UCLA Football 2012 Position Preview: Linebackers

June 9, 2012

Below is a quick breakdown of the expected key contributors to Coach Jeff Ulbrich’s linebacker group:

The Bruins' linebacking corps was a strength in 2011, however, the group was decimated by injuries during spring practice, leading to a relatively poor showing in the spring scrimmage.

Both projected starters at the inside 'backer position, Patrick Larimore (concussion) and Erick Kendricks (shoulder), missed significant time this spring, including the final scrimmage.  

Assuming both are able to return to the field in time for fall camp, this group should again be a strength in 2012.

Inside Linebacker

Projected Starters

1) Patrick Larimore (Senior - 6’3”, 253 pounds, – 13 starts in 2011)
Larimore was the heart and soul of the Bruins defense in 2011.  He served as a team captain, started all 13 regular season games, led the team in tackles with 81, and was named the team's Defensive MVP.

Larimore missed the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl due to a thumb injury, and suffered from concussion-like symptoms this spring. Despite the injuries, Larimore’s performance during his time at UCLA has landed him on the 2012 Lott Impact Trophy watch list given annually to the top defensive player in college football.  

2) Erick Kendricks (Sophmore - 6’2”, 230 pounds, – 3 starts in 2011)
Kendricks appeared in all 14 games as a redshirt freshman in 2011, starting in the final 3 games.  He finished second on the team in tackles last season with 76.  Kendricks is a quick learner and a very bright player overall, as evidenced by his honorable mention to the Pac-12's All-Academic team.

Kendricks performed his best in the final game of the 2011 season, recording 10 tackles, including 0.5 for loss, in the bowl game against Illinois.  His brother, Mychal Kendricks, was the 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year at Cal before being drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles.  

Outside Linebacker

Projected Starters

1) Jordan Zumwalt (Junior - 6’4”, 235 pounds – 4 starts in 2011)
Zumwalt finished third on the team with 60 tackles in 2011, including 6 tackles-for-loss. He saved his best performance for last against Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, where he recorded 10 tackles, including 2 for loss, and an interception.

Zumwalt made four starts as a true freshman in 2010 and earned Pac-10 All-Freshman honors.  What he lacks in speed he makes up for in determination and relentless pursuit, often bringing down ball carriers 15 to 20 yards downfield.

2) Damien Holmes (Senior – 6’4”, 260 pounds – 14 starts in 2011 at Defensive End)
Holmes is one of the most experienced players on defense after starting 6 games in 2010 and 14 in 2011.  His combination of size and speed allowed the coaches to move him from end to outside linebacker this spring.  Holmes still figures to spend a significant amount of time rushing the passer this fall in the Bruins 3-4 scheme.

In 2011, Holmes tied Zumwalt for the team lead in tackles-for-loss with six.  His best performance of the season came against Utah where he recorded 6 tackles, including 1.5 for loss.

Key Contributor

1) Keenan Graham (Junior – 6’3”, 245 pounds – 1 start in 2011 at Defensive End)
Like Holmes, Graham is also making the transition from end to outside linebacker.  He started six games in 2010 and one in 2011.  Much like Zumwalt and Kendricks, Graham saved his best performance of the season for last, as he recorded 6 tackles against Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Graham played well during the spring scrimmage, recording a sack along with several quarterback hurries and a tackle-for-loss.  Graham remarked afterward that his plans this summer include “working on my speed and getting my weight up as I dropped down to 245 pounds during the spring and need to get back up to 250 by the time fall camp begins.”      

Final Thoughts

The Pac-12 has always been known as an offensive league with great quarterbacks.  This year’s conference schedule will feature more wide open offense than any in recent memory with the addition of Mike Leach’s air raid attack at Washington State, and Rich Rodriguez’ spread option at Arizona.

The biggest key to slowing down these spread offenses is tackling in space.  Limiting a short run or pass to 4 yards rather than missing a tackle and turning a play into a 20-yard gain is critical.  Larimore, Kendricks, and Zumwalt in particular are very strong tacklers and their ability to remain healthy will be a key determinant in the ultimate success of the Bruins defense.

The transition of Holmes and Graham from end to outside linebacker will be interesting to watch throughout fall camp.  If they are able to successfully make the transition and add a pass rush element to the defense, the linebacker group figures to be just as strong as it was in 2011.    

By Chris Harker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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