UCLA Preview 2006 - Defense
UCLA Bruins
Posted Aug 8, 2006

UCLA Bruins Preview 2006 - ICLA Bruin Defense

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.

Returning Leaders
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 Christian Taylor
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman LB Reggie Carter
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

Defensive Line
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

Projected Starters
- 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 loss
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.

Top Backups
- DT Brigham Harwell, Jr. - 35 tackles, 4 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss
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 last season.
- DE Nikola Dragovic, Jr. - 11 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss
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

Projected Starters
- 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 loss
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 season.

Top Backups
- 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 fast.
- 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.

Defensive backs
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

Projected Starters
- 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 job.

- 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 loss
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.

Top Backups
- 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 year.
- 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.

Special Teams
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:

Projected Starters
- 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.

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UCLA Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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UCLA Preview 2006 - Offense
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UCLA Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
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