UCLA Bruins Football 2012: Defensive Line Overview

May 26, 2012

With spring practice complete, the UCLA Bruins move into the offseason working tirelessly to improve from a disappointing 2011 season.

The Bruins figure to have a strong core of ends who should provide a consistent pass rush, as the big-play potential of this group was displayed during the spring game.  There is not as much experience at tackle however, so the Bruins will likely break in some fresh faces there.

Despite the inexperience on the interior, the defensive line figures to be a strength of the team in 2012. Below is a quick breakdown of the key contributors to Coach Angus McLure’s defensive line group:

Defensive End

Projected Starter: Datone Jones (Senior - 6’5”, 280 lbs, – 14 starts in 2011)

Blessed with size and speed, Jones is one of the most versatile defensive lineman in the Pac-12.  In 2011, Jones spent time at tackle as well as end, leading the team with 6.5 tackles-for-loss and 3 sacks.  Jones recorded 2 sacks in the spring game as well.  Projected as one of the top 10 defensive ends in the country, Jones figures to be picked in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Key Contributor: Cassius Marsh (Jr. - 6’4”, 295 lbs. – 8 starts in 2011)

Marsh is another versatile lineman who weighs enough to be a stout defensive tackle, but has the quickness to play end as well.  Marsh finished second on the team in sacks in 2011 with 2.  He made 4 tackles and recorded his first career sack in his first career start against Houston last season.  Marsh flashed his upside during the spring game with a sack and several quarterback hurries.

Key Contributor: Owamagabe Odigizuwha (Jr. – 6’5”, 278 lbs. – 1 start in 2011)

Odigizuwha saved his best performance for last in 2011, as he recorded 4 tackles -- including 2 for loss -- in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Illinois.  During the 2010 season, the true freshman made 6 starts and recorded 4 sacks.

Odigizuwha is still raw, but has tremendous talent.  He was rated as high as the #2 defensive end in the country as a senior in high school.

Nose Tackle / Defensive Tackle

Projected Starter: Brandon Willis (So. – 6’5”, 275 lbs – 0 starts in 2011)

Willis, a transfer from the University of North Carolina, arrived at UCLA under unusual circumstances.

Willis first transferred to UCLA in 2010, but returned to UNC that year due to family medical problems. He then transferred back to UCLA in 2011.  He was ineligible to play in 2010 or 2011 due to transfer rules, however, he spent time with the Bruins’ scout team during fall of 2011.

After the spring game Willis stated that he is working to get his weight up to 285 pounds by the beginning of the 2012 season.  Even at his current weight he is very strong and difficult to move at the point of attack.  Willis was rated as high as the #5 defensive tackle in the country as a senior in high school.

Key Contributor: Ellis McCarthy (Fr. – 6’5”, 311 lbs. – 0 starts in 2011)

McCarthy comes to Westwood as one of the most highly regarded defensive tackles in recent memory.  He was a consensus top 5 player at his position during his senior year in high school.

McCarthy originally committed to California before ace recruiter, Tosh Lupoi, left Berkeley for the University of Washington. Lupoi's departure caused McCarthy to have a change of heart, and he set his sights on Westwood.

Coach Jim Mora has said several times that he expects McCarthy to be one of several freshmen to contribute immediately for the Bruins in 2012.

Final Thoughts

These 5 athletes are expected to impact the program in a big way in 2012.  As fans learned during the New York Giants two recent Super Bowl wins, the best way to slow down an offense is with a dominant defensive line.

The Bruins appear to have the pieces in place to shut down their opponents at the line of scrimmage and to pressure opposing quarterbacks into hurried throws downfield.  

If healthy, the Bruins’ pass rush will be a disruptive force this fall.  In the spring scrimmage, quarterbacks were wearing the "no contact" red jerseys, making the identification of sacks somewhat difficult.  Still, official stats noted at least 5 sacks on the day, including 2 from senior end Datone Jones and 2 from senior nose tackle Donovan Carter.

Junior end Cassius Marsh and junior outside linebacker Keenan Graham also had several hurries.  Graham was particularly impressed with the group’s “conditioning and ability to finish strong,” as the pressure on the quarterbacks increased over the course of the afternoon.

Willis echoed Hester’s sentiments, stating that the “tempo and overall level of energy are different from past years.”  

Much like the renovations taking place on the west side of the Rose Bowl, this Bruin team is a work in progress and figures to be significantly improved by the time game one arrives on August 30th.

By Chris Harker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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