Every team has a key to make their offensive engine go. On Sunday when the UCLA Football Bruins take on the Texas A&M Aggies they’ll have to contend with the key to their offense.
This UCLA Football team boasts what might be one of the best secondaries in the PAC-12 if not one of the top 20 in the country. That’s a strength they will need to rely on as the Bruins gain experience across the D-line, break in a few new LBs and face some of the best WRs in the country. Namely, Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk.
A dangerous all purpose weapon for the Aggies, Kirk already has already gained a reputation as one college football’s most exciting players. He can return kicks, punts and is a nightmare from the slot position. Gifted with sticky hands, rabbit quick feet, and a thick build that allows him to carry would-be tacklers for a few extra yards, Kirk is every WRs coach’s dream.
Although 2016 saw his production slip slightly from his 2015 freshman year, he’s already racked up 163 catches for 1937 yards and 16 touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who was a freshman two years ago and wasn’t the leading receiver in yards or touchdowns last season. He’s also done it against some of the best defenses in college football.
Last year the Bruins were able to hold him to one of his more modest performances of the 2016 season by keeping Kirk out of the endzone and limiting him to under 60 yards through the air. They blanketed him from his slot position not allowing him to beat them deep. The Bruins applied steady pressure throughout the game which also didn’t allow for many deep shots.
The UCLA Football defense also neutralized one of Kirk’s greatest strengths when they didn’t allow him to run for yards after the catch. His speed and quick feet in the open field make him a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. Sure tackling went a long way in making this game as close as it was to the very end.
Here’s where it gets tricky.
2017 has the Bruins trying to figure out how they’re going to replace the pass rushers like Takkarist McKinley, Deon Hollins and Eddie Vanderdoes. While they have veterans returning there will be an exciting influx of phenomenal talent with freshman Jaelan Phillips and red-shirt freshman Marcus Moore who finished fall camp with some buzz.
However talented though, the Bruins have to prepare for the reality that the new pieces on the defensive line might need some seasoning before they’re firing on all cylinders.
The other wrinkle is that the Bruins lost a number of defensive backs including third round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft CB Fabian Moreau. While Moreau is a major loss for this team, it was actually safety Randall Goforth who was most often matched up with Kirk because he plays almost exclusively from the slot. With the UCLA Football defense almost entirely in nickel throughout the game, Goforth dropped down to man the nickel role while Tahaan Goodman operated as the third safety.
This is standard operating procedure in football but the key is having a player who can actually play in the slot and not just a third corner. You need a guy who is quick twitched and has some degree of speed. He doesn’t have to have burner speed but the ability to make quick cuts on a dime is of upmost importance. The Bruins had a good nickel in Goforth. They’ll have a better one.
Enter Darnay Holmes.
Now on the most recent episode of the UCLA B-Team podcast, which you should all be listening to because it’s awesome and not just because I want you to hear me babble on, it was mentioned that Holmes could start at one of the two corner spots opposite Nate Meadors. While I believe Holmes could start, it won’t be on the outside.
Yes he’s a freshman, yes the UCLA Football defense will start in nickel, and yes a freshman other than Jaelan Phillips starts on the defense.
He’s been impressively sticky in coverage and a turnover waiting to happen with his ball skills. Some of the things that make Kirk so good are also some of Holmes’ best attributes. He has light feet and and his stocky frame shows up in his willingness to seek contact.
The Bruins do have the safeties to play three on the field at one time but Holmes gives them an added sense of athleticism and refinement at the position. Don’t be shocked if it happens is all I’m saying.