Spring Review: Linebackers

The linebacker corps was depleted by injury this spring, but that didn't stop Myles Jack from shining once again...

It was certainly a challenging spring for the linebacker group. Eric Kendricks sat out virtually all of spring practice while recovering from a variety of ailments that plagued him most of last year (including a shoulder and ankle injury). Aaron Wallace, expected to compete for a starting outside linebacker job, was not enrolled in school in the spring and thus didn't participate in practice. He'll have his situation reevaluated after the quarter. Inside linebacker Cameron Judge, who could factor into the rotation, also missed the spring after offseason surgery.

Down so many bodies, UCLA found time to experiment a bit more with different types of formations, and by the end of spring, it seemed that the 4-2-5/3-3-5 hybrid defense fit the talent well. In that look, Myles Jack moved inside from his more natural outside position, and after a day or two of adjusting, he looked just as natural inside as out. If anything, it might suit him a bit better to play inside, since he's more natural in pass coverage and pursuit than as a pass rusher (at least based off what we've seen at UCLA). More often than not, he was coupled with Isaako Savaiinaea on the inside, who also had a good spring and looked like he should be at the very least the third linebacker in the rotation on the inside.

On the outside, at the lone position in UCLA's new look defense, Kenny Orjioke flashed exceptional talent through the middle of April. He tapered off a bit toward the last week, but the ability he showed during the previous two weeks showed that he could be special in this defense. He's a very good athlete, with great size, strength, and speed around the edge. He did sit out the spring game after being suspended for a minor issue, so that's a small cause for concern, but we'd have to figure he'll be the leader for that lone outside spot.

Jayon Brown, who went from a safety to start fall camp last year to a linebacker this spring, looked good playing in a mini-Myles Jack role with the second string. As we've said a few times, he might be the linebacker best able to replicate what Jack brings to the table, with good pass coverage skills to go with some surprising ability in run support. He's packed on some weight, looking like he's about 220 pounds now. Given what we saw of him in spring, and how much of an impact he was able to make on special teams last year, we wouldn't be shocked to see him in the two-deep this year.

Kenny Orjoke.
Zach Whitley, the true freshman, had an up and down spring. Through the first couple of days, he looked good at inside linebacker, flashing good instincts and dynamic athleticism, but then he moved to outside linebacker for about a week and that wasn't a great fit for him. The move seemed to throw him a bit, and he didn't really regain the same level he showed the first couple of days. He's a really good athlete, but he's not quite at the level Jack was last year, and hasn't yet displayed that same natural feel for the game. Looking at him, he's somewhere around 220 pounds, and could probably afford to gain a little bit of weight, though there's nothing preventing him physically from making an impact this year. We like his upside quite a bit, but he'll probably need to make some strides over the offseason to factor heavily into the inside linebacker rotation. That's the beauty of coming in early, though -- he'll have plenty of film and experience to build on over the next three months.

Deon Hollins still looks like mostly a situational player to us, but he did add some bulk this offseason, sacrificing a small bit of quickness for a little more strength on the edge. He looked like he was still adjusting to the differences in his body at times, but it looks like he's trying to prove he can be more of an every down guy. He had some nice moments in the spring game when matched up against Colby Cyburt, and there were occasional sequences in practice where he was virtually unblockable. If he can hit that level with consistency, he could be a nice weapon in UCLA's pass rush arsenal.

Taylor Lagace had a decent spring, working primarily at inside linebacker. The depth on the inside is considerable, though, particularly with Jack working there frequently, so we're not sure how much impact he'll have this year.

Ryan Hofmeister, who has been a mainstay of the two-deep over the last two years, looked like his usual self this spring, and, while you have to figure that some of the more physically talented players will overtake him this fall, he should still get some playing time this year.

Best-Guess Two-Deep for San Bernardino:

Outside Linebacker
Kenny Orjioke
Aaron Wallace

Inside Linebacker
Eric Kendricks
Isaako Savaiinaea

Inside Linebacker
Myles Jack
Jayon Brown

Best-Guess Two-Deep for Virginia:

Outside Linebacker
Kenny Orjioke
Aaron Wallace

Inside Linebacker
Eric Kendricks
Isaako Savaiinaea

Inside Linebacker
Myles Jack
Jayon Brown/Kenny Young

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