2011 UCLA Preview – Defense
UCLA LB Sean Westgate
UCLA LB Sean Westgate
Posted Jun 3, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - UCLA Bruin Defense

UCLA Bruins

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What you need to know: It was supposed to be a down year for the Bruin D, and boy did it fulfill expectations. After losing four all-stars to the NFL, UCLA plummeted to the bottom of the Pac-10 in just about every major statistical category. Enter Joe Tresey, who takes over as the new coordinator. A veteran, who's held the same position at South Florida and Cincinnati, he arrived with a reputation as a developer of young talent and a purveyor of attacking defenses. In Los Angeles, he'll have plenty of talented kids to coach. Yeah, there's a contingency of quality vets, like S Tony Dye and LB Sean Westgate, but the Bruins' future rests with a slew of gifted up-and-comers, with at least two years of eligibility remaining. The program is loaded with future stars, like DT Cassius Marsh, DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, LB Patrick Larimore, and S Dietrich Riley, who'll be All-Pac-12 before their through in Westwood. Tresey needs them to approach that level of play as quickly as possible.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Tony Dye, 96
Sacks: Sean Westgate, 4
Interceptions: Aaron Hester, 3

Star of the defense: Senior FS Tony Dye
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DT Justin Edison
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Patrick Larimore
Best pro prospect: Dye
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dye, 2) Senior LB Sean Westgate, 3) Junior DE Datone Jones
Strength of the defense: D-line depth, team speed, influx of young talent
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, takeaways, third down defense, red zone D, yielding big plays, pressure

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The Bruin D-line is flush with hope and optimism entering the 2011 season. And who can blame it? The front wall loses just one regular, returning six players who started games last fall and a seventh who was supposed to be the cover boy before suffering a season-ending injury. Improvement at the point of attack is essential after UCLA struggled to slow other teams down or consistently generate backfield pressure.

Last season was supposed to be the breakout moment for 6-4, 272-pound senior Datone Jones , who instead missed the entire year with a foot injury. He'll be looking to recapture the momentum he created in 2009, when he started all 13 games and had 30 tackles, 11 stops for loss, and four sacks. After taking up yoga and boxing in the offseason, he's gotten into great shape, adding more quickness to a frame that's already built for the demands of the trenches.

The program is excited about Jones' caddy, 6-4, 264-pound sophomore Owamagbe Odighizuwa , who lettered in his first season out of high school. A phenomenal all-around athlete, with good size, he started six games and had 10 tackles, four stops for loss, and three sacks. The sky is the ceiling for No. 94 once he hones his pass rushing skills.

The race to partner with Jones on the opposite is currently being led by 6-3, 265-pound junior Damien Holmes , who helped fill some of the void in 2010. He's coming off a solid offseason, using his strength and motor to nudge ahead in a tight race. A starter in six games last year, including the last four, he had 28 tackles and just one sack. In August, he'll resume trying to hold off 6-2, 250-pound sophomore Keenan Graham . One of the top defensive ends of 2009, he started six games in his debut and made 18 tackles and a pair of sacks. The hope within the staff is that he'll begin approaching his potential, which is fueled by his burst and cat-like quickness.

The veteran on the inside is 6-4, 292-pound senior Justin Edison , who finally looks as if he's ready to contribute to the team. A quick athlete and former can't-miss recruit, he finally cracked the rotation in 2010, making nine stops and starting three games. Right behind him is 6-1, 305-pound junior Donovan Carter , a converted linebacker getting comfortable on the interior. He earned his first letter and made seven stops last season.

The Bruins can't stop gushing about their other starting tackle, 6-4, 295-pound sophomore Cassius Marsh . Living up to the hype in his first year, he started four games and had 23 tackles. Tough and physical at the point of attack, he'll only keep getting better with more snaps and guidance from the coaching staff. Behind him will be 6-5, 298-pound senior Nate Chandler , the former tight end and offensive tackle, who's made a successful transition to defense. One of the team's most versatile players, he started four games apiece at end and tackle, making 21 stops.

