During the 2015 season, the defense decimated by injuries and unable to stop the run, Bruin fans were openly frustrated by the play of middle linebacker Kenny Young, wondering why coaches favored him over Isaako Savaiinaea for playing time.
Young, undoubtedly the better athlete, had looked lost at times. Savaiinaea seemed like a more solid option.
Skip forward to 2016 and Kenny Young looks like a new man. He knows where to be, flies all over the field making plays, and is an integral part of UCLA’s talented and reliable defense.
"I feel more confident. I feel like I play more loose now. I’m playing better, and the guys are responding to my leadership as far as making plays and getting lined up," Young said after practice on Tuesday.
Young is second on the team with 23 solo tackles, and 44 total tackles. He and Takkarist McKinley have each sacked quarterbacks three times this season, tied for the most sacks on the team in the 2016 campaign so far.
Linebacker coach Scott White said to reporters last week that Young had been working with Trevor Moawad on the mental aspects of preparing for football, a factor in Young’s growth this season.
"For him it’s just, you know, how you calm your mind throughout the week, and getting ready for a game day," Young said. "And honestly it all just starts in practice. Me playing well on Saturdays doesn’t come from me just showing up and playing well, right? It has to start in practice."
But Young believes he can continue to grow this season.
"I just want to keep elevating, because I’m still not satisfied, the roof is still high for me," Young said. "The more room I have to get better is the more room I want to work every day in practice to maintain that and grab that level of success that I need."
Deep and Versatile in the Trench
The defense is certainly better with Eddie Vanderdoes and Takkarist McKinley in the lineup, their injuries no longer a concern. But the other quality that makes the defensive line such a strong unit is the depth the Bruins have.
"Anytime you can roll your defensive line, I mean, that is a big perk," defensive line coach Angus McClure told reporters on Tuesday. "We see so much spread in this conference, a lot of tempo. They want to get the defensive line tired. So if you can sub guys in and out like we do, it’s a benefit."
McClure said that the ability for true freshman Boss Tagaloa and junior college transfer Nick Terry to step up and play in their first year in the program was crucial in adding depth to the unit.
With plenty of talent, McClure and defensive staff can also put guys in different places to adapt to the various kinds of offenses in the Pac-12, and mix things up to confuse the offensive line.
"Every week in this conference we see a different type of offense," McClure said. "As a defensive coach, we have to be very adaptable with what we put out on the field, and that includes personnel. You have to have guys to be able to do multiple things, and we have to have players do multiple things, schematically."
McClure said that Eli Ankou, who left the Stanford game with a hyperextended elbow, was in practice on Tuesday and could be available for Arizona State.
Check out more from DL Coach Angus McClure, LB Kenny Young, C Scott Quessenberry, and TE Coach Rip Scherer below. Videos are courtesy of UCLA Athletics.
DL Coach Angus McClure:
LB Kenny Young:
C Scott Quessenberry:
TE Coach Rip Schere: