Spring Review: Defensive Line

UCLA's defensive line was the strength of the team this spring, with Owamagbe Odighizuwa returning from injury and Kenneth Clark continuing to be one of the best players on the team...

UCLA's first string defensive line was arguably the most talented unit on the field most days during spring practice, which was astonishing given that Eddie Vanderdoes spent the entirety of spring on the sideline with a broken foot. Between Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Kenneth Clark, and Ellis McCarthy, UCLA's first string was dominant much of the time.

Odighizuwa has seemingly returned from injury looking better than when he left. Usually, when a player sits out an entire year, there's an accumulation of rust that needs to be shaken off through the first few weeks when he comes back. Not so with Odighizuwa. After the first or second practice, he had his legs under him, and was a force on the edge. He consistently beat whichever tackle he matched up against, and his spring game performance was really impressive, considering he was going against probably UCLA's best offensive lineman in Caleb Benenoch and generally handling him. In an interesting wrinkle, when Kenny Orjioke was sitting out reps during practice, Odighizuwa was often slotted into that spot, and actually was asked to drop on occasion. We're not sure how effective that'll be, but it's impressive that the coaching staff has enough confidence in his versatility to give him a look there.

Although Odighizuwa had a great spring, Clark is probably in contention for UCLA's best overall player, and he continued to prove that this spring. He was a force during 1 on 1s, and during 11 on 11 he frequently drew extra attention from the offensive line on the interior. He's added weight and continued to work on his body and that work, combined with his great technique and violent hands, has made him a scary matchup. With some of the scheme changes that UCLA is making up front, Clark is going to be on the field a good deal more than last year, which should be an exciting proposition for UCLA fans.

Kylie Fitts.
McCarthy also had a nice spring, and had moments where he looked dominant in his own right. From watching this spring, the question for McCarthy is just playing with more consistent intensity from play to play. That's improved since he's been at UCLA, and we'd expect it to continue to get better now that he's getting in better shape.

UCLA's scheme, as we mentioned above, has changed a bit, and through spring, it looked like UCLA was working primarily on a 4-2-5/3-3-5 hybrid defense, which would change depending on the personnel (but usually it just meant that Kenny Orjioke was either dropping or pressing up to the line depending on the situation). What that means is that, particularly on the interior, UCLA will use its nose tackle more, and, in a move that should be exciting for Eddie Vanderdoes, actually use a three-technique defensive tackle with more consistency. Coming out of high school, as Greg Biggins has said, that was probably Vanderdoes' best position, so we'd anticipate him having a breakout year in that role, assuming that the foot heals correctly.

Kylie Fitts, after a slow start to the spring, turned it on over the last two weeks of practices and gave Poasi Moala a ton of trouble on the right side. Kevin McReynolds, as the backup nose, had a nice spring in moving back to the defensive line. Fitts is almost certainly a rotational player this year, and McReynolds would have a chance. Walkon defensive end Zach Vinci also had some moments, and played most of the spring game. We could see a scenario where he gets a little bit of time this year. Eli Ankou had some moments, particularly over the last two weeks, but overall he had a tough spring, looking overmatched at times during 1 on 1s and team drills.

Best-Guess Two-Deep For San Bernardino:

Defensive End
Owamagbe Odighizuwa
Kylie Fitts

Nose Tackle
Kenneth Clark
Kevin McReynolds

Defensive Tackle
Eddie Vanderdoes
Ellis McCarthy

Best-Guess Two-Deep For Virginia:

Defensive End
Owamagbe Odighizuwa
Kylie Fitts

Nose Tackle
Kenneth Clark
Kevin McReynolds/Ainuu Taua

Defensive Tackle
Eddie Vanderdoes
Ellis McCarthy

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