The strength of this UCLA Football team is the defense without question. The defensive line is deep and the secondary is loaded with talent. How deep is the linebacker group?
Without a doubt this team can hang with almost anyone in the country. It goes without saying that defensively this UCLA Football team is going to be able to handle their schedule.
I’m not concerned with the defensive line. Besides having veterans all along the line and positional/scheme flexibility this unit is bolstered by freshman stud Jaelan Phillips.
The secondary gets a boost from talented freshmen as well but is reloading with key reserves who have earned their starting roles now.
The linebacker group is the one with the least amount of experience and possibly the least amount of depth ready to contribute right away.
But let’s dive deeper into this.
Linebackers coach Scott White has been an outstanding recruiter for the UCLA Football program but he has really found success on the field shaping this group. He’s been instrumental in getting guys like Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack into the NFL and will add another name to his list this year when Kenny Young is drafted.
I had Young pegged as the man in the middle who could do it all for the Bruins. I figured he would be flanked by Josh Woods who just oozes potential and Dechaun Holiday who finally found a home on the defense after a few years of struggling in the secondary.
That lineup changed early on with an injury to Holiday at the end of spring practice that required surgery. He has a chance to contribute this season.
Flash forward to August and this group received another interesting shakeup.
Young has been moved the WILL LB position, Woods has been moved to the SAM and sophomore Lokeni Toailoa will man the middle.
Toailoa who didn’t see a chunk of defensive snaps last season has improved his game to the point where coach White just didn’t see how he could keep him off the field. Measuring in at six-foot-two and 245 pounds, Toailoa is a thumper with surprising agility. He gives Bruins a physical presence but isn’t just a two down LB.
The UCLA Football LB room is loaded with players too. Breeland Brandt, Mique Juarez, Holiday and Krys Barnes are all young, athletic, talented linebackers who will be contributors this season and make the future look promising. The only thing they lack at this point is experience.
I’d say once the first hit of the 2017 season takes place fans, media and coaches will rest easy knowing this LB group could be really special.