UCLA preseason preview: Linebackers

August, 1, 2012
8/01/12
3:20
PM PT
Patrick LarimoreJim Z. Rider/US PresswirePatrick Larimore leads a group of talented, experienced players at linebacker for UCLA.

With UCLA training camp set to begin Saturday at Cal State San Bernardino, we're taking a preseason look at the roster and breaking down the Bruins position by position.

We went through the offense first, looking at the quarterbacks, offensive line, receivers and running backs. Special teams came next, and then we started on the defense with the defensive backs. Next up: Linebackers.

DEPTH CHART AT THE END OF SPRING PRACTICE:

Left Outside Linebacker
Jordan Zumwalt (6-foot-3, 235 pound, Junior) (4) OR
Keenan Graham (6-2, 247, Jr.)
Aramide Olaniyan (6-1, 210, So.)
Ryan Medina (6-1, 230, Sr.)

Left Inside Linebacker
Patrick Larimore (6-2, 250, Sr.)
Jared Koster (6-1, 208, So.)
Jason Stewart (6-2, 237, Fr.)
Todd Golper (6-0, 235, Jr.)

Right Inside Linebacker
Eric Kendricks (6-0, 230, So.)
Ryan Hofmeister (6-0, 225, So.)
Mike Orloff (6-3, 222, Fr.)

Right Outside Linebacker
Damien Holmes (6-2, 250, Sr.)
Aaron Wallace (6-2, 230, Fr.)
Anthony Barr (6-4, 235, Jr.)

PROJECTED OPENING-DAY DEPTH CHART:

Left Outside Linebacker
Jordan Zumwalt (6-3, 235, Jr.) (4) OR
Keenan Graham (6-2, 247, Jr.)
Aramide Olaniyan (6-1, 210, So.)
Jeremy Castro (6-2, 250, Fr.)

Left Inside Linebacker
Patrick Larimore (6-2, 250, Sr.)
Aaron Porter (6-1, 230, Fr.)
Todd Golper (6-0, 235, Jr.)
Ryan Medina (6-1, 230, Sr.)

Right Inside Linebacker
Eric Kendricks (6-0, 230, So.)
Aaron Wallace (6-2, 230, Fr.)
Ryan Hofmeister (6-0, 225, So.)

Right Outside Linebacker
Damien Holmes (6-2, 250, Sr.)
Anthony Barr (6-4, 235, Jr.)
Nate Iese (6-4, 237, Fr.)

KEY LOSSES:
Sean Westgate, 46 tackles, 3 interceptions; two-year starter. Graduated.
Glenn Love, 39 tackles; part-time starter and key reserve. Graduated.
Isaiah Bowens, 9 tackles; key reserve expected to challenge for starting role. Injured.

THE SKINNY:
One thing that stands out on the depth chart is that there are a lot more linebackers than in recent years. New coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Lou Spanos are moving to a 3-4 base defense, meaning some former defensive ends are slotted at outside linebacker.

This is a fairly top-heavy group with the projected starters at each position bringing a boatload of playing experience and talent. Patrick Larimore is a three-year starter and team captain from last season who led the team in tackles with 81 last season. Eric Kendricks had an impressive first season, and Jordan Zumwalt has impressed for the past two years.

Larimore brings the toughness element needed from a middle linebacker, and he loves to deliver punishing, hard hits. The move to a 3-4 should help him, as it should help cover his lack of speed, which became exposed at times in pass coverage last season.

At the other inside slot, Kendricks returns after finishing second on the team with 76 tackles and two sacks last season. He is quick and athletic for an inside linebacker and showed a nose for the ball, working his way from a key reserve role to a starter during the course of the season. He is poised for a breakout year, and the Bruins hope he reaches the level of his brother Mychal, who was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year at California last season.

Zumwalt has been a part-time starter and key reserve for the past two seasons and is also poised for a breakout season. He was third on the team with 60 tackles last season and had six tackles for a loss. Another tough-nosed competitor who loves to hit, he plays with the mentality of a middle linebacker. He'll have to improve his cover skills but should have no trouble adjusting to the other elements of the 3-4.

Damien Holmes is moving back a step to man the outside linebacker spot after starting all 14 games at defensive end in the 4-3 scheme last season. He proved to be a natural at outside linebacker during an impressive spring, and his pass-rush experience will come in handy. Pass coverage is not his strength, however, and he is a logical choice to come off the field when UCLA goes to a pass-coverage package.

While the projected starters seem to have a solid combination of skill and experience, depth at linebacker could be an issue. Keenan Graham has been a key reserve at defensive end. He is an excellent pass-rusher with good speed and athletic ability and should push for a starting role. Outside of Graham, however, it's hard to see anyone supplanting a starter during camp. Aramide Olaniyan got some spot playing time last season, but nobody else on the linebacker depth chart has any speakable game experience on defense.

Anthony Barr is transitioning from offense to linebacker but was injured for most of spring, so his future remains uncertain because it's unclear if he is suited for the role. He is strong and athletically gifted, but finding a natural spot for him has been a challenge. He started at F-back the last two seasons and tried some running back before moving to defense.

Aaron Wallace is a redshirt freshman who has shown a lot of promise. He has been a standout on the scout team, showing good tackling and run-stopping ability, and had a good spring. The staff has hopes he can be a key reserve this season.

Todd Golper and Ryan Hofmeister could also get in the mix for reserve roles. Hofmeister, a transfer from Riverside College, sat out last season, while Golper played almost exclusively on special teams. Neither really stood out in spring practice, though a rash of injuries put Hofmeister with the No. 1 defense by the spring game. He has the upside to warrant a good look during camp.

The incoming freshman class has only three linebackers. Of those three, only Aaron Porter figures to come in ready to play at the Division I level. Rated the No. 16 high school player in California by ESPNU, Porter is a hard-hitting, athletic player with a high motor. It's easy to see him challenging for playing time this fall.

Nate Iese and Jeremy Castro both played defensive end in high school and will be making the transition to linebacker in the 3-4 defense. Those positions cross over enough that the move shouldn't be too difficult, but making that adjustment and moving from high school to college point to a redshirt season for the two of them.

Another player who could get in the outside linebacker mix is Kenny Orjioke, an incoming freshman listed as a defensive back. His 6-4, 222-pound frame screams linebacker, however, so don't be surprised to see him make the switch.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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