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2008 UCLA Preview - Defense
UCLA LB Reggie Carter
UCLA LB Reggie Carter
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 20, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - UCLA Bruin Defense

UCLA Bruins

Preview 2008
- Defense


- 2008 CFN UCLA Preview
| 2008 UCLA Offense
- 2008 UCLA Defense | 2008 UCLA Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN UCLA Preview | 2006 CFN UCLA Preview 

What you need to know: The D must regroup after losing its best pass rusher, top linebacker, and three-quarters of the starting secondary to graduation. Neuheisel cleaned up with defensive backfield recruits, landing CB Aaron Hester and S Rahim Moore, both of whom will have a chance to crack the two-deep. Up-and-coming Brian Price and veteran Brigham Harwell, who was given an extra year of eligibility, are a good pair of tackles who’ll lend hope to a run defense that was a major strength. LB Reggie Carter is flying under the radar and Alterraun Verner is a game-breaker on the brink of becoming one of the Pac-10’s most dynamic cover corners. The schedule does no favors for a defense in flux, so it’ll be trial by fire.  

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Alterraun Verner, 75
Sacks: Tom Blake, 3
Interceptions:
Alterraun Verner, 4

Star of the defense: Junior LB Reggie Carter
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Michael Norris
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Brian Price
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Alterraun Verner
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Carter 2) Verner 3) Senior DT Brigham Harwell
Strength of the defense: The middle of the defense
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, veteran depth

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The Bruin line looks like the aftermath of a tornado losing three key seniors to graduation, particularly All-American DE Bruce Davis. The lone bright spot is the return of DT Brigham Harwell, an all-league candidate who was granted another year after missing most of last season with a knee injury. The program’s best run stuffer, he’s entering his third season as the starter. At 6-2 and 292 pounds, Harwell plays with intensity and the pad level to knock opposing linemen off their base.

Next to Harwell on the inside will be sophomore Brian Price, one of the rising stars of the UCLA defense. He played very well as a true freshman, making 14 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and a sack in a foundation-building debut. At 6-1 and 297 pounds, he’s tough to handle one-on-one and possesses the burst to shoot the gap and make plays for negative yards.

Attempting to offset some of Davis’ lost production will be senior Tom Blake and junior Korey Bosworth. By far the larger of the pair at 6-4 and 259 pounds, Blake is a natural pass rusher with the heft to also assist on running downs. In his first season removed from UC-Davis, he started eight games, making 32 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and four fumble recoveries.  With Davis gone, Blake now has to show he can be the catalyst for the pass rush.

Bosworth played well in his first season on the line, delivering 34 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. A 6-1, 235-pound converted linebacker, he’ll offset an obvious lack of ideal size with tremendous quickness and work ethic. He’s a potential liability against the run meaning he’ll have to work to keep a starting job.       

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Jess Ward provides an experienced presence on the second unit at defensive tackle. One of the program’s stronger players at the point of attack, he started six games as a second-year player, chipping in 18 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.

Like Ward, junior Jerzy Siewierski is a blue-collar, no-nonsense tackle who’ll help bolster the situation at tackle. He appeared in all 13 games a year ago, showing good acceleration while making 13 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.

There’s a gaping void in the rotation at defensive end that 6-3, 250-pound sophomore Reginald Stokes is hoping to fill. After doing a one-year apprenticeship on the scout team, he’s shown the athleticism of a linebacker that should garner him relevant reps this season.

Watch Out For… incoming freshmen Damien Holmes and Datone Jones. Any Bruins capable of getting pressure on the quarterback will get on the field this season. Holmes and Jones are a pair of mega-recruits with the explosive pass-rushing skills to fill the bill.
Strength: The interior. The two-deep at defensive tackle is very strong, with all four players capable of stepping in and making plays. Harwell’s return and Price’s development give the Bruins a formidable pair of run-stoppers on the inside.
Weakness: Defensive end. Blake and Bosworth are solid pass-rushers, but won’t be confused with some of the Pac-10’s best ends. Even worse, UCLA is thin beyond the first unit, desperately needing a few of the untested underclassmen to prove their mettle.
Outlook: After finishing in the top 15 nationally in sacks and run defense, the Bruins will be challenged to match those rankings again in 2008. There’s ample talent on the inside, but it’ll be next to impossible to replace the production and energy that Davis consistently brought to the field.
Rating: 7.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: Now that Christian Taylor has graduated, junior Reggie Carter is set to take over in the middle and become one of the rising defensive stars of the Pac-10.  While at weakside a year ago, he had 62 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and two sacks, numbers that don’t explain his full potential as a defender. At 6-1 and 221 pounds, he plays with outstanding tenacity and range, the one Bruin linebacker who could win a starting job across town at USC. 

Taking over for Carter at weakside will be senior Kyle Bosworth, who started seven games at strongside and was fifth on the team with 74 tackles and five tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 222 pounds, he plays very fast and very physical, making him a candidate to occasionally be turned loose on the blitz.

The new starter at strongside is veteran John Hale, a senior who has earned a letter following each of the last three years. The biggest of the linebackers at 6-4 and 220 pounds, he has starting experience, excels in run defense, and should have few problems transitioning into a full-time role.

Projected Top Reserves: Besides Carter, the future at the position belongs to a couple of talented redshirt freshmen, 6-2, 231-pound Akeem Ayers and 6-3, 225-pound Steve Sloan. The likely starter at strongside in 2009, he plays with a high degree of athleticism and instincts beyond his years.

