Striving for D-line depth
There is very little to be settled, at least in a big-picture sense, for UCLA during spring practice. The Bruins return 18 starters and a bundle of other players with game experience.
It’s where they all fit that has to be decided. Nowhere is that more evident than on the defensive front.
UCLA returns two of the top defensive linemen in the Pac-12 Conference, Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark , and that is “a good start,” defensive line coach Angus McClure said.
The rest is a work in progress.
This spring is particularly important for Jacob Tuioti-Mariner , Matt Dickerson and Ainuu Taua , who were all freshmen last fall.
“All those guys are going to need to step up and contribute this year,” McClure said.
The Bruins lost starter Owamagbe Odighizuwa , who was a senior, and reserve Ellis McCarthy , a junior who surprisingly declared for the NFL draft.
Takkarist McKinley , who excelled as a pass rusher last fall, is back and is expected to have a greater role. But depth on defense is critical as UCLA goes against the squirrel-derby offenses infesting the Pac-12.
“Coming in last year, we knew we had guys to look up to — Kenny, Eddie, Owa,” Tuioti-Mariner said. “But everyone knows that the longer you play, the more you have to step up. Matt and I talk about it all the time. We have to work on having the coaches believe that we can play at this level.”
Tuioti-Mariner and Dickerson got a taste as reserves last season. Taua sat out as a redshirt.
“I want to show I have the versatility to play all over the line,” Dickerson said.
There are areas in which each needs to improve, McClure said.
Of Dickerson, McClure said, “His pad level is the biggest thing, and getting him off his toes. He’s an excellent pass rusher and the effort is there. He’s a taller guy, so we need to get him to play a little lower.”
Of Tuioti-Mariner, McClure said, “He needs to work on squeezing in the run. He plays on the end and needs redirection skills. When he came in, he was 240 [pounds]; now he’s 270. So he has grown into the part of a defensive lineman.”
As for Taua, McClure said, “He needs to work on base fundamentals, from the ground up. He has such great quickness. He is a very good pass rusher. He needs to continue work on staying on his insteps and crushing and squeezing.”
All three see the future as now.
“I want to be the guy who sets the tempo, like Kenny and Eddie,” Dickerson said.
The quarterback field might be thinned after Monday.
Mike Fafaul handled the first team and Josh Rosen the second team in drills Thursday.
Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard will run team drills Saturday, with Fafaul and Rosen taking Monday’s practice.
“We’ll reevaluate after that,” Coach Jim Mora said.
Fafaul completed eight of 11 passes. That included two touchdown passes in goalline offense. Rosen, who was 15 of 20 with the first team early in the week, completed four of nine passes.
“The quarterback that works with the ones [the first team] has the best day,” Mora said. “That’s how it should be. He has a good offensive line in front of him; good, consistent receivers and running backs you can depend on. The guy running the twos has an offensive line that is not necessarily consistent day to day and the receivers are rotating through more.”
Defensive back Randall Goforth was moved around Thursday, playing both safety spots and cornerback. “He came in as a corner, and has corner skills,” Mora said. “We like to move guys around back there. We look for the good matchups.” . . . The NCAA has approved an extra year of eligibility for linebacker Kenny Orjioke and defensive lineman Najee Toran , Mora said. Both were injured last season.