Holiday has bounced around this whole defense but looked like he found a home in the LB group as he battled through a shoulder injury in 2017. That is to say he looked like he found a home in the 4-3 defense. With the switch to the 3-4, Holiday might again be forced to find a new home. Kelly has had a “rover” position in the past typically occupied by a DB/LB. Given his lack of bulk and physicality being a full time LB might be too much to ask. Still, this unit is in need of playmakers and Holiday gives Pellum a hyper athletic player who can cover the mismatch player for any offense.
Leni, Johnson and Burton will all be vying for playing time and while the LB room looks crowded it’s basically an open competition for all of the spots with the staff having no allegiances. Johnson is fast but needs bulk on his frame. If he comes into Spring weighing closer to 230 pounds he could make a play for any one of the LB positions including one of the inside spots. Burton is a missile and plays much bigger than his size would indicate. While his size might have limited him in most schemes, Kelly and company have a history of finding hitters and getting them on the field. Leni is another willing hitter who, despite measurables, has a legitimate chance of seeing playing time.
There’s only linebacker not on last year’s roster who could see time during spring practice.
- Tyree Thompson, 6’3, 235 pounds
Coming in a position of need, Thompson stands to earn plenty of reps early. He signed with the UCLA Football team after spending most of his recruitment being courted by Vanderbilt. A late push by the new staff has to indicate they not only see Thompson as someone who can provide depth but can make an impact. He has the size, the willingness to hit and diagnoses what he’s seeing very well.
This group needs a major bounce back year in the worst way. You can’t stop the run or defend the pass well if your linebackers aren’t cutting it and that kind of play can stress an offense to it’s breaking point. Josh Rosen isn’t going to be back there next year and while Kelly can certainly dial up the offensive firepower, it was Rosen the past few seasons bailing this team out.
There’s also the matter of pride. UCLA Football faithful had become spoiled with the great linebacker play from a few seasons back from guys like Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Myles Jack and even Jayon Brown. So spoiled in fact they began to refer to the Bruins as “Linebacker U”. That reputation, deserved or not, has been tarnished and it’s time get it back.
Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for our next installment where we preview the Spring DB group.