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2009 UCLA Preview - Defense
UCLA DT Brian Price
UCLA DT Brian Price
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 9, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - UCLA Bruin Defense

UCLA Bruins

Preview 2009
- Defense


- 2009 CFN UCLA Preview
| 2009 UCLA Offense
- 2009 UCLA Defense | 2009 UCLA Depth Chart
- 2008 UCLA Preview | 2007 UCLA Preview | 2006 UCLA Preview 

What you need to know: With an All-American candidate at each level and a slew of young talent, courtesy of the last two recruiting classes, UCLA will be home to one of the Pac-10’s stingiest defenses. DT Brian Price, LB Reggie Carter, and CB Alterraun Verner form the foundation of a unit that has a head of steam and 10 returners with starting experience. The biggest loss was defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who’s now the head coach at New Mexico State. His replacement, Chuck Bullough, was already on staff and doesn’t plan on changing much about the system. Alongside the veterans are future stars, like DE Datone Jones, LB Akeem Ayers, and S Rahim Moore, giving the Bruins a nice blend of stable upperclassmen and youthful enthusiasm. The biggest concerns will be to plug the gaps on a run defense that was exposed too often and get pocket pressure from someone other than DE Korey Bosworth.   

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Reggie Carter, 83
Sacks: Korey Bosworth, 7.5
Interceptions: Rahim Moore, 3

Star of the defense: Junior DT Brian Price
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt freshman CB Aaron Hester
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Akeem Ayers
Best pro prospect: Price
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Price, 2) LB Reggie Carter, 3) CB Alterraun Verner
Strength of the defense: Middle of the D, Pass defense
Weakness of the defense: Takeaways, Run defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The unrivaled star of the entire UCLA program is 6-2, 295-pound junior Brian Price, one of the premier defensive tackles in America. An All-Pac-10 first teamer and a candidate to leave early for the NFL draft, he’s on the verge of out growing the college game. Explosive off the snap and strong at the point of attack, he 35 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks, huge numbers for an inside lineman. Even more important, he plays with the determination of an underclassmen trying to win a spot on the two-deep. 

Next to Price will be 6-2, 297-pound senior Jerzy Siewierski, a blue-collar grinder, who has toiled as a backup for three years while waiting for this opportunity. Both tough at the point of contact and quick out of his stance, he’s shown a knack for getting penetration, making six tackles for loss in limited duty over the last two years.

The Bruins’ best pure pass rusher is 6-1, 244-pound senior Korey Bosworth, last year’s leading sacker. A former linebacker, he’s bulked up through the years, yet maintained his quickness and non-stop motor. He fought through the blocks of larger players throughout the 2008 season to make 55 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and three fumble recoveries.

The closest battle of the summer will take place at the other defensive end spot. Coming out of spring camp, it was a dead heat between 6-4, 253-pound sophomore Datone Jones and 6-3, 259-pound junior Reginald Stokes. One of the top recruits from the 2008 class, Jones got on the field for 10 games as a true freshman, earning two starts and making 15 tackles. He already has the lean of a natural pass rusher and the burst around the edge of a future all-star in this league.

WWhile Stokes has an additional season in the program, he doesn’t have any more on-field experience on Jones, so that edge is neutralized. He did start five games as a sophomore, making 20 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, but not a single sack. While he has functional speed, he’ll need to parlay it into more production in order to hold off the hard-charging Jones.

Projected Top Reserves: The loser of the battle between Stokes and Jones will be the first defensive end off the bench and still hold an important role in the rotation. The Bruins like to keep everyone fresh, so both will get plenty of chances to beef up the resume and pressure the quarterback.

Senior Jess Ward will provide outstanding depth off the bench at defensive tackle and possibly compete for the starting job next to Price. One of the strongest players on the team, he’s tough to move off his base, clogging running lanes and occupying blockers. A three-time letterwinner, he’s a selfless veteran, who even took some snaps on the offensive line in 2008.