Watch Out For .... it to become very tough to keep Odighizuwa on the sidelines. Yes, he's still a little rough around the edges, but he has the kind of skill set that'll encourage the coaches to get him in the huddle as the season progresses. If Holmes and Graham can't consistently get pressure, the sophomore will become a logical choice ignite the pass rush off the bench.
Strength: Depth. Injuries, specifically to Jones, forced the Bruins to use a very deep rotation last season. UCLA goes two-deep with experienced players, boasting a healthy seven who've started games in the last two seasons. Fresh legs and competition will be abundant throughout the 2011 season.
Weakness: Run defense. Far too often last year, the Bruin linemen got blown off the ball, allowing other teams to run the ball with veritable ease. The team ranked 108th nationally against the run, yielding a pitiful 5.2 yards per carry. If this trend is going to be reversed, it's going to be up to the first line of defense to get more of a push.
Outlook: Better days almost certainly are ahead for the UCLA defensive line. Not only does its best player, Jones, return after missing all of 2010, but the kids, Marsh, Odighizuwa, and Graham are just beginning to hit their strides. While unlikely to become dominant this quickly, the table is set for it to be one of the Pac-12's top units if everyone returns for 2012.
Rating: 7.5


State of the Unit: The Bruin linebackers are going to be solid in 2011, but would have been among the Pac-12's elite had Akeem Ayers decided to return for his senior year. Instead, he's now a Tennessee Titan, leaving a gaping hole at strongside. Fortunately, the program has recruited the position very well since Rick Neuheisel arrived, and has a crew of young players itching to climb the depth chart.

The stalwart at weakside is 5-11, 223-pound senior Sean Westgate , who stood out on his first year as a starter. A terrific special teams performer throughout his career, he also excelled on defense, finishing second on the team with 90 tackles, 11 stops for loss, four sacks, and seven passes broken up. One of the team leaders, he plays with a level of intensity and passion that becomes contagious to the other Bruins.

On the inside will be 6-3, 253-pound junior Patrick Larimore , one of the budding stars of the entire D. Just when he was beginning to hit his stride in the lineup a year ago, he injured his shoulder in Week 7 and was lost for the year. At the time, he'd made 41 tackles and five stops for loss, emerging as one of the team's better run stoppers. He has the size, instincts, and physicality to be a perfect fit for a middle linebacker.

Although he won't unseat Larimore in the middle, the program is excited about the future of 6-1, 235-pound sophomore Isaiah Bowens . A top recruit from the 2009 class, he plays the game with the intensity and the physicality to defend the run.

The newcomer at strongside will be 6-4, 219-pound senior Glenn Love , who makes up for his lack of size with speed and athleticism. A former safety, with three letters of experience, he made 16 stops a year ago. He'll be pushed by 6-4, 230-pound sophomore Jordan Zumwalt , a four-game starter as a rookie. Regardless of what happens this fall, he has a bright future as a Bruin, debuting with 32 tackles and three sacks.

Watch Out For .... Zumwalt to displace Love at some point in the season or preseason. The sophomore has better size and more upside potential than his elder, and is liable to displace him at some point at strongside. He played well enough in his first year to have very high hopes for his future.
Strength: Edge speed. Whether it winds up being Love or Zumwalt who joins Westgate at outside linebacker, the Bruins will have a pair of aggressive defenders capable of wreaking havoc off the edge. Up and down the roster, UCLA boasts athleticism and fresh young legs.
Weakness: Proven depth. The future may be bright on the second level of the D, but it's also extremely light on experienced backups. Zumwalt is an exception, having started games in 2010, but there are mostly underclassmen and former walk-ons filling the second and third teams.
Outlook: Provided the depth chart doesn't need to be tapped and strongside can be figured out, the Bruins ought to be fine at linebacker. Westgate is an anchor and a team leader, while Larimore and the sophomores are only going to get better with more live action. It's a group that may not hit its stride until midway through the season.
Rating: 7


State of the Unit: The Bruins will look to solve last year's pass defense woes without its best player, FS Rahim Moore, who's now a Denver Bronco. The 2010 edition had too many lapses and far too few takeaways, ranking last in the Pac-10 in interceptions. On a positive note, four players with starting experience are back, giving UCLA a veteran feel on the last line of defense.

With Moore gone, 5-11, 205-pound senior Tony Dye takes over as the new leader of the secondary. A versatile playmaker, who's spent time at both corner and safety, he had a team-high 96 tackles and nine passes defended as the strong safety in 2010. He has a knack for always being around the ball, and does a nice job of wrapping up ballcarriers in the open field.

