And yet, even with all the talent leaving the program, two of the most talented in the bunch are still at UCLA: Kenneth Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes. Clark started to appear on the national radar last year as everyone began to realize he’s one of the top nose tackles in the country. Vanderdoes, who struggled with some injuries heading into last year, didn’t really hit his stride until about midway through the year, but he has tremendous talent. Those two will have to make up some for the unexpected loss of McCarthy, but even with the amount of talent that has left for the NFL in the last three years, there’s still plenty to field a very good defensive line in 2015.
A Look at Spring
What we’re probably most excited for this spring: Eddie Vanderdoes finally getting a healthy spring practice under his belt. Vanderdoes was still heading to Notre Dame in spring of 2013 and was out with a foot injury last spring, which led to him being a little out of shape to start last season. This year, with hopefully a full healthy offseason, it’ll be interesting to see how well conditioned he is through spring and heading into the fall.
Clark, obviously, is a known quantity at this point. We saw him this week too, and he looks like he’s continued to develop his body, though he didn’t have a bad one to begin with. A big key this spring will be developing some kind of depth behind him. With McCarthy gone, UCLA has a pretty large hole in its second string defensive line, and some combination of players is going to have to fill it.
We’ve heard that Najee Toran is most likely flipping to the defensive line after spending last year as a guard. He showed a great mean streak on the offensive line, and while we typically have some trepidation about players flipping from OL to DL, we think he has the traits that could make the switch a good one. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of weight he’s put on in the last year (he was probably 270 at most last year), which could mean the difference between him being a potential nose tackle or just a three-technique.
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, we’ve heard, has begun to grow into a defensive tackle after spending last year mostly in the Owamagbe Odighizuwa role. We’ve slotted him in at the defensive tackle spot behind Eddie Vanderdoes in our Projected Post-Spring Depth Chart, but it’ll really depend on what we see of him this spring. Depending on how his body has grown, he could slide into a variety of different positions (and the depth chart we’ve created is pretty general considering how many different looks UCLA has used in the last few years).
Matt Dickerson is another player whose body could dictate him moving more inside going forward, so that’ll be something to watch this spring. Ainuu Taua projected as a situational nose tackle when we saw him last fall, since he doesn’t quite have the frame and body to be a full-time guy there, but with his quickness from the inside position, it’ll be interesting to see if he gets moved around a bit to take advantage of his pass rush ability. Eli Ankou and Carl Hulick should fill out the depth chart at a variety of positions.
Tom Bradley is the new defensive coordinator, and he’s historically had a variety of defenses, but we’ve heard the plan is to stick with mostly a 3-4 base defense. UCLA has used a variety of fronts throughout the Mora era, though, so we’ll keep our eye out for formational changes that Bradley brings in this spring.
Projected Post-Spring Depth Chart
JR Takkarist McKinley
SO Matt Dickerson
RS JR Eli Ankou
JR Kenneth Clark
RS FR Ainuu Taua
RS JR Carl Hulick
JR Eddie Vanderdoes
SO Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
SO Najee Toran