As we continue our “Spring Practice Preview” series, we shift our focus to the UCLA Football defensive line. A group of emphasis for new defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro who hopes to reinvent a unit full of talent but one that has struggled against the run and creating pressure.
The UCLA Football Bruins have struggled with stopping the run for what feels like the better part of a decade now. The truth is the rush defense has been on a decline for the last three years but the past two have been nearly catastrophic. In 2017 the Bruins ranked 129 out of 130 in terms of rush defense and managed a paltry 22 sacks for the season with a majority of them coming in the latter portions of the schedule. While this could be attributed to the best pass rusher, Jaelan Phillips, missing the meat of the schedule with an ankle injury, the fact remains, this defense needs revamping; starting up front.
Defensive line developments surrounding the UCLA Football program have been interesting to say the least. Jump back to the 2012 season and the Bruins in their first year under Jim Mora. The defense has standout defensive linemen in Datone Jones, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Cassius Marsh, a loaded linebacker group of Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks. With a platoon of capable backups in the LB group, it only made sense that the Bruins employ a 3-4 defense. A scheme meeting the talent and skillset of the roster, imagine that.
However during Mora’s later years the LB groups became depleted in terms of talent and numbers and so a move back to the 4-3 was made. However this was done to cover up a slow developing roster issue instead of maximizing a pool of talent. Not nearly as praiseworthy.
Now the UCLA Football team is on the move scheme wise again, this time back to the 3-4.
Both Kelly and Azzinaro are strong proponents of the 3-4 defense. Although new DL coach Vince Oghobaase played in a 4-3 or “even” front in college, he’s been handpicked by Azzinaro as the man to run this unit.
He’s going to have his hands full in terms of building this unit since most of the pieces naturally fit the 4-3. However unlike previous moves regarding the defensive front this one won’t be made to cover up a flaw in roster building or one designed to take advantage of a loaded unit. No, this one will happen as a carefully crafted first step in rebuilding the entire defense.