Watch Out For… Jones to beat out Stokes in the summer. Whatever edge Stokes had by being in the program longer has evaporated. The second-year sophomore flashes a higher upside and the athleticism to take advantage of all the attention Price and Bosworth will get.
Strength: Price. He’s one of those rare defensive lineman, who is so good that he makes everyone around him better. A 6-2, 295-pound tackle, with the pass rushing skills of an end, he forces the other team to commit multiple players to hold him in check. It rarely works.
Weakness: Run defense. The Bruins need to do more at the point of attack and prevent so many plays from breaking into the second and third lines of defense. During a four-game stretch in the middle of the year, they allowed each Pac-10 opponent to gut them for more than 200 yards on the ground, which cannot be repeated. 
Outlook: While Price and Bosworth are all-conference types, they need more help on the inside and outside, respectively, if the defense is going to take a step forward. It’s incumbent upon Jones, Siewierski, and Ward to clean up some of the messes, especially in run defense.
Rating: 7.5


Linebackers


Projected Starters: For a second straight year, the leader of the linebackers will be 6-1, 240-pound Reggie Carter, the team’s man in the middle. A natural on the inside after pitching in at outside linebacker, he had a Bruin-best 83 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles to earn All-Pac-10 second team honors. While not the fastest member of the group, he has great functional strength and physicality, sifting through the trash and imploding on impact. He will punish the opposition, setting the tone for the rest of the defense.

The rising star of the unit is 6-4, 255-pound sophomore Akeem Ayers, who is big enough to put his hand in the dirt, yet has the range and athleticism to be the starter at strongside. After redshirting in 2007, he had a strong debut last fall, earning three starts and making 40 tackles, five tackles for loss, and four sacks. If he can maintain his agility at this size, he’s got a future on the All-Pac-10 squad.

Returning to weakside is senior Kyle Bosworth, who missed almost all of 2008 with a sprained knee. In his last full season, he started seven games and was fifth on the team with 74 tackles and five tackles for loss.  At 6-1 and 236 pounds, he plays very fast and very physical, making him a candidate to occasionally be turned loose on the blitz.

Projected Top Reserves: When Bosworth went down last September, it opened the door for 6-4, 235-pound sophomore Steve Sloan to enter the lineup at middle linebacker. He responded with 29 tackles, 2.5 tackles, and one valuable education in nine starts. An instinctive and feisty defender, he’ll spend one more year behind Carter before supplanting him in 2010.

At weakside, the likely heir apparent is 5-11, 210-pound sophomore Sean Westgate, an unlikely contributor in his first season out of high school. Built more like a safety, he flew all over the field on defense and special teams, making 18 stops and earning a letter. He brings a passion and a fiery attitude to the defense that’s liable to become contagious.

Watch Out For…Carter to get some All-America recognition in his final year. Miscast on the outside a year ago, he still wound up leading the team in tackles and earning All-Pac-10 recognition. At middle linebacker, his modest speed won’t be an issue and his production is about skyrocket.
Strength: Depth. The upside to Bosworth’s injury was that it forced Sloan to swim in the deep end of the pool. The Bruins now boast four players with starting experience and a two-deep that’s seasoned and better prepared to recover from another injury.
Weakness: Speed to the edge. Yeah, they’re quick, but they are not the fastest group in the Pac-10, causing problems when a Jahvid Best or Joe McKnight gets outside the tackle. On the outside, Ayers and Bosworth are big and physical defenders, who’ll struggle to string out the game’s faster backs.
Outlook: Now that Carter is back in a familiar place and Bosworth is healthy, UCLA is poised to have one of the league’s best linebacking corps. On the strongside, Ayers has exciting potential and the athletic makeup to do a little bit of everything.
Rating: 8


Secondary


Projected Starters: A pair of starters, CB Michael Norris and S Bret Lockett, are gone from a secondary that was No. 8 nationally in pass defense and got better as the season progressed. The star of the defensive backfield is 5-11, 184-pound senior Alterraun Verner, a fourth-year starter and a returning member of the All-Pac-10 team. A bona fide lockdown corner, he really started to turn the corner in 2008, finishing second on the team with 73 tackles and No. 1 nationally in passes defended. He breaks to the ball extremely well and becomes a playmaker once he gets it in his mitts.

