UCLA Football 2012 Position Overviews: Defensive Backs

June 18, 2012

The Bruins’ defensive backfield was a team strength in 2011, as their pass defense ranked third in the Pac-12, allowing only 226 yards per game and finishing fourth in the conference in interceptions with 14.

That solid production came despite losing starting safety Dietrich Riley for the season due to a neck injury suffered against Cal on October 29th.  

Riley had neck surgery in the spring and will be unable to participate in 2012.  Still, the defensive backfield has a number of very experienced players who will be counted on to lock down some of the wide open offenses the Bruins figure to face in 2012.

Below is a quick breakdown of the key contributors to Coach Demetrice Martin’s defensive back group:


Projected Starters

1) Sheldon Price (Senior - 6’2”, 185 pounds – 12 starts in 2011)
Price is the epitome of a senior leader with at least 9 starts in each of the last three seasons.  He has great athleticism, leaping ability, size, and fluid hips.  Price also has great instincts and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in and make a tackle as evidenced by his 47 tackles in 2011.
Price projects as one of the top returning cornerbacks in the Pac-12.  He tied for 15th in the conference in passes defensed per game last year with 0.67.  Price performed well in the spring scrimmage recording a leaping interception of an errant pass by freshman Brett Hundley.  

2) Aaron Hester (Senior - 6’1”, 205 pounds – 12 starts in 2011)
Hester is a big, physical cornerback who, much like Price, isn’t afraid to make a tackle.  He ranked fourth on the team in tackles in 2011 with 57.  Hester recorded a season-high 11 tackles against Oregon State.

Ideally, the Bruins coaches would like to see the number of tackles from the secondary decrease because from a schematic standpoint that translates into too many ball-carriers getting past the front 7.

Hester performed well in the spring scrimmage, breaking up at least 4 passes, including 2 near interceptions.

Hester remarked after the scrimmage that this is the “most comfortable and confident I’ve been during my time at UCLA.” He praised the new coaching staff, stating Coach Mora has an innate ability to “bring out the best in his players.”  

Key Contributor

1) Ishmael Adams (Freshman – 5’10”, 185 pounds – 0 starts in 2011)
Adams was a consensus four-star recruit by various recruiting services for the class of 2012, and was generally regarded as one of the top 20 cornerbacks among high school seniors in the nation last year. Coming from the prestigious Oaks Christian program, Adams has been well prepared for his move to the collegiate level.

Adams' breakout performance came against tough competition in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, where he played tight coverage and broke up a handful of passes against the best high school receivers in the country last year.

Adams capped off his Army All-American performance with a game-clinching interception off Notre Dame-bound Gunner Kiel.  Those efforts earned Adams the Defensive MVP award.

Adams is very quick and has run a 4.40 40-yard dash. Despite his slight stature, he plays with tremendous tenacity, constantly battling receivers at the line of scrimmage. Coach Jim Mora has noted several times since signing day that Adams figures to be one member of the freshman class that will have an immediate impact on the field this fall.


Projected Starters

1) Tevin McDonald (Sophmore - 6’0”, 202 pounds – 11 starts in 2011)
McDonald came to UCLA as a cornerback, but during the course of his redshirt year put on enough weight to make the transition to strong safety.  He moved into the starting lineup in the Bruins first conference game against Oregon State when Tony Dye was injured.  McDonald never looked back, starting the remaining 11 games.

McDonald is a sound tackler who occasionally delivers the big hit.  He recorded 56 tackles in 2011, including 5 for loss.  The largest number of tackles he recorded in a single game was 11 against Arizona State.  McDonald totaled 3 interceptions on the season, all of which came against Cal quarterback Zach Maynard in a 31-14 win at the Rose Bowl.

Football runs in the McDonald family.  Tevin’s father, Tim, was an All-American at USC and then spent 11 years in the NFL with the Cardinals and 49ers.  Brother, TJ, is an All-Pac-12 safety with USC who figures to be taken high in the 2013 NFL draft.  Tevin apparently broke the family tradition when he chose UCLA over USC in 2010.

2) Andrew Abbott (Senior – 5’11”, 200 pounds – 7 starts in 2011)
Abbott has made 12 starts over the last two seasons, including 7 last year, which is truly impressive considering he came to UCLA as a walk-on in 2008 and contributed enough over two years to earn a scholarship in 2010.

Abbott possesses good quickness and instincts, allowing him to quickly close on incoming passes. In 2011, he tallied 4 interceptions from his free safety position.

Abbott had knee surgery in April to repair a torn meniscus in his knee and was unable to participate in much of spring practice, including the final scrimmage.  Abbott is expected to make a full recovery in time for fall camp.

Final Thoughts

The injuries UCLA sustained in the defensive backfield during the 2011 season and 2012 spring practices were frustrating for coaches and fans alike, however, they gave some inexperienced players a much-needed opportunity to gain practice reps and game action.

The Bruins’ defensive backs figure to be tested this season, particularly in the last 3 games of the season against Mike Leach’s air raid attack at Washington State, Matt Barkley & company at USC, and coach David Shaw’s potent offense at Stanford.

If the senior core stays healthy, the group should be in good shape.  The progression of Adams and fellow true freshman cornerback Marcus Rios, will be something to keep an eye on during fall camp as they adjust to the college game during their first year in the program.

By Chris Harker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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