Striv­ing for D-line depth

Los Angeles Times - - BASEBALL - By Chris Foster chris.foster@la­times.com Twit­ter: @cfos­ter­la­times

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.

QB com­pe­ti­tion

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.”

Quick hits

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.

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