A lot to count on up front
UCLA’s improved defensive line depth is “pretty awesome,” coach says.
Every time he enters the practice field, Angus McClure might feel like a ravenous man stepping into an all-you-can-eat gelato shop. He’ll take a little bit of this, some of that, and ooh, yeah, don’t leave out a big scoop of that chocolate banana biscotti.
McClure, UCLA’s defensive line coach, has freely mixed and matched his players in the early portion of training camp. And why not? There are plenty of enticing options.
McClure said he used nine different defensive line combinations in practice Sunday, fully utilizing the unit that coach Jim Mora has called the deepest on his team.
“Nine combinations, that’s pretty awesome,” McClure said. “I feel like that’s pretty fortunate.”
McClure said the depth has resulted from adding scholarships to the position after the switch before last season from a 3-4 defensive alignment to a 4-3. The bulk of the players are underclassmen, including two who have spent the majority of their time with the first string in recent practices.
Freshman defensive end Jaelan Phillips and sophomore defensive tackle Boss Tagaloa have joined senior defensive end Jacob TuiotiMariner and senior defensive tackle Matt Dickerson in what appears to be the likely starting lineup.
But junior defensive end Rick Wade, sophomore defensive end Keisean LucierSouth, senior defensive tackle Nick Terry and redshirt freshman Osa Odighizuwa are among the players who have also rotated in with the first group, and McClure mentioned wide-bodied freshmen Greg Rogers and Martin Andrus as having impressed coaches. Several linemen are interchangeable at defensive end and tackle, adding to the depth and allowing the team to tailor its personnel to situations like obvious passing downs.
“Angus is very strict making sure we know all positions because you need to look at it as a scheme instead of just a position,” Wade said. “And obviously, if someone goes down, God forbid, then we can all play that position, we can all rotate.”
There are plenty of candidates to replace pass-rush specialist Takkarist McKinley as the primary playmaker after McKinley was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. Tuioti-Mariner had three sacks and five tackles for loss last season while making nine starts, the most among the returners on the defensive line. Dickerson, who had 11⁄2 tackles for loss and 37 tackles, made eight starts.
Among the newcomers, Phillips appears to be the most likely to make an immediate impact.
“He dominates every practice,” Wade said. “He works so hard and he hustles to the ball. I have no bad things to say about him.” Two is enough
The Bruins could have used two game balls during practice Monday. They would have gone to Bolu Olorunfunmi and Joshua Kelly.
With four running backs absent for what Mora described as “various reasons,” Olorunfunmi and Kelly served as the workhorses and did it without complaint.
“They were outstanding,” Mora said. “They just went and went and went and went and went. … When guys can’t practice and you get that kind of effort, it’s something you can really build on.”
Kelly is a transfer from UC Davis who must sit out this season because of NCAA rules but has shown perseverance, not only during runs but in reaching UCLA. Bruins running backs coach DeShaun Foster said Kelly called him “relentlessly for at least two months” trying to reach him.
Foster said he’s been impressed with the newcomer, who will have two years of eligibility remaining starting with the 2018 season.
“He’s fast, runs hard,” Foster said. “He’s just happy to be here.” Quick hits
Mora has made a habit of subbing out right tackle Sunny Odogwu during the latter portion of practice, part of his efforts to manage the 24-year-old graduate transfer, who has suffered multiple injuries in his career. “We want to make sure that he is as sharp as can be on Sundays, Fridays and Saturdays when we play our games,” Mora said . . . . Receiver Jordan Lasley was dismissed from practice because of apparent overzealousness. “He has to be able to play with great emotion and not become emotional and sometimes he trips over himself,” Mora said, “so we’re just working on reining him in, but you can’t help but love Las.”
DEFENSIVE LINE COACH Angus McClure has a lot of depth to work with and feels “pretty fortunate.”