What you need to know ... There should've been far more production last year considering
how talented the linebacking corps was. The Bruins were abysmal
against the run finishing 118th in the nation allowing 233 yards
per game, but expect the D to toughen up under new defensive
coordinator DeWayne Walker who cranked up the intensity several
notches this spring. The problem will be size and experience.
It's not a huge front seven, and several first year starters
will have problems early on. Injuries were a problem last year,
but there could be a night-and-day improvement if everyone,
especially tackle Kevin Brown, can stay healthy.
Tackles: FS Dennis Keyes, 57
Sacks: DE Justin Hickman, 5.5
Interceptions: Four players with 1
Star of the defense: Junior DT Kevin Brown
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior MLB
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman LB Reggie
Best pro prospect: Brown
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Brown, 2)
DE Justin Hickman, 3) CB Trey Brown
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, cornerback
Weakness of the defense:
Toughness, experience, size up front
The line has potential even without a lot of bulk
on the inside. It's not a light line on the outside, but there's not a
300-pound rock who eats everything up against the run, even though Kevin
Brown, who returns from an ankle injury, comes close. Rotation will be
the key to being better against the run since it's a line full of
slightly undersized, but quick tackles and big ends who aren't all that
physical. Even with all the problems, the possibility exists for a
turnaround year as long as Brown plays well on the inside and potential
pass rushing terror Nikola Dragovich's knee is healthy. This will be an
active group that has to avoid getting shoved around.
The key to the unit: Stop the run, stop the run, stop
the run. Oh yeah, and stop the run.
Defensive Line Rating: 6.5
- LDE Bruce Davis, Jr. - 28 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 tackles for loss
Davis can play either end or linebacker and is the true definition of a
tweener. He's not quite quick enough to be a steady linebacker and is a
bit too light at 230 pounds to be an every down end. Even so, he's an
effective pass rusher when put in the right situation.
- LDT Kenneth Lombard, Soph. - 21 tackles, 1 sack, 3
tackles for loss
The former tackle will move to the outside giving the Bruins a big,
268-pound end to do more against the run. The First-Team Pac 10
All-Academic performer is quick enough to start anywhere on the line if needed,
but he had a hard time holding up and staying healthy.
- RDT Chase Moline, Soph. - 25 tackles, 1 sack, 3.5 tackles for
Moline is a promising true sophomore who saw plenty of action in every
game last year. He's an active, undersized tackle at 6-1 and 274
pounds using his quickness to make plays. He'll be even more a part of
the rotation this year along with Kevin Brown.
- RDE Justin Hickman, Sr. - 31 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 8
tackles for loss
The team's leading sacker last year returns and is expected to grow into
one of the Pac 10's best linemen. He's a good-sized end at 261 pounds,
but his key is his combination of quickness and strength. While not a
speed rusher, he's good and exploding into the backfield when the
opportunity is there. He can play either end position if needed.
- DT Brigham Harwell, Jr. - 35 tackles, 4 sacks, 11.5 tackles
An end playing tackle, the 274-pound Harwell struggled last year against
stronger linemen, but was able to use his quickness to make plays
against the slower ones. He played his true freshman year at end before
being moved inside, and now he knows what he's doing. However, he'll
need to be more physical against the power running teams.
- DE William Snead, Jr. - 20 tackles, 1.5 sacks
A part-time starter last year, Snead needs to grow into more of a sack
artist. The 253-pound junior is one of the team's faster linemen and a
great all-around athlete and will be expected to flourish in a
full-time role on the right side. He can play linebacker if a the D
needs to add more bulk up front.
- DE Kevin Brown, Jr.
Brown's return can't come fast enough for the woebegone run defense. The
297-pound junior suffered an ankle injury last summer and ended up
missing the entire year. He's the team's biggest presence inside and is
quick enough to get into the backfield on a regular basis providing the anchor the line sorely needed
- DE Nikola Dragovic, Jr. - 11 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for
The starter early on last year, the 252-pound junior missed most of the
year after suffering a knee injury. When right, he has the best
all-around pass rushing skills on the team with great quickness, a
fantastic burst and the strength to shed blockers.
