If UCLA football has a weakness, one could say that it is the defensive line, albeit it is hard to call them weak when you have Eddie Vanderdoes, Kenny Clark and Takkarist McKinley leading the charge on that side of the ball.
This perception of the UCLA D-line is only that because of its depth. After last season, two Bruins left for the NFL Draft, senior Owamagbe Odighizuwa and the early departed Ellis McCarthy. Owa was expected to go. McCarthy was not. It also did not help that Jim Mora and company only picked up one player on the D-line, Rick Wade, this past National Signing Day.
Because of this, the defensive line is a bit thin… but it is not depleted.
Aside from several young players looking to help out next season, the Bruins have also made adjustments to help solidify the defensive line. This past Spring Parctice, UCLA converted offensive lineman Najee Toran over to the D-line. It was much needed, but still a project.
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
There is also the question of what new defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will do with his schemes, which directly affects the defensive line. The Bruins have essentially ran a 3-4 defense with a sprinkle of the nickel package (five defensive backs) since Mora got to Westwood, though while at Penn State, Bradley ran a 4-3.
It seems Bradley is not married to that scheme and because of the thin D-line and the wealth of talent with the linebackers, the Bruins could remain in the 3-4.
But still, we do not know.
During the Spring Showcase, whether it was because of depth or trying not to show his hand too early (as the Showcase was broadcast on the Pac-12 Network) Bradley had the Bruins playing a lot in the nickel package. Bradley has been on the job less than six months, so he is still working out his defense, which includes the line, so what we saw in April could be completely different from what we see in September.
Now what are we to expect from the defensive line? As stated above, Vanderdoes, Clark and McKinley should get the starting positions, but what about the back-ups? The Bruins stocked up on D-linemen in the 2014 recruiting class which will be needed in 2015.
Defensive ends McKinley, Matt Dickerson, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and defensive tackle Ainuu Taua are the future and with the chance that Vanderdoes and Clark leave eary for the 2016 NFL Draft, there is a necessity for these young players to get a lot of playing time now.
The UCLA coaching staff also needs to get a few other Bruins who have been with the program for a while up to speed in development. Eli Ankou, Thomas Schwab and Jake Jones are a few names you might have heard of, but are not familiar with. That needs to change this coming year. UCLA needs to get as many defensive linemen exposed to the game plan as possible.
Whether it is due to injury, early departures or (*gulp*) more transfers, UCLA football needs to strengthen the D-line. They are not depleted, but one misstep could be bad for the Bruins. With that being said, it is going to be very interesting to see how the defensive line develops, not just this Fall, but going into 2016 and beyond.
Dec 31, 2013; El Paso, TX, USA; UCLA Bruins defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes (47) celebrates after winning the 2013 Sun Bowl at Sun Bowl Stadium. UCLA defeated Virginia Tech 42-12. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports