Previewing position groups for UCLA Football, today we look at the deep, talented linebacker corps.
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4-3 or 3-4?
Oct 4, 2014; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers associate head coach/defensive line coach Tom Bradley gestures on the field before the Mountaineers host the Kansas Jayhawks at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
We’ve mentioned here before that we expect new Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley to convert the UCLA defense back to a 4-3, which they were prior to 2012, and which Bradley preferred during his Penn State days. However, I’m going to walk that back a little bit today, and here’s why:
- UCLA is deep at linebacker and, as Mike W.R. mentioned in his defensive line preview, thin on the line. It makes more sense, then, with too many talented guys to have a strict three-man limit, to use a base package with more linebackers and fewer linemen.
- Jim Mora‘s background as a defensive guy means that the defense bears his image more than the offense does, and Mora is a 3-4 guy. While I’m confident that Mora will not micromanage a proven coordinator like Bradley, I do think that Bradley is likely to adapt at least a little to Mora’s defensive philosophy.
- It’s all fluid. Smart soccer analysts repeat over and over that formation does not equal strategy, and that holds for football (of the American variety) as well. Bradley is going to be more concerned with roles – where the pass rush comes from, who is in coverage, who is guarding what lanes – than with positions. If on a given play, there are four down linemen, whether we call it DE-DT-DT-DE or OLB-DE-NT-DE is immaterial.
For those reasons, and because all depth chart information that I can find assumes a four-linebacker unit, this depth chart will assume the same. (Coincidentally, Mike’s DL depth chart assumes three linemen, so if we’re wrong, at least we’re wrong coherently.)
UCLA Football Linebacker Projected Depth Chart
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Penn State is the traditional Linebacker U, but now that UCLA’s got Penn State’s old LB coach/DC, the Bruins’ claim to that title is strengthened. The Minnesota Vikings certainly think so, as they used a 2014 first round pick on Anthony Barr and a 2015 second round pick on Eric Kendricks.
Sep 25, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; UCLA Bruins linebacker Myles Jack (30) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. UCLA defeated Arizona State 62-27. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Many expect junior Myles Jack to step into that feature role this year. Jack has been listed on the preseason watch lists for the Hornung, Bednarik, Nagurski, Butkus, Lombardi, and Walter Camp awards. Many expect Jack to move to inside linebacker this year, which would move him from a pass rushing role into a coverage role, a more natural fit for his tall frame and lateral speed. In his two seasons, Jack has 18 pass breakups and just one sack.
Jack will be joined in the middle by sophomore Kenny Young, who steps into Kendricks’ shoes as the prototypical middle linebacker, clogging lanes and making tackles. Young impressed during spring practices this offseason.
On the outside, look for junior Deon Hollins to have a breakout year. Hollins led the team last year with nine sacks, and he is the only Bruin on the watch list for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, an award which both Barr and Kendricks won. (As an aside, I like the idea of a trophy named after a Trojan becoming an annual Bruin prize.) Bradley has singled out Hollins as the key to that flexibility between formations, bridging the gap between a defensive end and an outside linebacker.
Lastly, redshirt senoir Aaron Wallace looks to line up opposite Hollins as the other outside linebacker. However, the situation is a little more fluid here, and if any of the second stringers are looking to step up, it would likely be in this slot.
The Second-ish String
Backing up Jack and Young are juniors Isaako Savaiinaea and Jayon Brown. Brown, specifically, had a good spring camp and showed off his pass coverage skills. Right behind them is freshman Josh Woods, whose athleticism and versatility make him readier than the typical freshman to see playing time.
Redshirt freshman Cameron Griffin and junior Cameron Judge are tenuously listed as the second string outside linebackers. Judge has performed well on special teams, and Griffin caught Jim Mora’s eye with his performance in spring practice. That said, freshmen Keisean Lucier-South and Kene Orjioke are close on their heels. KLS was a five-star recruit with the height and quickness to make him an asset in passing situations. Orjioke is coming off of injury (for which he was granted a redshirt) and should be ready by the fall.
Depth, Scout Team, Special Teams, Bodies
The rest of the linebacker corps is filled out by redshirt senior Sean Burd, redshirt junior Willie Green, sophomore Jake Juels, and redshirt freshman Dwight Williams.
UCLA Football Linebacker Roster
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