VIDEO: Ulbrich Talks Linebackers

Linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich talks about how the younger linebackers are developing this spring and talks about how many spots are open in the starting lineup...

Jeff Ulbrich talks about linebackers:


Q: here with Jeff Ulbrich [Assistant Head Coach - Special Teams/Linebackers] whose linebackers are probably one of the deepest units on the team this year. So just talk about, I mean, obviously, the development of… I think the biggest one, is Aaron Wallace playing first string, left outside linebacker. Can you talk about how he's developed in the last year?

JU: you know, unfortunately, he didn't get as much play time last year as we would have hoped with Damien Holmes here. But Damien, you know, he filled that role and he played so well that it was hard for Aaron. Aaron's been given the opportunity to seize this position, and he's done a really nice so far this spring. He's got all the physical attributes. You know, he's got length, strength, athleticism. He's very bright, you know, and he's starting to figure it out so it's exciting.

Q: is there anything different you're looking for in the other outside linebacker position as opposed to [Anthony] Barr's. I mean, Barr is a 6'5" guy, 230 [pounds]. Is there anything different you're looking for in the other one? Or do you want kind of… ideally, would you want the same thing?

JU: I'd like the same thing. Did you really ask me that?

Q: yeah.

JU: the thing about Anthony is… you know, although he's a work-in-progress, no doubt, because he's so new to the position. But his game is getting very well-rounded. He plays the run equally as well as the pass. He's a great pass rusher. So all 3 facets, he's getting pretty solid in. He's becoming pretty good at some of them. So… another Anthony Barr wouldn't be too bad. But, you know, that's the thing about Aaron Wallace. You know, he's not Anthony, but he's got some of his own stuff to him, you know. He's got crazy power.

Q: those haunches…

JU: Man. I don't know if it comes from the haunches or if it comes from… I don't know where it comes from, but no one hits the slip like he does. And that transitions to team periods and you see that head snap from tackles and tight ends. If he finds a way to become consistently physical and nasty… man, the sky's the absolute limit for the guy.

Q: and then Kenny Orjioke behind him. I mean, if you're looking for that guy that's kind of that physical prototype like Barr. He's probably the closest thing. How has he developed? He still looks a little raw sometimes but how has he developed as a linebacker? I know he came in…

JU: he's done a great job. He comes out here absolutely committed to his craft as well. Busts his butt every day. Again, a guy that transitioned from safety last year, you know. That's a big deal. That's a big difference. So everything was brand new to him last year so this really is the first opportunity for him to really get reps because he didn't do much for us last year obviously. So he's that guy that, you know, he gets better every single day. And like you said, he's got all the physical tools so it's exciting to see where he can take this thing.

Q: and then, going through a litany of them, but Aaron Porter, I mean, he looks physically like just completely different from where he did at the end of last year. And moving quicker. I mean, how is he looking just compared to this time last year?

JU: I think that… you know, that transition from high school to college is probably the hardest for the quarterback and middle linebackers. Because he's got to run the show. He's got to know everybody's assignment. He has to communicate. He has to have all those things so when he first got here, he was… just a crazy transition. He was swimming as I think most guys at his position would be. But you could tell. He's starting to get some confidence. The defense is starting to soak in a little bit. He's starting to talk, have a voice. His personality is coming back. So it's exciting to see him get better every day too.

Q: that inside linebacker position. I mean, it look liked it took [Eric] Kendricks actually a little bit of time last year to transition to it.

JU: it did. It did.

Q: it looked like Jordan [Zumwalt] like a couple of games to transition to it.

JU: right. For sure.

Q: do you think that position itself just requires kind of… especially if you're a freshman coming in, just requires a year of kind of development?

JU: no doubt. No doubt. And it doesn't matter what level you play at. The middle linebacker. I always talk to these guys about it. He's the captain of the defense. He's the quarterback of the defense. And really, when it's done right, you're the leader of the team, you know. So, there's a lot on those guys' shoulders. It's not just their assignment. They have to know everybody's assignment. And they have to be able to communicate it. Articulate it. And it's tough. It's really tough because you think of a guy like Eric Kendricks. He hadn't really been the man here. He hadn't been the inside linebacker here. But what's really cool is he was a different guy by the end of the season. He really was. He started the year as a good inside linebacker. Finished the year as what I thought was the best inside linebacker in the PAC-12, no doubt, so it's exciting to see how he's progressed. And Zumwalt's the same way. Although he's done it, our system's a little different. He's still learning. He's got a huge upside because of his physical tools. This group… it's going to be an exciting year for us. If we can stay healthy, knock on wood.

Q: obviously, you've got a pretty huge linebacker class coming in this fall.

JU: yep.

Q: and, I think, you know, going into this spring, you might have thought, you know, maybe one might have to start at the outside linebacker position, maybe they still will, but how more confident are you going into the fall that you've developed that kind of depth with Wallace, Orjioke, Porter, that sort of thing?

JU: I would say every, honestly, every spot is up for grabs. Now, saying that, I think Kendricks, I think Zumwalt to an extent, I think Anthony Barr… they've done enough to at least be in the lead for those positions, right? I think the other outside position. I think that, even Jordan's position, I think those are up for grabs. They're totally up for grabs, and it has to be that way. And if Aaron Wallace is who I think he is, who I know he is, he'll want it that way. And so these freshmen that are coming in, especially at that outside linebacker position, they have a great opportunity to seize this if Aaron Wallace doesn't. So it's going to be a dog fight but it's going to make us all better. Whoever plays at that position is going to be great because of the situation that we're stepping into.

Q: how exciting for you is the future of the linebackers? I mean, this year, you're graduating two of them. Two of the starters and Isaiah Bowens. I mean, how confident are you? I mean, just knowing that you have this talent going in, knowing that it's, you know, it's learning this system, and got a huge upside, I mean, how great does it make you feel about the unit going forward?

JU: I'm really excited about it, you know. I try not to look past the moment that we're in right here, but yeah, we do have a lot of really exciting players. You sometimes think, "Oh, I'm losing Anthony this year. After this year." We're nowhere near to losing him yet. We're going to take full advantage of him. Believe me. But, we're going to find a guy that's special in his own way. It's going to be… that whole journey is going to be fun. Exciting. Looking forward to it.

Q: cool.

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