While the 2012 UCLA football season was successful in the most basic sense, there were some glaring issues that prevented UCLA from going from bottom-feeders in the Pac-12 to damn near world-beaters in just one season.
Among those issues was UCLA’s porous secondary, a point of weakness that fans had anticipated in the offseason anyway. The issue back then, preseason, was with depth, however. With Tevin McDonald, Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester bolstering the defensive backfield, talent didn’t appear to be the issue. Instead, the question related to UCLA’s ability to rotate in solid defensive backs in their place.
Of course, that was a massive underestimation of UCLA’s problems in the second level of defense. Hester and Price were tabbed as potential first-round draft picks — after shutting out soon-to-be first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins of Illinois in last year’s Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl — but ended up turning in collectively the worst campaigns of their career in 2012.
Those guys were both seniors and they’re both gone now, leaving behind Tevin McDonald as the primary defensive back. He didn’t have a fantastic season but it wasn’t the worst, and though he was caught a few times apparently napping in the backfield, he did his job, for the most part and will do enough to bolster the secondary.
Outside of that? UCLA doesn’t have much. Randall Goforth is still incredibly raw and saw limited playing time last year, namely with Tevin McDonald missing the Holiday Bowl due to violation of team rules. Ishmael Adams and Marcus Rios, both freshmen, saw even less playing time than Goforth did.
And we’re not sure about the effectiveness of any of those three players on UCLA’s depth chart, meaning that the Bruins’ recruiting at that level is tantamount to their success next year.
Currently, the Bruins have one commitment in the secondary for their 2013 recruiting class, three-star cornerback Mossi Johnson out of Crenshaw. Known for his versatility and athleticism, Johnson could compete for a starting gig late, but according to scouting reports, he’s a terrible tackler, a disease UCLA football has suffered from for the past few years.
Meanwhile, the coaching staff is banking heavily on the commitment of Priest Willis, a five-star cornerback stud out of Tempe, AZ. His size and athleticism are a wonder and he’s clearly capable of being a lockdown defender and it’s why UCLA is recruiting him as hard as they have. There’s grumblings around the message boards that Willis is, indeed, a UCLA lean but those rumors are unsubstantiated and pure conjecture.
Johnny Johnson, however, is a bit of a UCLA lean and his commitment is seen as imminent. The four-star corner out of Fresno would be a nice pick-up for UCLA considering he is a much more cerebral cornerback that relies on his skills rather than his talents. These scouting reports toss around the ever-subjective “intangibles” a lot in relation to Johnson. It’s unclear if the kid’s going to actually commit though, and with two weeks to National Signing Day, things might be a little too close for comfort for UCLA.
Another apparent UCLA lean, Tahaan Goodman, is also a target UCLA needs this coming February. A four-star safety out of Rancho Cucamonga, Goodman is seen to have quite a few familial ties to UCLA and could very well help bolster what could shape up to be a highly-vaunted UCLA recruiting class. His zone and man coverage is lauded by scouts and his athleticism is seen as strong point (although his strength is a different story).
Of course, as previously stated, only one of these defensive backs is committed to UCLA at this point. UCLA fans aren’t worrying too much given a few of these top-tier defensive backs are UCLA leans but as we’ve seen in recruiting, time and time again, anything can happen, “leans” and “familial ties” be damned.
We don’t know what this class is going to look like and it’s largely dependent on the commitment of most — if not all — of the aforementioned defensive backs. UCLA needs to recruit for need at this point, with the secondary position being the most vulnerable point, both currently and last season. If UCLA manages to keep the status quo and misses out on the other defensive backs in this recruiting class, UCLA’s secondary will be thin for the second-straight year without the security of senior defensive backs “holding down the fort” (which, you might guess, they didn’t do very well anyway).
As always, time will tell with these recruits and Signing Day is two weeks away. Try not to vomit out of anxiety before then.