Scout Team Review: Defense

In our final installment of the scout team report, we break down the defensive players who either didn't play, or didn't play much, this season...

As we said during fall camp this past year, UCLA has arguably more talent in the program than at any time in the last ten years. What that means is that, first, there's plenty to be excited about in terms of guys redshirting who project to be significant contributors down the line. What it also means, though, is that guys who might otherwise have had starter potential at UCLA under previous regimes are more likely to be projected as backups going forward.

In our second installment, we take a look at the defensive players who didn't see much, or any, playing time this year.

Scout Team Review: Defense

Priest Willis, CB, (6'2, 190) SO—
Willis played only sparingly in his first year, and he did not seem comfortable in game action, which was a reflection of how he looked in practice. Athletically, he looked pretty good, and moved well, but his anticipation and instincts seemed lacking. It might very well have been the case that he struggled with a loss of confidence after not blending easily into the college game. Whatever the case, he's going to need to make those adjustments quickly because UCLA is consistently bringing in high level defensive backs in each class. We understand that Coach Jim Mora could get angry over this but, going forward, we could see Willis move between safety and corner depending on where the biggest need is.

2014 Projection: 2nd string corner
Long Term Projection: Potential starter

Johnny Johnson, CB, (5'9, 181) RS FR—
Johnny Johnson.
Johnson sat out the vast majority of the year after undergoing season-ending surgery on his shoulder after fall camp. Through the first days of camp, though, he looked good, and showed some very good cover skills. Until we get a longer look at him, it's tough to make a real guess as to how he'll impact an increasingly stacked defensive backfield. From what we've heard, though, the coaching staff is high on him, and from what we saw of him in high school, his cover skills and athleticism should translate well to college.

2014 Projection: 2nd or 3rd string corner
Long Term Projection: Potential starter

Deon Hollins, OLB, (6'0, 216), SO—
Hollins played a good deal to start the year and then seemingly dropped off the face of the earth -- oddly, right around the time Myles Jack started to do virtually everything for UCLA. Early in the season, Hollins was used situationally, mostly as a pass rusher against the zone read, and the strategy wasn't very effective. Right now, he is a pure pass rusher, lacking the developed skills to play in space against the run or in pass coverage, which are two necessary components of being an every-down player in UCLA's linebacker corps. After watching him for most of the year, we have doubts that he has the requisite agility and lateral mobility to develop into that kind of every-down player for UCLA. That said, with the amount of talent UCLA has now in the defensive front, there is room for players to be a bit more specialized, and we could see a situation where Hollins is able to carve out a role for himself as an elite pass rusher in passing-down situations.

2014 Projection: Backup outside linebacker/pass rusher
Long Term Projection: Same

Marcus Rios, CB, (5'11, 180), RS SO—
Rios obviously went through a great deal in the last year, and it's a miracle he's alive, let alone potentially contributing to a collegiate football team in the near future. By the end of the season, actually, he was practicing to a certain extent, but it looked like it was mostly a situation where the coaching staff wanted to get him some reps again so he could get the feel for the position back. Physically, after the long layoff and recovery, he still has some weight to regain, but given the dedication and fortitude he's shown over the last year, you'd have to bet on him getting back to full health sooner rather than later.

2014 Projection: Backup cornerback
Long Term Projection: Potential starter

Jayon Brown, ILB, (6'0, 208) SO—
Brown made a significant impact on special teams in his first year, but didn't play nearly at all with the base defense. After starting the year as a safety, he moved to linebacker soon after the team returned from camp and looked like he has the potential to be a pretty good cover linebacker, in the mold of a poor man's Myles Jack. He's a good athlete and showed, during his special teams escapades, that he can hit. We're fans of Brown, and think he could be a significant contributor for UCLA on defense as early as this year.

2014 Projection: 2nd string linebacker
Long Term Projection: Potential starter

Justin Combs, CB, (5'7, 170), RS SO—
Combs showed at times this year good hitting ability, particularly in the young guys' scrimmages UCLA would have from time to time. He doesn't have the athletic ability or size to ever see the field in real action on defense, but we could see him playing on special teams.

2014 Projection: Special Teams/Scout Team
Long Term Projection: Special Teams/Scout Team

Eli Ankou, NT, (6'3, 290), RS SO—
Eli Ankou.
Ankou is a big man, and played both defensive end and nose tackle throughout the year, when he wasn't sidelined with a variety of nicks, including a knee injury out of fall camp. He's very strong, and looks to have the ideal frame for a space eater on the defensive line. The issue is that he's got a lot of depth and similarly-sized players ahead of him. It'll be interesting to see if he can steal a piece of the eight-man rotation this season.

2014 Projection: 2nd or 3rd string nose/defensive end
Long Term Projection: Same

Tyler Foreman, S, (6'2, 198), RS FR—
Foreman is already well-built physically, at a legitimate 6'2, 200 pounds. With his frame, actually, we could see him gaining some more weight and moving to linebacker at some point, which we're not sure would be a bad move. He took some time getting adjusted to the game after fall camp, and he's a bit stiffer, athletically, than Tahaan Goodman or Priest Willis, which makes him more of a pure safety than either guy (rather than nickel), and potentially a linebacker down the road. In the modern Pac-12, where safeties need to be almost as agile as corners given the propensity of spread offenses in the league, the days of the big, bruising safety seems to be passing.

2014 Projection: Backup safety/potential move to linebacker
Long Term Projection: Potential starter (at linebacker or safety)

Taylor Lagace, ILB, (6'0, 208), RS SO—
Lagace made the move to linebacker from safety during his first year and spent most of the year there in 2013, preparing to be a mini-backer, before that position was known as "Myles Jack." Physically, we think linebacker is where he fits best, and it'll just be a matter of him getting his weight into more of the 215 to 220 range so he can play inside long term. With the amount of inside 'backers currently coming in with th3 2014 class, Lagace is going to have his work cut out.

2014 Projection: 3rd or 4th string inside linebacker
Long Term Projection: 2nd or 3rd string inside linebacker

Cameron Judge, ILB, (6'1, 218), SO—
Judge, like Brown, spent most of his first year playing special teams (exceptionally well, we might add). Based off what we saw from him on scout team, and on special teams, we think he has potential to impact the depth chart this year. Athletically, he probably gives up some to incoming freshmen Kenny Young and Zach Whitley, but if we've learned nothing else from the past two years, we've learned that playing inside linebacker in this system is just not easy. A second-year Judge could provide some competition for Young, Whitley and the rest for the open spots in the two-deep. For him, getting his weight up to the 230 range will be key.

2014 Projection: 2nd or 3rd string inside linebacker
Long Term Projection: Potential starter

Ian Taubler, DE, (6'4, 257) RS SO—
Taubler made the move to defensive end before fall camp, but then suffered a concussion during camp that sidelined him for the rest of the year. He started to make his way out to practice by the end of the year, but we really didn't get a long look at him participating at defensive end. As it stands right now, the depth chart looks pretty stacked, but with the way Defensive Line Coach Angus McClure likes to mix and match combinations, we could see Taubler carving out a role for himself. At this point, though, it's completely uncertain if Taubler will actually be able to play football long-term due to concussion issues.

2014 Projection: Backup defensive end
Long Term Projection: Backup defensive end

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