UCLA Football: The importance of Darnay Holmes in the new defense

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 03: Josh Rogers #13 of the Texas A&M Aggies is unable to catch this pass as Darnay Holmes #1 of the UCLA Bruins defends during the first half of a game at the Rose Bowl on September 3, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 03: Josh Rogers #13 of the Texas A&M Aggies is unable to catch this pass as Darnay Holmes #1 of the UCLA Bruins defends during the first half of a game at the Rose Bowl on September 3, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

UCLA football’s sophomore cornerback Darnay Holmes was one of the more explosive defenders on the team last year. Uner the new defensive scheme, he should have a breakout season in 2018.

Darnay Holmes was recently named to the Paul Hornung Award watch list which is given to the versatile player in college football. He was one of only five UCLA football players to be named to a preseason award watch list.

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Imagine that. A player that was a true freshman in 2017 is not only one of the few Bruins to be recognized for his efforts, but to be viewed as one of the most versatile players in the nation says something about how this weapon of mass destruction operated.

Holmes came to UCLA as a 5-star recruit and it was expected that he would play early. Former coach Jim Mora had no problem playing true freshmen that had the talent to step up and make an impact. That was exactly what he did.

Though UCLA ran a conservative defensive scheme under Mora and former DC Tom Bradley, Holmes did not play that way. In fact, he was one of the more aggressive players on the team.

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Four games into the season against Colorado, he was hit with a targeting call and ejected from the game. Whether this was due to a lack of teaching discipline by the coaching staff or simply a freshman mistake, the impact of the hit stopped the Colorado receiver in his tracks.

Still, he laid a big hit. One of several that got him a lot of attention and had quarterbacks questioning whether they should throw the ball to his side of the field.

But this can be controlled. Holmes learned what it takes to make a big hit, but also learned that dropping the helmet will get him kicked out of the contest and he is too valuable to miss any game time.

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That is why the new coaching staff will be valuable to his development. Though they want to make this defense more aggressive and violent, Jerry Azzinaro and his staff need their players to understand how to control their power.

The good news is that Holmes has a lot to offer the new coaching staff. Not only can he deliver a big hit, but he has the IQ to make an impact without touching the opposition.

Holmes has excellent vision and on several occasions used his speed and aggressiveness to make big plays. Against Hawaii in Game 2 of the 2017 season, he stepped into a hitch pass, grabbing the interception and going for six points. This was not luck. This was a top-tier football IQ in action.

Later in the season, Holmes had a beautiful pick against Washington. In the GIF below, watch how he stares down UW’s Jake Browning and follows the pass to the sideline only to step in front of the intended receiver and get his second INT of the season.

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Holmes will also follow a pass and knock it out of the air to prevent further advancement down the field. He has shown that he can hot, make the pick, or he can simply swat potential receptions out of the hands of the intended receiver.

In the GIF below, Holmes comes from the sideline and targets the pass. The ball is actually in the hands of the receiver but Holmes gets his paw in there to knock it away.

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Now, remember this was all as a true freshman. Holmes has incredible talent which will only improve going into his second year with the program. But he will become an even smarter player with the help of the new and very experienced defensive coaches.

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At Pac-12 Media Day, Kelly said that his Oregon teams were good because the defense was good. They might have had a stellar offense, but they would be nowhere without the defense being as effective as it was.

That is going to be the goal for UCLA. The defense needs to be better if the offense is to operate the way they need to.

From what we saw in the spring, the Bruins’ defense is on its way to doing just that. They already have several playmakers, including Holmes, now they need to put it all into action.

With Holmes helping the defense to improve off an atrocious performance from last season, the Bruins will slowly start to turn this team into a program that will be feared on both sides of the ball.

UCLA will eventually be a blur on offense, but they will also be a wrecking ball on defense.

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One of the players that will help make that a reality is Holmes. Now just imagine what he will be able to do in his junior season.