Tuesday, 19 March 2013 20:54

Spring Preview - Defensive Line

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McClure Angus 405Every great football team’s core foundation is built in the trenches. The roaming grounds for the big, tough and mighty. Your team’s success will rise or fall on the play of these players.{mprestriction ids="3,4,5,6"}

UCLA starts their spring practice in two weeks. The Bruin defensive line is going to be one of the strongest units on this year’s squad.

The projected starting team of Cassius Marsh, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Seali’i Epenesa will get the first look going into spring practice. But the competition will be intense.

Defensive Line Coach Angus McClure has done an outstanding job in his first year at the helm last year. He is going into his seventh year at UCLA. 

McClure’s first five years with the Bruins, he coached a combination of tight ends, offensive line, special teams coordinator and was the recruiting coordinator. He remains recruiting coordinator for the Bruins.

In McClure’s twenty years of coaching the great majority of that time was spent on the offensive side of the ball. His transition to coaching defensive line has been remarkable. Two of his three starters last year were chosen to the all-Pac 12 Conference teams, (Datone Jones) and (Marsh.)

McClure’s ability to coach the defensive line will continue to get better as he understands the nuances of the position. 

The projected starting three Marsh, Epenesa and Odighizuwa, all have very good basic fundamentals for their positions. 

Marsh and Odighizuwa, both have great technique. They are strong and explosive at the point of attack, have the ability to identify plays, put pressure on the quarterback, get off blocks and go make tackles. 

The one intangible, they both have, that makes a defensive lineman outstanding, is their constant motor. 

Marsh and Odighizuwa both play hard every play. In football jargon, they play whistle to whistle and don’t take any plays off. You can’t teach that to a player he’s gotta have the heart and will to not be denied.

Epenesa was a solid anchor on the nose last year, but he needs to improve on his pass rush. He can’t be satisfied just securing the guard and center areas. He also needs to improve on getting off his blocks. More often than not he stayed blocked for too long.

For the first time in many years the Bruins have quality depth. They go two and even three deep across the line. Expect to see Brandon Willis, Ellis McCarthy and Brandon Tuliaupupu to start out as the second unit, but that could change throughout the spring.

Willis played nose tackle most of spring last year. He was switched to tackle when he reported to fall camp last year. He didn’t get a lot of playing time last year but with his off season improvement, Willis could be a player to watch this spring. He was rated one of the top defensive lineman in his class out of high school.

A very interesting competition to watch will be the battle between McCarthy and Epenesa at the nose tackle spot. Although McCarthy is projected to be a tackle, he has the athletic skills and versatility to play the nose too. He was a five star defensive lineman out of Monrovia High School and it’s going to be extremely difficult to keep him off the field.

The big question for McCarthy will be how well he’s recovered from two knee surgeries. If McCarthy is well enough to go full speed, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him as the starting nose tackle by the end of spring. McCarthy is a dynamic player who can take over a game.

Freshmen Sam Tai and Eli Ankou, report to spring as total unknowns to UCLA fans. Tai’s coming off knee surgery and Ankou is chomping at the bit to show what he will bring to the table.

The only two incoming freshmen for the class of 2013 are Kenneth Clark from Rialto (Calif.) Carter and Kylie Fitts from Redlands (Calif.) Redlands East Valley.

Clark won’t report until fall camp, but Fitts is an early enrollee and will participate this spring football practice. 

Seeing how Fitts does this spring will be interesting for fans to watch. Fitts will compete at the defensive end position this spring and get a good long look. He could very easily play himself into the playing rotation. He has tremendous natural skills. 

Fitts plays with great intensity, passion and competitive fire. This young man has a non-stop motor. If he picks up the defensive schemes and applies his talent, we can expect to see great things from him.

UCLA Football spring practice will be very entertaining. There will be some serious collisions at Spaulding field much to the approval of the Bruin faithful.

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