It might not be a positive to
lose talents like Spencer Havner, Justin London and Wesley Walker, but
their departure won't hurt that much considering how horrendous the D
was against the run. Experience is a big, big problem with a slew of
career special teamers and green backups getting their chance to shine.
John Hale is a good-looking prospect who should fill Havner's role as
the D's dominant playmaker, while Christian Taylor and Reggie Carter
should combine to be strong in the middle. Eric McNeal and Aaron
Whittington have to use their speed on the weakside to add more
production against the run.
The key to the unit: Not letting the inexperience
become too costly. There isn't a lot of size, so quickness and
athleticism will be important to improving the run defense.
Linebacker Rating: 6
- John Hale, Soph. - 20 tackles
Hale is a player to watch out for. At 6-4 and 225 pounds, he's a rangy
defender with the athleticism to play on the outside and the toughness
to battle in the middle. He had a strong true freshman season and will
be the team's most experienced linebacker returning. It's a lot of
pressure to put on him on the strongside, but he should be able to
handle it. It'll be a stunner if he
doesn't lead the team in tackles if he can stay healthy all year.
- Christian Taylor, Jr. - 43 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
The former Air Force transfer was a strong backup in the middle as well
as a key special teamer. He's only 6-0 and has limited range, but he's a rock-solid 220 pounds
who finds his way through traffic to make plays. He's a good athlete and
a great leader. Don't expect him to be a big-time player
sideline-to-sideline, but he should be good against the run.
- Eric McNeal, Sr. - 35 tackles, 1 interception, 3 tackles for
An excellent reserve as both a linebacker and safety, the 209-pound
senior will find a home on the weakside. He adds some much needed speed
to the linebacking corps and should be tremendous in pass coverage. He shouldn't have a problem getting to the ball,
but It remains to be seen how he'll hold up against the run for a full
- Aaron Whittington, Jr. - 16 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
It'll be a battle all off-season for the starting weakside job, and at
the very least, Whittington will be a key player in the rotation along
with Eric McNeal. He wasn't healthy for most of last year with a leg
problem, but he still was a key special teamer and a good backup. The
leg bruise didn't let him build on a strong freshman season, but the
210-pounder should break out this year.
- Reggie Carter, RFr.
The sky's the limit. Carter was a top recruit and flashed some of his
talents on the scout team last year. It's just a question of time before
the 225-pounder finds his way into the starting lineup at some spot,
most likely in the middle or the weakside. He's a tackling machine and really, really
- Fred Holmes, Jr. - 2 tackles
The junior was never right last year battling through a hip problem.
He's still trying to get healthy by the time the season rolls around,
and he's desperately needed for his size. At 245 pounds, he's by far the
team's biggest linebacker able to play inside or outside.
- Kyle Bosworth, Soph. - 1 tackle
The main backup behind John Hale on the strongside, the 215-pound
Bosworth will spend most of his time on special teams. The nephew of
former Oklahoma star Brian Bosworth, Kyle is a fantastic all-around
athlete. He might be better suited for the weakside, but he's tough
enough to handle himself at any of the positions.
Compared to the run
defense, the pass defense was a brick wall allowing 235 yards per game.
This will be an interesting group with several good athletes and a lot
of young players needing to play big roles. Someone has to step up right
away and fill the leadership and production void left by Jerrad Page,
but just making more big plays would be nice from a secondary that only
picked off five passes. The strength should be at corner where Trey
Brown and Rodney Van are solid, and backups Michael Norris and Byron
Velega have good potential.
The key to the unit: Making more big plays and
getting more stops on third downs.
Secondary Rating: 6.5
- CB Trey Brown, Jr. - 53 tackles, 1 interception, 10
broken up passes
A key starter over the last two years, Brown is a tough-as-nails corner
who's strong in run support and quick when the ball is in the air. He's
not huge at 5-10 and 189 pounds, but he can handle himself well against
bigger receivers and will be the team's top cover-corner. He's just
starting to come into his own and should be an All-Pac 10 performer.
