UCLA Football Spring Practice Preview: Linebackers

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 30: Kenny Young /
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PASADENA, CA – SEPTEMBER 19: Running back Adam Hine
PASADENA, CA – SEPTEMBER 19: Running back Adam Hine /

Below is the list of Bruins expected to see the majority of reps during Spring practice.

Just like we saw in our defensive line spring practice preview, there are a number of bodies here. However we have to remember that there are four linebacker positions and in a best case scenario you’d love to have at least eight guys capable of coming in and not seeing a significant drop off in production or ability. So again we have to ask ourselves, we have a lot of bodies but do we have the right bodies?

Probably the position on the new UCLA Football defense that carries the most unknowns is the edge “rush” position that will function as DE/OLB hybrid. Phillips, Moore and KLS are all candidates for this position with Phillips being the most physically gifted of the three. Moore has demonstrated his skill as a pass rusher but KLS is the type of player that Kelly and his defensive staff have a bright history with given their molding of former Duck, Dion Jordan. We could see this position used more as a DL position given the precarious situation of the LB group.

Woods and Lokeni will likely man the two ILB positions almost as default options. Woods has all of the physical tools you’re looking for in an ILB. He’s athletic and physical when he wants to be. The trouble is he somehow is a heat seeking missile for offensive linemen and will find himself blocked out of a play or unable to shed blocks. He’s the returning veteran of this group so he must step his game up as this group is being rebuilt.

So again we have to ask ourselves, we have a lot of bodies but do we have the right bodies?

Lokeni saw time in the starting lineup last year and demonstrated growth in practice to earn the trust of the coaching staff. When he got into games though he appeared to be overthinking things. The game looked too fast and too many times he was just a step slow to recognize and react. He’s closest thing to a thumper in this LB group. Should the new coaching staff fine tune his game he has the potential to make a big difference in the run game and make up for a rough 2017.

Speaking of rough 2017s, Juarez has yet to make any noticeable impact on this team after signing with the UCLA Football team in 2016 as a highly coveted recruit. He did suffer a head/neck injury during Spring practice in 2016 which in retrospect was the turning point of his Bruin career so far. After a hiatus from the team Juarez returned to the roster but was out of football shape for much of the season and struggled to see any playing time even with the LB group being a major weakness. Could a new coaching staff and new scheme signal another turning point?

Barnes is a guy to keep an eye on as practice gets underway. Forced into action last season, he had his share of struggles. Angles of pursuit, recognition of keys and tackling were all issues but it wasn’t the entire story. Barnes also flashed plenty of upside and had a number of “wow” plays for me last season. Being more consistent and learning to more effectively use his hands to shed blocks are key for his development. Pellum shaped Troy Dye into one of the best LBs in the PAC-12 before he left Oregon for UCLA. Could he repeat that success with Barnes?