Sloan will back up Carter in the middle, soaking up all he can as a part-time player. Another prized recruit from 2007, he accelerates quickly to the ball and can really pack a punch. Both young players get their feet wet this fall before playing far more prominent roles over the next three years. 

Watch Out For… Carter to explode into national notoriety. A true playmaker from the position, he’s about to become the star of the Bruin defense, shifting inside where he’ll get an opportunity to make a ton of tackles and big hits behind the line.
Strength: First team experience. The first team is comprised of three upperclassmen with starting experience. Even Hale, the newcomer in the lineup, has a long resume and the savvy to smoothly transition into an expanded role.
Weakness: Second team inexperience. Ayers and Sloan have bright futures, but they’re freshmen who’ll be prone to freshmen mistakes. The veteran is senior Joshua Edwards, who has played sparingly since transferring from UC-Davis.
Outlook: With Carter as the headliner, the Bruins have a solid group of linebackers that’ll make plenty of plays this season. The key will be for the starters to remain healthy because depth is going to be an ongoing concern.
Rating: 8

Secondary

Projected Starters: The secondary will be breaking in a bunch of new starters. The leader of the rebuilt group will be junior Alterraun Verner, a lockdown cornerback who started 11 games a year ago. A sensational all-around athlete at 5-11 and 176 pounds, he had 75 tackles, three tackles for loss, four interceptions, and 15 passes broken up. He’s a playmaker out of the defensive backfield who could become an All-American before he’s through.

Although senior CB Michael Norris has played a lot of football for the program, he’s only started a single game in four years, making his leap into the lineup one of the big concerns heading into the season. Undersized at 5-9 and 177 pounds, he had 13 tackles, mostly in mop-up duty. With Verner on the other side, Norris is going to get accustomed to being picked on by opposing quarterbacks.

Of the two new starting safeties, senior SS Bret Lockett enters the season with more experience and a longer resume. He’s lettered in each of the last three seasons, contributing on special teams and pitching in 12 tackles last season. A big hitter at 6-2 and 204 pounds, he needs to learn to play under control and cut down on his mental errors.

At free safety, junior Aaron Ware moves into the starting lineup after mostly appearing on special teams the last two seasons. He’s a good all-around athlete at 6-0 and 193 pounds who’s quick enough to hold up in coverage and tough enough to support the run. Of the new starters, Ware has the highest ceiling.

Projected Top Reserves: Feisty redshirt freshman Courtney Viney is coming off the kind of spring that caught the staff’s attention and earned him a spot on the two-deep. Unfortunately, he’s inexperienced and only 5-8 and 153 pounds, meaning he’ll be limited in his ability to shut down the Pac-10’s bigger receivers.

While he probably won’t beat out Ware at free safety, the Bruins are excited about the future of redshirt freshman Glenn Love, a 6-4, 207-pound athlete with the size and speed to play an expanded role as a backup. He’s raw, but with time and reps, could evolve into a special player at either safety position.

Watch Out For… the Bruins to make plenty of concessions to prevent Norris from being on an island too often.  Even if it means having the safeties cheat over to help out, UCLA will need to provide support for a player that’s better served as a backup.
Strength: Verner. Easily the most reliable of the defensive backs, he’s about to become the leader of the secondary and a strong contender for All-Pac-10 honors. More than just a good defender, he becomes an offensive player with the ball in his hands, scoring touchdowns on picks in each of his first two seasons.
Weakness: Preventing the big play. UCLA has had lapses in coverage when it was loaded with veterans in the secondary. Now that three starters must be replaced and the newcomers are questionable, it could be a very long season for the Bruin pass defense if it takes a while for everyone to grow up.
Outlook: The weak link of the UCLA defense, the secondary is flush with question marks and uncertainty after Verner with depth the biggest concern. In a league that still leans on the pass, the Bruins will be ripe for the picking for many of the Pac-10’s better passers.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: While there’s uncertainty everywhere else on the roster, the Bruins can take solace in the special teams, their most stable unit. Sophomore PK Kai Forbath was brilliant in his first season replacing All-American Justin Medlock, connecting on 25-of-30 field goal attempts, including 5-of-5 outside 50 yards. A future All-America candidate himself, he gives way on kickoffs to junior Jimmy Rotstein, who has a slightly stronger leg.

Back for a third year as the punter is Aaron Perez, a strong-legged senior who has gotten better with each passing season. The 6-4, 229-pounder averaged 42.3 yards a year ago and placed a whopping 35 punts inside the opponent’s 20, earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 recognition for his efforts.

The glass is half empty for the return game. Although explosive kick returner Matt Slater has departed, top punt returner Terrence Austin.  The junior is dangerous in the open field, averaging more than 10 yards a return in each of the last two seasons. Junior Christian Ramirez is expected to succeed Slater on kickoffs.   

Watch Out For… Austin. He almost broke through a couple of times last year and took punts back for six.  Austin has the speed and moves in the open field to make it happen more than once this season.
Strength: Forbath. On a team that lacks offensive punch, he’s arguably its best weapon.  Forbath was automatic in his debut, showing the accuracy and distance that’s becoming customary for Bruin placekickers.
Weakness: Kickoff returns. It’s splitting hairs on a very solid unit, but going from Slater, who had three touchdowns last season, to Ramirez is a drop-off in field position that’s going to be felt by the offense.
Outlook: For all of his faults, former head coach Karl Dorrell had a knack for assembling quality special teams units. He leaves the new staff with a full cupboard that’ll be among the best in the Pac-10 again this season.
Rating: 9