DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa is primed for a breakout season
With fall camp set to start Saturday in San Bernardino, it's time to take a look at some Bruins on the defensive side of the ball that could make a name for themselves in the upcoming season.
This preview will stay away from the proven defensive commodities—such as defensive back Sheldon Price and safety Tevin McDonald—and will instead focus on a somewhat under-the-radar quintet that the casual Pac-12 fan might not be fully aware of.
There's no secret that the team is in need of production defensively. Head coach Jim L. Mora and defensive coordinator Lou Spanos hope to execute and create a disruptive scheme that will focus upon causing havoc and getting after the opponent's quarterback.
Here's a look at five potential playmakers on the defensive side of the ball for the UCLA Bruins:
After the twosome, things get a bit dicey.
Depth at the position is somewhat of a concern due to injuries to multiple members of the secondary. With that in mind, incoming freshmen Ishmael Adams and Marcus Rios have the opportunity for playing time this season.
Rios has a long and lengthy build. His impressive wingspan allows for him to be effective on making plays when the ball is in the air. In addition, Rios was an early enrollee out of high school, and participated fully in spring practice. That experience should definitely help his prospects of playing early in his career.
While Rios might have a leg up with enrolling early, Adams is a polished prospect in his own right. He's stronger and bigger than the super-thin Rios, and is known for playing with controlled bouts of aggression and physicality.
Expect one of them (possibly along with fellow freshman Randall Goforth) to play this season. Depending on the health of fellow defensive backs Brandon Sermons and Anthony Jefferson, either freshman might be slotted in as the nickel back.
Eric Kendricks is definitely a known player amongst the Bruin fan base.
As a redshirt freshman last season, he led the team in tackles with 76. One thing to note is that he accomplished this feat in a reserve role.
Now in a starting role, expect him to build upon a strong freshman campaign.
When watching Kendricks play, there's no question that he plays with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm. He's constantly around the ball and demonstrated impressive instincts for such a young player.
He's also an incredibly physical football player—always attempting to strip ball carriers of the ball with the goal of creating turnovers.
With continued tutoring from linebackers coach and former NFL player Jeff Ulbrich, Kendricks should pick up the nuances and intricacies of the position—enhancing his game even more.
While he's not a secret to the UCLA faithful, he should gain notoriety throughout the conference with a strong season. He has the talent to be one of the better inside linebackers in the Pac-12.
It's almost unheard of for UCLA to land a 5-star defensive lineman. That's why the signing of Ellis McCarthy is such a significant deal.
The Monrovia, Calif. product possesses outstanding athleticism and quickness for a man 6'5" 330 pounds. He was literally a man amongst boys in high school, often disposing of lineman and rendering them useless.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, McCarthy recently underwent a minor surgery for a torn meniscus. He's expected to be out anywhere from two weeks to a month. With the Bruins set to start camp this upcoming weekend, the staff hopes the recovery period isn't too extended.
Even if McCarthy misses the next month, he's far too talented to keep off the field. He'll impact the depth chart right away and should produce from both at defensive end and potentially at nose tackle.
He's arguably the most talented prospect UCLA has signed in over a decade.
Odighizuwa (94) has all the talent in the world
Potential. Athleticism. Upside. Raw. Physical freak.
All of the adjectives mentioned are parts of speech that have been used to describe defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa.
The Bruins hope one other word can be attributed to Odighizuwa this upcoming season: production.
Along with McCarthy, "Owa" could be the most physically gifted member on the entire football team.
There's never been a question about Odighizuwa's overall talent. It's just been a matter of when the proverbial lightbulb would go on for the former 5-star prospect. There have been flashes of his immense upside, but only that—brief moments of what he could be.
Based on spring practice, it appears as if he's finally getting it. "Owa" reportedly looked much more refined from a technique standpoint. As opposed to relying upon bull rushing opponents, he's begun to use his hands effectively—utilizing a mix of swim moves and other pass rushing skills.
The team should definitely be excited about the potential dividends from an improved Odighizuwa. If he can continue to improve and show consistency, he'll be an absolute force off the edge this season.
If there's one member of the team primed for a breakout year, it's Odighizuwa.
The stress of figuring out where he was going to play his college ball is now over, and the former 4-star product from South Carolina is looking to have a successful first season on the collegiate level.
The post-spring depth chart had Willis listed as the first-string nose tackle. He doesn't necessarily have ideal size at 6'2" and 280 pounds, but he's very strong and plays with great leverage.
Landing a player of his caliber from SEC country was a huge addition for the Bruins. His impact will definitely be felt right away, and he should be a staple on the defensive line for years to come.
In recent memory, applying pressure to the opposing quarterback has been one aspect of the defensive line that was sorely lacking.
Not only will Willis help in that department, but the sophomore will aid in shoring up a unit that gave up about 191 yards per game on the ground last season.
DT Donovan Carter