 191 R-Sophomore
27 Patrick Jolly 6'1" 175 R-Freshman
29 Ryan Parks 6'0" 202 R-Sophomore
30 Elisha Guidry 5'11" 182 R-Freshman
31 Zack Huffstutter 5'10" 190 R-Freshman
35 Rahjae Johnson 6'0" 170 R-Freshman
37 Quentin Lake 6'1" 185 Junior
47 Shea Pitts 5'11" 180 R-Sophomore
TBD William Nimmo 6'1" 184 Freshman

It will be interesting to see how this group develops between now and the season opener against Cincinnati.


Go Bruins!!!