With UCLA preparing to open fall camp on August 8, we will break down the depth charts at each position in order to look at how the Bruins stack up heading into this season. We've previously looked at quarterbacks, the defensive line, the offensive line, and the running backs. Now we turn our attention to the linebackers.
Current depth chart:
STRONG SIDE LINEBACKER
Glenn Love (Sr., 6-4, 213)
Jordan Zumwalt (So., 6-4, 236)
Aramide Olaniyan (Fr., 6-2, 212)
Patrick Larimore (Jr., 6-3, 250)
Isaiah Bowens (So., 6-1, 233)
Phillip Ruhl (Fr., 6-1, 230)
WEAK SIDE LINEBACKER
Sean Westgate (Sr., 5-11, 225)
Erick Kendricks (Fr., 6-1, 228)
Ryan Hofmeister (So., 6-0, 220)
The inability to stop the run was UCLA's most glaring problem on defense last season, and when that happens, the first place you have to look is the linebackers.
The defensive line also deserves its share of the blame for the Bruins ranking 108th in the nation in rushing defense, but linebackers are thought of as the run-stopping unit and this group must improve in that area in order for the Bruins to succeed. Certainly, you don't want your safeties as two of the top three leading tacklers on the team as happened last year.
Even more concerning is that the team's best linebacker, Akeem Ayers, departed for the NFL, leaving a hole to fill.
But it's not as bad as it might seem. Part of the problem stemmed for a lack of experience as Ayers was the only linebacker with significant experience entering last season. That changes this year with Sean Westgate coming back as a 12-game starter, Patrick Larimore returning after starting seven games and Jordan Zumwalt having started four games. Glenn Love also got a good amount of playing time off the bench last season.
The standout here is Larimore, who showed exciting promise before a separated shoulder knocked him out of the last five games. He's an instinctive player with a nose for the ball and knows how to finish when he finds it. He made several highlight-reel worthy, bone-crushing hits last season and is poised for an all-conference caliber season if he stays healthy.
Westgate is the stalwart. He started every game last season because of his ability to understand the defense and put himself in position to make plays. He led the team with 11 tackles for a loss last season, including a team-high tying four sacks, and his 90 total tackles were second on the team. His lack of size sometimes gets him in trouble, however, as opposing blockers and bigger backs can run through him to gain extra yards.
The other starting spot is one position battle that has yet to be settled. Love is at the top of the depth chart now after a solid season as a backup last year and a good showing in spring camp, but Zumwalt is probably the guy here by the end of the year.
Zumwalt took over at middle linebacker after Larimore went down and impressed as a true freshman at middle linebacker. He's a high-energy guy who loves physical play. He had three sacks--fourth most on the team--despite limited time. He's versatile enough to play any of the linebacker positions, so don't be surprised to see him move around a bit.
Love is a converted safety who played linebacker for the first time last season. He proved himself as an exceptional athlete and a solid tackler as a special teams player and showed during the spring that he can adapt and learn the linebacker position well enough to start. He also fits well into the "flying around" style new defensive coordinator Joe Tresey likes to employ with his linebackers.
Isaiah Bowens is another member of this unit who impressed during the spring. He's a physical, hard-hitting tackler who has played mostly special teams in his career, but figures to get action on the defense as a reserve this season. He's been a tremendous scout team player the last two years, seemingly always finding himself in the middle of the action.
Eric Kendricks and Aramide Olaniyan are redshirt freshmen looking to make an impact this season. Kendricks was particularly impressive in spring practice and he was voted the team's outstanding defensive scout team player last year. If he can continue that progression and translate that ability to game days, he should have a significant impact this season because he's another athletic-type linebacker that Tresey likes roaming around on his side of the ball.
Olaniyan is a high upside talent who has worked hard to fill out his frame. He's added 10 pounds since last season, but still needs about 10 more in order to compete at the Pac-10 level. He'll probably get most of his action on special teams this year as he continues to get stronger.
Ryan Hofmeister, a transfer from Riverside Community College, was the conference defensive player of the year last season. He enrolled early for spring to help accelerate his learning curve and showed promise. He could definitely get some game action this fall.