Taking over Dye's old spot at strong safety will be 6-0, 205-pound sophomore Dietrich Riley . Quick out of the gate in his first year on campus, he played in 11 games on defense and special teams, making 21 tackles. A blue-chipper from 2010, he boasts a tremendous blend of size, speed, and agility. Looking to thwart his development is 6-0, 189-pound junior Dalton Hilliard , a two-time letterwinner who had 22 stops last fall. Looking to bounce back from offseason knee surgery, he can play multiple positions in the secondary.

The cornerback position will be handled by a pair of juniors, 6-1, 209-pound Aaron Hester and 6-2, 178-pound Sheldon Price . Hester played well in his first season as a starter, making 26 tackles and a team-high three interceptions. From a physical standpoint, he has the size and speed to begin blossoming once he hones his coverage skills. Price is a third-year starter at the position, chipping in 25 tackles and seven passes defended in only nine games. Possessing the length and long arms to defend taller receivers, he still needs to add weight to become more effective jamming opposing players at the line of scrimmage. Experienced depth at corner will come from 5-10, 181-pound junior Andrew Abbott , who started five games and had 34 tackles in 2010. He's made quite a career for himself after originally arriving as a walk-on.

Watch Out For .... Riley to begin emerging into one of the bright young defensive stars of the Pac-12. In just his second season on campus, he's got it all, from the physical ability to excellent field awareness. In just his second year out of high school, he's already looking like a hard-hitting safety who'll keep playing after college.
Strength: Size. The Bruins have the length and physicality to match up with just about any receiving corps on the schedule, averaging over 6-0. Purely in terms of the measurables, the secondary is an athletic, hard-hitting unit that'll make the other team earn every catch.
Weakness: Money plays. Even with the ball-hawking Moore still on campus, UCLA struggled to produce momentum-changing plays. Despite being thrown on 360 times in 2010, the Bruins managed just seven interceptions in a dozen games, ranking last in the Pac-10 and 110th in the country.
Outlook: This is a defensive backfield with a lot of potential, but now it has to go out and put it all together. Young and unproven a year ago, it has a pivotal season of experience behind it, which will serve the entire defense well this fall. Although the safeties will be solid, it's going to be up to the junior cornerbacks to elevate the overall play of the pass defense.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The sobering reality for the Bruin special teams is that Kai Forbath has exhausted his eligibility with the program. One of the nation's premier placekickers and the 2009 Lou Groza Award winner, he'll be sorely missed. Scheduled to take his place is junior Jeff Locke , a kicking version of a Swiss Army knife. Not only might he take over at placekicker, but he's also handles kickoffs and is the team's punter. And a good one at that. Named second team All-Pac-10, his 45.8-yard average led the league and was No. 5 nationally.

The return game will have a familiar look to a year ago, with seniors Josh Smith and Taylor Embree handling kickoffs and punts, respectively. Neither got loose much last fall, Smith averaging 22.6 yards and Embree 6.9.

Watch Out For… redshirt freshman Kip Smith , who was recruited to win this job in 2011. The next in a long line of can't-miss high school kickers to play at UCLA, it's a bit of a concern that he's yet to lock down this job, even with Locke missing the spring following hip surgery.
Strength: Leg strength. Locke and Smith give UCLA one of the most powerful combinations of legs in America. Locke's hang time and distance were critical reasons why the Bruins led the country in net punting in 2010, and Smith has shown in practice that he can reach from 50 yards out.
Weakness: The coverage teams. A problem in 2009 as well, this has become a disturbing trend for the program. The Bruins were particularly leaky on kickoffs, slipping from 100th nationally two years to 115th a season ago, allowing more than 26 yards a return and a long touchdown.
Outlook: Thank goodness for Locke. So good as a punter, and potentially as the placekicker, he singlehandedly raises the profile of the UCLA special teams. He'll vie for All-American honors, but would get a much-needed break if Smith seizes the placekicking job. Unfortunately, the return game and coverage teams could be staring at another season of mediocrity.
Rating: 7.5

- 2011 UCLA Preview | 2011 UCLA Offense
- 2011 UCLA Defense | 2011 UCLA Depth Chart
- UCLA Previews 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006