Friday, August 5, 2011
UCLA Depth chart review: Defensive line
By Peter Yoon
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 started with quarterbacks and now switch to the defensive line.
Current depth charts:
Datone Jones (Jr., 6-5, 275)
Owamagbe Odighizuwa (So., 6-4, 266)
Iuta Tepa (So., 6-3, 260)
Cassius Marsh (So., 6-3, 289)
Nate Chandler (Sr., 6-4, 292)
Sam Tai (Fr., 6-4, 251)
Justin Edison (Sr., 6-4, 285)
Donovan Carter (Jr., 6-2, 295)
Seali’i Epenesa (So., 6-2, 308)
Damien Holmes (Jr., 6-3, 270)
Keenan Graham (So., 6-3, 255)
Wesley Flowers (Fr., 6-5, 254)
Derrick Bryant (Fr., 6-3, 251)
This unit is the biggest source of hope for Bruins fans.
A year ago, youth and inexperience led to a defensive line that proved porous against the run and rarely scared quarterbacks with pressure. Now, there are five sophomores in the three-deep who all got significant game experience last year and come into the season well-seasoned and ready to make this unit a strength of the team.
But as exciting as it will be to see Cassius Marsh, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Seali’i Epenesa, Iuta Tepa and Keenan Graham grow as players, the biggest cause for optimism lies in the return of Datone Jones.
Jones, a 13-game starter as a sophomore in 2009, sat out last season after breaking his foot in fall camp. He had four sacks and 11 tackles for a loss two years ago -- totals that would have led the Bruins last season -- and will prove to be quite a handful for opposing offensive linemen.
If opponents spend too much time worrying about Jones, however, this deep and talented unit will make them pay. Odighizuwa, for instance, had four sacks and 10 tackles for a loss last season despite not having a full-time job. Look for him to get significant minutes this season as the top reserve at both ends and don't be surprised to see him steal a starting role at some point.
Holmes made significant strides in spring practice and emerged at the top of the depth chart because of his improved play. While not as athletic as some of the other ends, he's a steady, smart high-motor guy who gets the job done. Graham and Tepa each showed last season that they can make an impact, so look for them to offer valuable minutes off the bench.
In the middle, Marsh has the perfect combination of size, quickness and toughness to be a major disruptive force. He's a major talent who should break though this season as long as he can keep his head on his shoulders. He has a tendency to lose his cool, but should help fill the void left by David Carter, who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals.
Nate Chandler is probably the most athletic interior lineman on the team. He's still grasping the nuances of the role after bouncing around from position to position his first three years, but as the season goes on he should snag a starting job. Justin Edison and Donovan Carter bring tons of experience to the front and, while not flashy, they are rock solid performers. Epenesa is the big, strong, hole-clogging body that will serve well against teams trying to run up the middle.
The biggest reason for optimism among the defensive line is its depth. Any player in the two deep could be a starter by the time the season rolls around and there isn't much dropoff three deep at most of the positions. With so many interchangeable parts, defensive coordinator Joe Tresey and defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield have the luxury of liberal substitutions to keep players fresh for a front line will cause problems for offenses.
That wasn't the case last season when Red Sea-sized holes up front caused UCLA to finish 108th in the nation in rushing defense by giving up 205.5 yards rushing a game, but all signs point to the defensive line being a vastly improved unit this season.