Statistically, UCLA had one of the best secondaries in the Pac-12 last year. The Bruins' pass defense was excellent at preventing explosive plays, ranking sixth in the country in yards per pass attempt allowed. Obviously, some of that was due to the scheme, which built heavily on the idea of bent-but-don't-break, but the secondary still played very well against the pass for large chunks of the year.
Much of that excellent play came without Fabian Moreau, who sat out most of the year after suffering a Lisfranc fracture in his foot. In his stead, though, Johnny Johnson and Nathan Meadors both emerged as very strong contributors in their own right, with Johnson in particular showing off all of the skills that made him such a highly rated recruit out of high school. Meadors, for his part, started the season at safety, but his acumen and athleticism got him on the field at corner, where he shined and showed excellent instincts for the position.
Randall Goforth and Jaleel Wadood did a great job playing center field and keeping teams from hitting big plays deep, but tackling was an issue at times. UCLA's coaching staff has been adamant about getting bigger and stronger this offseason, and it'll be interesting to see whether Goforth and Wadood, two smallish safeties, can fend off some of the bigger players on the squad to retain their starting spots.
A Look at Spring
UCLA has the luxury this spring of mixing and matching to see how different guys fit in the secondary. Moreau and Johnson (shoulder) are likely both going to be limited this spring, which should open up more opportunities at that corner spot. The other likely starter, Marcus Rios, seems poised for a big year after playing his first complete season as a Bruin last year. Physically, he certainly fits the mold of what UCLA is looking for in defensive players, as he's a strong presence who can certainly hold his own against the run as well as the pass.
The other corner spot is going to be fun to watch this spring. Meadors has a lot of natural ability, and he's drawn very good reviews for his work in the offseason so far. We loved what we saw from him last season, and we wouldn't be shocked to see him get a good amount of first-string reps this spring. Denzel Fisher, who got some much needed experience last year, could also factor into the mix now that he has his feet under him a little bit more. We've also heard enough good things about Colin Samuel that it should be fun to see what he can do this spring.
Octavius Spencer is a little bit of a swing player. Similar to Meadors, he could play either corner or safety, and we'd have to imagine that he'll get time at both this spring while UCLA figures out who fits best where. It could also be that whichever group gets nicked up more could see Spencer land with them.
Safety, as we said above, could be even more interesting. While Goforth and Wadood are obviously the incumbent starters, we wouldn't be shocked to see them get pushed seriously by bigger players on the depth chart. Adarius Pickett had a nice year last year after the light came on during fall camp, and he certainly provides some physicality at safety, so he's one to watch.
Another one to watch is Tahaan Goodman. We had heard toward the end of last season that he was seriously considering a transfer, but that talk has calmed down quite a bit, to the point where we expect him to be out there this spring. Goodman has all the physical ability you could want in a safety, but he hasn't quite gotten to where he needs to be mentally in his UCLA career thus far. If the light comes on, and final seasons have a way of focusing a player, he has the tools to absolutely be a starting-caliber Pac-12 safety.
When we saw him on campus last week, Dechaun Holiday looked like he had filled out considerably, and was probably an easy 220 pounds. Essentially, he looks closer to a linebacker than a corner now, but if he can still move pretty well, he could also be a big, physical safety. He's probably one of the holdovers we're most interested to see this spring. William Lockett could also factor into the safety competition, and we've heard the redshirt year served him well. We've also heard that Mossi Johnson, actually, is most likely switching to defense full-time, but he's obviously still out after tearing his knee again last year.
With Ishmael Adams moving to offense, UCLA will also need to find a nickelback from this group. We would imagine that one of Spencer, Meadors, or Johnson will end up handling the majority of the nickel duties, and there's always the chance that Mique Juarez is so freaky that he inherits that role from Myles Jack.
The only newcomer this spring is Leni Toailoa, with Brandon Burton and Keyon Riley coming in this fall. Toailoa is a very likely redshirt candidate, since he's still young and physically underdeveloped, but it'll be good to get a look at him this spring.
Projected Post-Spring Depth Chart
CB: Marcus Rios, Johnny Johnson, Colin Samuel
S Randall Goforth, Tahaan Goodman, Leni Toailoa
S Jaleel Wadood, Adarius Pickett, Dechaun Holiday
CB Fabian Moreau, Nate Meadors, Denzel Fisher
Nickel: Octavius Spencer, Nate Meadors
Incoming players: S Brandon Burton, CB Keyon Riley.
Injured/Out: Mossi Johnsonnull