- FS Dennis Keyes, Jr. - 57 tackles, 2 sacks, 8 tackles for loss,
6 broken up passes
A good all-around defender, Keyes is good in coverage and is a good
enough hitter to play strong safety. His experience will earn him a
starting job early on, but he'll have to battle with several good young
players to keep the give. He has the speed and time to consistently make
plays in the backfield and he's the biggest option for the free safety
- SS Chris Horton, Jr. - 26 tackles, 1 broken up pass
Barring injury, Horton should be the tone-setter of the secondary. He
missed most of last year with a wrist injury, but he came back late to
be a strong special teams performer as well as a part-time player at
free safety. He's an active player who makes things happen and hits like
a ton of bricks.
- CB Rodney Van, Jr. - 22 tackles, 1 interception, 1 tackle for
The likely starter on the right side, the 6-1 junior is one of the
team's bigger corners. A special teamer for most of last year, he has
enough experience at corner to be a good contributor right away. He has
the speed to grow into a top playmaker, and he'll get his chances with
most offenses looking to stay away from Trey Brown.
- CB Michael Norris, Jr. - 18 tackles, 1 sack, 1
interception, 4 broken up passes
Norris came in on obvious passing downs and was a decent special teamer.
He has decent size at 5-11 and 185 pounds and he can flat-out fly.
He'll be a speedy option on the left side behind Trey Brown and the
first backup corner in the rotation.
- CB Alterraun Verner, Fr.
The coaching staff is planning on the true freshmen to step in right
away. He's not big and has to hit a college weight room, but he has
talent to see plenty of action.
- SS/FS Aaron Ware, RFr.
The younger brother of former UCLA star Matt Ware, Aaron was a
tremendous scout teamer last year and provides good size and next-level
athleticism to the secondary. He's battling with Robert Kibble for time
behind Dennis Keyes at free safety, but it won't be long before he a
major part of the rotation.
- FS Robert Kibble, Soph. - 7 tackles
Kibble isn't all that big at 5-10 and 175 pounds, but he packs a nice
punch in his tackles. He's not nearly the prospect Aaron Ware is, but
he's a good player who should grow into a valuable nickel back. Even
though he has multiple sclerosis, it's not expected to be a problem this
- FS/SS Bret Lockett, Soph. - 2 tackles
At 6-2 and 204 pounds, he's the biggest defensive back in the mix and
will be needed to provide more run support in a rotation at both safety
spots. He's a strong tackler and a good special teamer with enough
athleticism to potentially be a difference maker.
PK Justin Medlock is back after getting suspended from the team
late last year for drunk
driving. He hit 42 of 56 field goals and 118 of 119 extra points in his
first three years and should be a difference maker once again. Aaron
Perez is an all-star waiting to happen at punter, while Chris Markey
will ensure that the return game doesn't slip after losing All-American
Maurice Drew. The coverage units were decent last year allowing 7.1
yards per punt return and 19.5 yards per kickoff return. Expect better
numbers this year with several veterans back.
The key to the unit: Getting more punch out
of the kickoff returns if Chris Markey isn't the full-time returner.
Special Teams Rating: 9
- PK Justin Medlock, Sr. - 13-17 FGs, 50-50 extra points
Medlock is back on the
team after getting arrested for drunk driving. He's one of the best
kickers in America hitting ten of his last 11 field goal attempts last
year. He has a big leg nailing 7 of 11 shots from beyond 40 yards.
- P Aaron Perez, Soph. - 39.9 yards per punt, 19 inside the 20
Perez had a nice first year considering he was a freshman, and now big
things are expected out of him. At 6-2 and 220 pounds, he's a big kicker
with a huge leg and nice touch.
- Punt/Kick Returner Chris Markey, Jr. - 17 KOR, 22.5-yard
average, 3 PR 16-yard average
It's asking an awful lot to replace Maurice Drew as a punt returner
after he averaged 28.5 yards per try with three touchdowns, but Chris
Markey can more than hold his own as a kickoff returner. As Markey's
role increases as a running back, look for backup tailback Kahlil Bell
to get more return work.