As quarterbacks look to avoid Verner’s side, 6-1, 200-pound redshirt freshman Aaron Hester will be firmly on the hot seat. He’s obviously young, but has no shortage of confidence or physical talent, and just might be up to the challenge. He has the size to support in run defense and the speed and instincts to endure as a pass defender in his first year. If he can overcome the initial wave of attacks, he could wind up getting Freshman All-America consideration.

The Bruins have had success before with freshmen in the secondary. Recent success. Starting FS Rahim Moore was in the lineup for all 12 games as a rookie, making 60 tackles and picking off three passes. A tremendous blend of size, speed, and athleticism, he’s destined to be the headliner of this unit once Verner graduates.

At strong safety is another up-and-comer, 6-4, 212-pound sophomore Glenn Love. After sitting out 2007 with hip problems, he got on the field as a redshirt freshman, playing in a dozen games on defense and special teams and making 23 tackles. With the size of a linebacker and the feet of a safety, he has a very high ceiling provided he can remain off the trainer’s table.

Projected Top Reserves: After being the primary nickel back a year ago, 5-11, 198-pound sophomore Tony Dye will again have a pivotal role as Moore’s backup at free safety. He played in 11 games and made 15 tackles in his first year out of high, earning the respect and the confidence of the coaching staff. A hybrid, who can play safety or corner, he has great hips and might be the best pass defender among the safeties.

Among the backup cornerbacks, no one has more experience than sophomore Courtney Viney, who came off the bench in all 12 games and had 17 tackles. The 2007 Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year, he overcomes a 5-8, 159-pound frame with outstanding speed, quickness, and leaping ability.

Watch Out For… Hester’s development under a microscope. As every opponent gives Verner the cold shoulder, Hester emerges as one of the most important young players on this defense. Although he has the right demeanor and skills to survive on an island, he’s going to have his hands full in this first year in the lineup.
Strength: Aggressiveness. The Bruins have the right mix of athletes to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and make them earn every reception. Although it’s a young collection of talent, UCLA is not afraid to get after opponents, allowing just six yards an attempt last fall and seven touchdown passes in the final eight games.
Weakness: Inconsistency. Verner aside, this is a very young ensemble that’s still prone to blown coverages and missed assignments. Coming out of spring, the two-deep consisted of one senior, four sophomores, and three freshmen. The future is bullish. The present, however, could feature the occasional stumble.
Outlook: Sure, the Bruins are going to be young in the defensive backfield, but most of those fresh faces, like Hester, Moore, and Love, were blue-chippers, with enormous potential. They’ll begin to approach those expectations this fall. With Verner essentially cutting off one swath of the field, the pass defense should be able to pick up where it left off last November.
Rating: 8

Special Teams


Projected Starters: In junior Kai Forbath, UCLA boasts one of the premier placekickers in the country. He has both distance and accuracy, nailing 44-of-52 career field goal attempts, including a sizzling 6-of-6 beyond 50 yards. On a team that has a noticeable lack of firepower, he is arguably its most consistent weapon.

At punter, the Bruins are faced with replacing All-Pac-10 first teamer Aaron Perez, who exhausted his eligibility. His likely successor is redshirt freshman Jeff Locke, who was widely considered the nation’s premier punter coming out of high school in 2008. He clearly has the booming leg strength to step in and excel right away.

The primary return man on punts and kickoffs will once again be Terrence Austin, an All-Pac-10 selection, with a good finishing kick. Although he wasn’t to take one back in 2008, he came close on multiple occasions.

Watch Out For… Locke’s development. It won’t happen overnight, but he’s on track to be the next really good punter at UCLA. He’s mature for a redshirt freshman, and has the leg pop to be an asset to the defense.
Strength: Forbath. On a team that’s short on offensive punch, he’s the one sure-thing when the Bruins cross midfield. Forbath has been automatic in his first two seasons, displaying the accuracy and length that’s becoming customary for UCLA placekickers.  
Weakness: The coverage teams. By far, the biggest offseason concern for the coaching staff is to plug the holes on coverage units that were leaky throughout 2008. The Bruins finished 107th nationally in punt coverage and 100th on kickoffs, doing no favors for a defense that deserved more support.
Outlook: With Forbath and Austin leading the way, UCLA will once again be among the Pac-10’s best special teams units. Locke has a high ceiling, which should include all-star recognition before getting too deep into his career.
Rating: 8.5