The linebacking core of UCLA football is a lot of things — including freaky. Super freaky, that is. Myles Jack, in particular, is a super freak. It took him no time to prove to the UCLA coaching staff, then the UCLA fan base, and finally the rest of the nation that his athleticism is no joke — his insticts far from one, as well.
Nov 8, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; UCLA Bruins running back Myles Jack (30) looks at the scoreboard during a fourth quarter timeout against the Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Each year since Jim Mora took over at UCLA has featured one of the most talented sets of LB’s the country has to offer, headed by a standout or breakout superstar that can, on their own, leave offensive coordinators dazed and confused. First, it was Anthony Barr, who slammed his way to the Lott Impact Trophy and is now a Minnesota Viking who had an abundantly successfull rookie season in the NFL. Then, it was Eric Kendricks, who tackled his way to the Lott Impact Trophy and Butkus award and is now a Minnesota Viking looking forward to an abbundantly successful rookie season in the NFL.
This year, that guy is going to be Myles Jack — we just don’t know if he’ll end up a Minnesota Viking like his predecessors. You know those names, though, and we need not spend more time discussing the athletic super freak that is Myles Jack. Its’s the other guys who we will now turn our attention too, considering who might be in for a great season at UCLA.
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UCLA’s roster lists 14 players at linebacker, but only four can actually start — let’s look at who those four might be. Sean Burd, Jake Juels, Dwight Williams, Cameron Griffin and Willie Green are likely the first out of the conversation. None have ever seen game action, but each has spent at least a full season with the team. Though the story for some has been one of injuries, we haven’t seen enough to make a judgement. Sure, any one of them could prove that they are fit for a spot — but anything telling us they would is just speculation. Just like that, the 14 listed linebackers is down to nine; that leaves us five more to cut.
The only incoming freshman who plays linebacker is Josh Woods. The four star linebacker has plenty of upside, but we really haven’t seen anything from him, so for now it’s best to just leave him out of the conversation. Now we are down to eight linebackers to split into a two-deep depth chart.
Cameron Judge and Jayon Brown have been primarily used as special teamers. Judge, who layed down a huge block on Ishmael Adam‘s now infamous punt return against Texas, has played in 24 games seeing some action as a reserve linebacker and recording 16 tackles. Jayon Brown, similarly, has played in 25 games with some action as a reserve linebacker. He received an all-conference honorable mention in 2o13, and was Presented with the John Boncheff Jr. Award for Rookie of the Year on special teams at the team banquet. He has recorded eight tackles, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Isaako Savaiinaea and Kenny Orjioke have had roles, like Judge and Brown, on special teams and as reserve linebackers — but they have had bigger impacts, and thus bigger roles. Savaiinaea has played in 26 games with 33 tackles — two for losses last season. Two years ago he recorded seven tackles against Colorado. Orjioke played 18 games through his first two seasons, but fought an injury last season that kept him from playing in all but four games. Still, he had multiple tackles in three of those four games, recording a tackle for loss at ASU. In the seasons prior, he recorded 13 tackles, two sacks, and a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown. Orjioke was also named the most improved special teams player at the team banquet after his first season.
Cameron Judge, Jayon Brown, Isaako Savaiinaea, and Kenny Orjioke will likely make up the second unit at line backer for UCLA next year — but which four guys will start?
Sep 13, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns running back Malcolm Brown (28) runs against UCLA Bruins linebacker Deon Hollins (58) during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
The obvious starter is Myles Jack, as was said at the start of this piece. The other three will likely be Aaron Wallace, Kenny Young, and Deon Hollins. Aaron Wallace started once last season, but has seen game action 36 times in his career. His totals after four years (three playing) come out to 27 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. His assisted tackle for loss and 19 of his 27 tackles in total came last season — Wallace stepped up big and looks to start this year.
Kenny Young, who started six games for the Bruins last season (his freshman year), recorded 35 tackles. He had six games of four or more tackles, and looks to follow up his impressive first year as a starter from the first game on.
Oct 11, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks running back Thomas Tyner (24) is defended by UCLA Bruins linebacker Kenny Young (42) at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Finally, Deon Hollins will likely be the other member of the starting linebacking core for Jim Mora’s team this year. Hollins started 12 times last year, but appeared in all 13 games. He recorded nine sacks (7th in the PAC-12, 28th in the country), and totaled 10 tackles for loss, third best on the team. Hollins also had multiple tackles in ten games last season, and was presented the Captain Don Brown Award for Most Improved Player at the team banquet. Through his career he has played in 23 games, with 11 tackles and one for loss his freshman year.
So there you have it, and listed below in no particular order are your projected starters and reserves for the 2015 UCLA Football season.