Thursday, 21 March 2013 01:27

Spring Preview - Linebackers

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Barr Anthony 300This linebacker group is the most talented, athletic and deepest position on the 2013 UCLA Football Team. This bevy of extremely talented linebackers are led by last years all Pac-12 Conference players Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Barr was also named to AP’S All American Team.

There were many people in the know that felt Barr should have won the Pac-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year award as well. That honor was given to another local product out of Corona, defensive tackle Will Sutton of Arizona State.

After being named head coach, Jim Mora employed the 3-4-4 defense. He recruited and hired Lou Spanos as his defensive coordinator, a long time NFL defensive assistant of seventeen years.

Spanos spent fifteen of those years as a secondary and linebacker coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was on the staff’s that won two super bowl rings.

Spanos had a great understanding of the 3-4-4 defense. This was the defense the Steelers ran for most of the time he coached there. Mora knew Spanos was the man he wanted to install his new style of aggressive attacking defense.

Mora also brought in Jeff Ulbrich as his linebacker coach. Ulbrich played linebacker for ten years in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers. Ulbrich spent two years coaching special teams with the Seattle Seahawks after his retirement from the NFL.

Mora has two very capable men to coach his very talented linebackers for his new defensive scheme.

This type of attacking defense requires very athletic, aggressive and tenacious players. Every linebacker in this defensive scheme must have better than average speed.

They have to be able to cover fleet footed running backs in pass coverage and at times stay in the back pocket of wide receivers downfield. Excellent open field tackling is a must for these linebackers.

The linebackers in the 3-4-4 must also have the physical strength and toughness to crush big overpowering offensive lineman and make the tackle. They must display the conditioning to execute a variety of blitz packages throughout an entire game and make tackles from sideline to sideline.

UCLA’S linebackers have to be able to cover a lot of territory in warp speed with a fearless attitude. Just the kind of linebackers Mora has recruited.

The projected starters for 2013 are Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt, Eric Kendricks and redshirt freshman Nate Iese or Aaron Wallace.

Barr, Zumwalt and Kendricks were all starters in 2012. This trio was outstanding last year. Zumwalt was moved to the inside when Damien Holmes was placed in his more natural outside linebacker spot.

Iese or Wallace will be given the first shot at taking the other outside position. Wallace played well against USC and opened eyes. Iese was a menace to the offense on the defensive practice squad last year.

The real battle for playing time will take place for the second team. Veteran Keenan Graham, redshirt freshman Aaron Porter, Aramide Olaniyan and Ryan Hofmeister will be fighting for playing time. Isaiah Bowens coming off knee surgery will be back after he blew his knee last spring practice.

True freshman and highly touted Isacc Savaiinaea from Hawaii is slated to get a strong look when he reports to fall camp.

Only Graham has experience of this group. He has played three different positions, defensive end, some fullback and outside linebacker. He hasn’t been able to make his mark as a solid starter yet, but maybe this will be his year. Spring will be his opportunity to make this happen.

Other than Savaiinaea there are two other incoming impressive freshmen that look to make an impact. They are Myles Jack the number 1 rated linebacker out of the state of Washington and Deon Hollins from the football rich state of Texas.

Two other newcomers Cameron Judge and Jayon Brown will probably redshirt their freshman year.

Two other players could impress the staff if they get some quality reps. Kenny Okjioke out of Georgia who has the similar skill sets as Barr and Jeremy Castro who was a greyshirt last year. I think Castro brings a lot of interest, he was a highly rated player when he arrived at UCLA.  

The Bruins literally have nine to ten linebackers that can all play next year and at a very high caliber. 

It will be very interesting to see how coach’s Ulbrich and Spanos assess this talent rich group. I see a big issue will be just trying to get a good look at all these players.

Regardless how it turns out there will be tremendous competition this spring at the linebacker position.

At the end of the day whoever establishes themselves in the playing rotations will be one of the most talented groups in at least fifteen years in UCLA Football.

These linebackers could be embarking on becoming one the most dominating linebacker groups in the Pac-12 Conference. 

This is truly an amazing transformation for UCLA defense. Don’t miss it.

Read 723 times Last modified on Thursday, 28 March 2013 18:01
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