We already covered the defensive backs earlier this month. Now, we'll turn our attention the linebacker corps, which is deep on the inside, but may need to be bolstered on the edge.
Projected Depth Analysis: Linebackers
Although UCLA wasn't able to pull Rashaan Evans out of Alabama, the Bruins did a generally very good job recruiting linebackers in the 2014 cycle. Zach Whitley was committed to Alabama, but UCLA managed to pull him from the Crimson Tide in December. Kenny Young, from Louisiana, went wire-to-wire as a silent UCLA verbal. Both players were stars at Army All-American Bowl practices. Then, in adding Cameron Griffin and Dwight Williams, the Bruins signed two players with a great deal of athleticism who have some upside. Griffin might be one of the most intriguing prospects in the class, because he's a very good athlete who hasn't played much high-level football — in fact, he was primarily a rugby player for much of his early athletic career.
If there was a miss in the class, it was Evans — or, more specifically, the Evans-type rusher on the edge. No matter what way you look at it, UCLA's linebacker corps is fairly stout, but if there is a bit of a gap, it's at outside linebacker. Even if you count Aaron Wallace, who sat out spring while sorting through some non-football issues, UCLA lacks an abundance of that typical 6'4, 240 pound outside linebacker who can rush the passer and play physically with offensive tackles. It's really just Kenny Orjioke and Aaron Wallace, at least for this year, and Orjioke is not a finished product, even as a junior. Griffin, as we said above, has a lot of potential, but we'd be surprised if he played this year. Ian Taubler, though he has the measurables, has to be a question mark at this point simply due to health concerns. Deon Hollins is more of a situational player, and not someone we would project as an every-down linebacker.
When you look at the comparative depth between the outside and inside linebackers, it makes sense why a guy like Whitley was asked to try out a bit at outside linebacker this spring. It also makes us think that, although Jack played nearly exclusively on the inside during the last two weeks of spring practice, he'll make the move back outside before too much time has passed. Jayon Brown, who's kind of Jack-lite, could also do some work as an outside linebacker in a pinch. Perhaps most importantly, the comparative depth makes us think the move to the 4-2-5/3-3-5 look this spring might be a semi-permanent switch, at least for the next year or two.
It's actually a little refreshing that UCLA responds to depth issues at various positions by switching the scheme to accommodate the talent, instead of trying to jam talent into positions where it doesn't fit. It's going to be interesting, actually, to see how the scheme changes work this season. Judging by the spring, UCLA had an improved pass rush thanks to the changes, as well as better pass coverage. The issue, obviously, will be how UCLA does in run defense with fewer linebackers on the field. If UCLA is porous against the run, that could force UCLA back to a more traditional 3-4 or 4-3 look at some point in the season. If the hybrid-nickel defense really takes off, though, then that could change the paradigm for how UCLA recruits at both defensive line and linebacker.
As of now, though, the obvious need is at outside linebacker/edge rusher. Even if Orjioke turns into a star this year, the Bruins get just two more years of him. Even if Wallace makes his way back to the field, he, too, only has two more years of eligibility left. Jack is likely a three-year college player who will move onto the NFL after 2015. The absence of those three will leave a vacuum that will need to be filled by at least two outside-types in the 2015 class. Just for class balance purposes, we'd also like to see the Bruins snag at least one inside linebacker (who might very well be the already-committed Victor Alexander), but the imperative need is on the outside.
It shouldn't actually be too difficult of a sell to get outside linebackers to sign on. With Anthony Barr getting picked with the 9th pick in the NFL Draft, Myles Jack rapidly turning into one of the biggest stars in college football, and Orjioke potentially making a leap this year, the track record of churning out talented products is there. Coupled with obvious early playing time available no later than the 2016 season, it's perfectly reasonable to think that UCLA, which is already looking good for Keisean Lucier-South, should be able to nail down two high-level outside linebackers in the 2015 class.
Depth in 2015
Aaron Wallace RS SR*
Kenny Orjioke SR
Ian Taubler RS JR**
Myles Jack JR***
Deon Hollins JR
Cameron Griffin RS FR
Taylor Lagace RS JR
Jayon Brown JR
Isaako Savaiinaea JR
Cameron Judge JR
Zach Whitley SO
Dwight Williams SO
Kenny Young SO
Victor Alexander FR****
* = eligibility concerns
** = health concerns
*** = likely leaves for NFL after season
**** = verbally committed