Scout Team Review: Defense

Feb. 9 -- Most players on the defense who were ready ended up playing last year, but there were some guys with big upside who sat out most of last year...

As is our annual tradition, over the next couple of days we’ll break down and analyze how the Scout team players and backups who didn’t play a lot developed over the course of the year. On the defensive side of the ball, you’ll note that it’s a very limited group we’re analyzing. In large part, this is due to the fact that most players who were ready to play last year played considerably, mostly due to depth issues at key spots. Additionally, a few guys who were key on the Scout team last year, including Kevin McReynolds, are no longer with the program.

Scout Team Review: Defense

Johnny Johnson.
Johnny Johnson CB (5'9, 175) RS SO — Johnson has now missed the entirety of his first two years in the program, and if he were to suddenly get fully healthy, he’d almost certainly be eligible to get a hardship waiver of some sort to get the second year of eligibility back. The question, though, is how healthy he’s going to be. Johnson is expected to give it a go in spring, but from what we’ve heard, his shoulder is still very questionable, and it’s the case where it could very well be a chronic injury. The hope is that he has a good spring and is able to carry that into fall, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty about the health of his shoulder.

2015 Projection: Backup cornerback (if healthy)
Long term: Healthy - potential starter

Jalen Ortiz CB (5'9, 182) JR — We were actually surprised at how naturally Ortiz seemed to take to corner, given that he switched from receiver and hadn’t played cornerback at all at the college level.He probably doesn’t project as a starter in either of the next two years, but we could see him growing into a solid backup cornerback. He has good quickness and recovery speed, but the big thing for him is developing on the mental and technical side, which will come with more reps.

2015 Projection: Backup cornerback
Long term: Backup cornerback

Justin Combs CB (5'7, 170) RS JR — Combs played a bit on special teams this year, and that’s about where we’d project him for his final two years. He actually is a pretty physical player, and not a bad athlete, but just not at Pac-12 level in either respect, and his frame limits him.

2015 Projection: Special Teams
Long term: Special Teams

Denzel Fisher CB (6'1, 180) RS FR — Fisher sat out a big portion of the season with a shoulder injury, but we’ve heard he should be good to go for spring. He’s still the long, tall, somewhat raw athlete we saw in fall camp, and could probably use another year of seasoning. Long term, he projects as a potential starter, especially given UCLA’s desire for longer, bigger cornerbacks.

2015 Projection: Backup cornerback
Long term: Potential starter

Ron Robinson Safety (6'2, 195) RS FR — We've learned that Robinson will most likely leave UCLA after this quarter. He didn't fit very well at safety, but perhaps could have slid into a linebacker spot down the road, given that he has a pretty big frame.

2015 Projection: Out of program
Long term: Out of program

Ainuu Taua.
Ainuu Taua NT (5'11, 296) RS FR — Taua did some work on his body during the season and he looks a bit better than he did when he came in initially, carrying less bad weight. He looked good this year, showing good quickness on the interior playing on the Scout team. Long term, he projects as a situational defensive lineman, potentially playing like Keenan Graham did a year ago, using his quickness on the interior to beat guards and centers. Playing nose-tackle full time might be a bit of stretch with his frame, but he should have a pretty substantial role as a pass rusher on the interior.

2015 Projection: Backup nose tackle
Long term: Situational inside pass rusher

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner DE (6'2, 262) SO — From what we’ve heard, Tuioti-Mariner has bulked up considerably with good weight over the last few months, and it’s expected that he could slide inside after spending his first year mostly playing the Owamagbe Odighizuwa defensive end role. Tuioti-Mariner has good quickness and athleticism, so it’s intriguing to think about how he could fit in potentially at the three-technique. This coming year, he’ll potentially slide behind Eddie Vanderdoes at the other inside position, and be in line to start the following year.

2015 Projection: Backup three-technique
Long term: Potential starter

Matt Dickerson DE (6'4, 270) SO — It also wouldn’t be shocking to see Dickerson slide inside as he grows and develops. He’s solidly built already, so it’d be a question of how much weight he can put on while maintaing his quickness, but his best asset is his strength, and that might translate better on the inside. Depending on which way his body goes, he has the potential to be a starter at either end or tackle.

2015 Projection: Backup defensive end/three-technique
Long term: Potential starter

Cameron Judge ILB (6'1, 220) JR — Judge has spent his first two years in the program as mostly a special teams ace, but we still think there’s some upside there for him to be a contributor to the defense. With the inside linebacker depth chart being what it is going into the 2015 season (read: it’s shallow), we could see Judge finally making his way into the two-deep. He is a good tackler and moves well sideline-to-sideline from what we’ve seen, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do with him this spring.

2015 Projection: 2nd string inside linebacker
Long term: 2nd string inside linebacker

Dwight Williams ILB (6'0, 200) RS FR— Williams sat out most of the year injured, but from what we saw of him, he has a long way to go to be a contributor to the defense, just in terms of physicality and understanding of the defense. He’s a good athlete, and has some coverage ability, so ideally he’d develop into a Jayon Brown type who can cover well out of the linebacker spot. As it is, though, we’d expect him to be a special teams guy this year, and then potentially contribute to the defense down the road.

2015 Projection: Special Teams
Long term: Special teams/backup linebacker

Cameron Griffin.
Cameron Griffin OLB (6'3, 225) RS FR — Griffin opened some eyes in the early going of fall camp before under-going season-ending shoulder surgery. It’s uncertain whether he’ll be a full go for the start of spring camp, but he’s expected to be healthy by the fall. If he can get healthy, he could play this year, and long-term, he has a lot of physical upside, with the potential to be an excellent edge rusher.

2015 Projection: 2nd or 3rd string outside linebacker
Long term: Potential starter

Adarius Pickett Safety (5'11, 192) RS FR -- Pickett's move to safety was already in progress by the end of the season, so we'll throw him in here. Pickett is an interesting case -- he came in last spring as a cornerback, moved to running back in fall camp (and looked good there), and then was moved to safety after Nate Starks emerged as a legitimate backup running back. Pickett probably fits best at safety if he's staying on defense, with good physicality and ability to break on the ball. The question for him is whether he can keep up with the fastest receivers, but we could see him being used a box safety at times to take advantage of his physicality and perceived tackling ability. Running back would probably be the ideal fit for his skills, but with the depth chart there currently, there just might not be a big opportunity for a while. It'll be very interesting to see where he fits long term.

2015 Projection: Backup safety
Long term: Potential starter (at running back or safety).

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