Spring Practice: Previewing The UCLA Defense – Part 1


We continue to look at the UCLA football team as they prepare for Spring Practice, but this time we head to the other side of the ball and examine the defense. We had taken a brief look at the offense with a depth chart for quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and the offensive line. With the defense, we will be going in a different direction, namely, because we do not know what type of defense UCLA will be running.

Nov 8, 2014; Austin, TX, USA; (Editors note: Caption correction) West Virginia Mountaineers senior associate head coach Tom Bradley prior to kickoff against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Since UCLA’s Valero Alamo Bowl victory over Kansas State on January 2, the Bruin football program has gone through some big changes. The biggest is that of new leadership atop the defense. Former defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich left for a position as linebackers coach with the Atlanta Falcons which lead to the hiring of former Penn State coach Tom Bradley. That means things are going to be different.

UCLA Bruins
UCLA Bruins /

UCLA Bruins

Why is that? Under head coach Jim Mora, the Bruins have operated in a 3-4 defensive scheme. In Happy Valley, Bradley had worked with a 4-3 set-up. Clearly only one will work. But which will be in the Bruin’s arsenal. That is something we should find out in Spring Practice.

Logically, we can predict that UCLA will continue to work in the 3-4. Why? This is Jim Mora’s team and he has been recruiting and developing  players a certain way. Regardless, there will no doubt be a meeting of the minds as Bradley and Mora come to some sort of middle ground as to how this defense is run. In the mean time, here is what they have to work with.

The Bruins have Eddie Vanderdoes, Kenneth Clark and Takkarist McKinley holding down the line. All of them are very athletic and very talented, but were used as a power front for their gap-plugging and running stopping abilities. McKinley is the exception as he showed promise as a pass rusher throughout last season despite joining the Bruins four-games in.

Sep 25, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Takkarist McKinley (98) hits Arizona State Sun Devils running back Demario Richard at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With a Spring Practice under his belt, McKinley should improve in his role which will help dictate what necessities UCLA must fill when it comes to the pass rush.

That leads us to the linebackers, with a few notable players getting the call for pass rushing, namely Deon Hollins and Kenny Young. Though this will not be their sole assignment, like all the other linebackers, they could be moved around the field with a lot of mixing and matching by the coaches.

Myles Jack and Coach Jim Mora return to Washington this Saturday. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The only constant should be Myles Jack who will be THE linebacker. The big question here is if he will be the one to replace Eric Kendricks as the anchor of the linebackers in the middle of the field or if he will be assigned outside and coverage duties.

The Bruins are fully capable of working with only three linebackers, as they often did last season, yet it was not their strongest scheme. What benefitted UCLA is the use of a fourth LB which played on the line or the use of the nickel back.

If UCLA continues to go with the NB, look for Tahaan Goodman to get the call at this hybrid spot. Behind him, things get even better as the Bruins will be returning all of their starters (sans Anthony Jefferson) who graduated and is looking to get is into the NFL.

Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau will be at cornerback while Jaleel Wadood and Randall Goforth (who is recovering from shoulder surgery) will be at safety. Also look for junior-to-be Priest Willis to compete for time, primarily at the corner.

Aug 30, 2014; Charlottesville, VA, USA; UCLA Bruins defensive back Ishmael Adams (1) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against the Virginia Cavaliers in the second quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Breakout Players

Here are a few of the players that we expect will have an excellent Spring.

Jaleel Wadood – He was very physical as a freshman, which might land him a starting spot as a Sophomore.

Deon Hollins –  He could be the next best pass rusher since Anthony Barr.

Takkarist McKinley – Will polish his game in Spring Practice and will be great in the fall.

Kenny Young – With Kendricks leaving, Young could be the best LB behind Jack.

Kenny Clark – His tendency to run over players will be amplified.

Next Episode: Projecting the Depth Charts and Formations