Top Performer: Myles Jack
We said it a couple of times during the spring, but this spring, Jack looked like the kind of player who could average double-digit tackles this season. Slotting in at inside linebacker, he looked completely natural and instinctual, and was in on basically every tackle. The only downside is that playing inside might limit his opportunities to split out into coverage, but judging by what we saw this spring, his role will be varied enough that he should be able to impact the game in all his usual myriad ways.
Most Improved: Kenny Young
Young looked so much more comfortable this spring than he did at any point last season. He was reacting to plays much quicker, and that in turn made him look more explosive. Like Jack, he was always around the ball during 11-on-11, and we'd anticipate those two guys having a fun competition to see who gets the most tackles this year.
The linebacker corps ostensibly dealt with a changing of the guard this spring, with Scott White being hired as the linebackers coach, but in reality, White was already doing a great deal of the coaching. There was a general sense of continuity with the linebacker coaching, which helped with some of the position changes.
As we wrote about, it appears that the two interior positions are completely locked down after spring: Jack and Young, barring injury, will be the two starters on the interior. The outside positions, though, are a little more uncertain. Aaron Wallace went wire-to-wire as the first-string outside linebacker, but we get the sense that a healthy Kenny Orjioke, or a surging Cameron Griffin, could push him quite a bit in the fall. Wallace did get in significantly better shape this offseason, which has made him a bit more mobile on the outside, but Orjioke and Griffin are better athletes, and their upside is likely higher than Wallace. Orjioke obviously sat out the spring while recovering from ACL surgery, but Griffin looked good. He's up to 235+ pounds right now, and moves really well for that size.
On the other side, Deon Hollins more or less has his job sewn up as the pass rusher, but he could also see some competition from guys like Keisean Lucier-South this fall. This spring, Hollins had a really good first two weeks, and actually looked like a more versatile player. He had a few really nice days in pass coverage that opened some eyes. Over the last two weeks, though, he faded a bit, so we'll see what he looks like in the fall. Last spring, he bulked up a little too much, to 230+ pounds, and he said that slowed him down (he played last year at about 215 or 220 pounds). This spring, he said he bulked up again, so perhaps that started to wear on him toward the end of spring.
Beyond the starters, Jayon Brown probably had the best spring of any other linebacker. He looks kind of like Myles Jack-lite. He's a little smaller, a little bit slower, and not quite the physical freak that Jack is, but he covers really well, defends against the run really well, and reacts to plays very quickly. We imagine he'll play significantly this year on defense after being relegated to special teams most of the last two years.
Josh Woods, the freshman, looked skinny this spring, and it would probably make sense to redshirt him, given how young he is and the physical development he needs to undergo. He flashed some athleticism at different points, but in large part, he just didn't have the strength to hold up against the offensive players he was going against. Still, he has tremendous upside.
Isaako Savaiinaea was back with the linebacker for the entirety of spring after playing some defensive end and fullback last year. He looks good physically, but doesn't react quite as quickly to plays as the other inside guys, and doesn't have quite the level of athleticism of a Jack, Brown, or Young.
Cameron Judge, playing exclusively outside linebacker for the first time in his UCLA career, was clearly getting his feet under him this spring, but he had some nice moments. He's up to 220 or so pounds, and he carries the weight pretty well. We're not sure how much he'll play in the actual defense this year, but he should once again be a key part of special teams kick coverage.
Spring Review: Linebackers
Bruin Report Online Top Stories
Early Highlights of 5-star RB Stephen CarrSept. 26 -- Check out early season highlights of Fontana (Calif.) Summit five-star running back Stephen Carr...
Bruin Report Online2:43 AM
Jayon Brown Talks Final Defensive SeriesSept. 26 -- UCLA linebacker Jayon Brown talked briefly about the final defensive series, the performance against Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and more...
Bruin Report Online2:42 AM
UCLA vs. Stanford Unit by Unit AnalysisSep. 26 -- We hand out the grades for UCLA's very disappointing home loss to Stanford...
Bruin Report Online2:42 AM
Subscribe to Bruin Report Online Today!With a 7-day free trial you can check out all the premium content, message boards and more!
Bruin Report Online2:50 AM