UCLA Football: Power Ranking the Young Bruins' Secondary
The UCLA football team faces a big challenge from a personnel standpoint. Jim Mora's bunch has to replace all four starters in the secondary from a season ago.
Options currently available on the squad are talented, but inexperienced for the most part.
This piece will rank the scholarship defensive backs on the roster. The initial names mentioned face an uphill battle for time on the field. A lack of experience and overall talent lends credence to the relative low ranking.
As the list progresses, members towards the end of the slideshow should garner a good deal of play time this season.
Here's a current power ranking of the secondary for the UCLA Bruins.
Two members of the secondary will not compete this season due to injury and illness.
Safety Dietrich Riley was forced to medically retire, per Los Angeles Times. Although a junior, Riley was one of the most experienced members of the secondary.
Riley has since joined as an undergraduate assistant coach. According to Jim Mora, via Los Angeles Daily News, Mora thought it was important to "offer [Riley] the opportunity to see what he wants to do with his life."
Defensive back Marcus Rios has also been ruled out completely this season.
After playing minimally last year, Rios came down with a rare fungus infection in his sinus area. Rios mentioned to the Los Angeles Times that "Only 12 people have ever had the disease, and eight of them have died."
Per Joe Davidson of the Sacramento Bee, Rios is recovering very well after multiple surgeries.
Without Riley and Rios, the depth in the secondary took a big hit.
Justin Combs doesn't appear to figure into the plans this upcoming season.
After redshirting last season, Combs enters this season 5'7" and 170 pounds. He might be too small to endure the rigors of Pac-12 football. He could end up as a valuable member of the scout team. Additionally, special teams could be in his future.
Although consistent play time this season might be a stretch, he's still the son of famed rapper Sean Combs, aka P. Diddy, aka Diddy. That isn't exactly a bad consolation prize.
And hey, how many college football players can boast that they have over 246,000 Twitter followers?
Brandon Sermons hasn't played a ton during his time in Westwood. Now a senior, he'll have the opportunity to make the most of his last year in college.
Per the Los Angeles Times, Sermons has impressed during spring practice. Sermons made the transition over to safety from corner. Defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin told the Los Angeles Times that Sermons "has some coverage ability; that's why he's shown so much at safety."
Although a redshirt senior, Sermons has little experience. He only registered statistics in two contests last season.
The versatility Sermons brings will definitely help out the squad in a pinch. Additionally, he seems as if he could be a serviceable special teams player at this point in his collegiate career.
Stan McKay has moved from his "mini-backer" position to safety, per Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News.
This was done in large part to combat the injury to Riley. McKay is one of the more experienced members of the group. McKay had been employed as a linebacker/safety hybrid. According to ESPN, McKay had 34 tackles and two interceptions on the season.
McKay traditionally is better at playing near the line of scrimmage. He's not necessarily great at defending athletes in space. For that reason, he played last year at the hybrid position.
Expect the redshirt senior from Long Beach Poly High School to be a reserve. He should get play time and provide the younger players with some leadership.
Fabian Moreau is a very interesting case.
Initially recruited as a running back (per the YouTube video above), Moreau made the switch to corner last season as a freshman.
Moreau absolutely drips with upside. At 6'0" and 193 pounds, he's got great size for the position. His long arms and speed give him a chance to be a pretty good corner one day. It's now imperative Moreau continues to learn the nuances of the position.
In an interview with Ted Miller of ESPN, Mora remarked that Moreau is a starter at corner right now. It'll be fascinating to see if Moreau can continue on his rapid rise of development.
Anthony Jefferson is finally healthy.
Jefferson was a much ballyhooed recruit coming out of high school. According to Scout.com, Jefferson chose UCLA over offers from Southern Cal, Oregon, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
The defensive back from Cathedral High School in Los Angeles only played in three games as a freshman before suffering a broken foot. The next season, Jefferson was out the entire year due to back surgery.
With the long road to recovery finally out of the way, it's time to see what Jefferson can do.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Jefferson has been immensely impressive. His length and overall height (6'1") is something that separates him from his fellow competitors.
Martin mentioned how Jefferson "has the length, size, speed, all the traits you want to see in a cornerback."
Understandably so, Jefferson's health is allowing for confidence to bubble.
Jefferson mentioned specifically, per the Los Angeles Times, that he's "felt like [he's] gotten really strong since the winter program. [He's] trying to keep the momentum going."
The Los Angeles Daily News reported Jefferson has recently made the move over from corner to safety. Having the ability to play both positions will surely increase Jefferson's prospects at play time this season.
Ishmael Adams is an absolute bulldog out on the field.
Standing only 5'8" and 190 pounds, Adams isn't overly big. He doesn't necessarily possess the overall size and length one would want to see in the prototypical defensive back. However, he more than makes up for it with physicality and competitiveness.
Adams was slated to be the starting nickel back last season. However, shoulder surgery robbed him of his freshman season.
Now healthy, he looks like a solid bet at playing a good majority of the time this season. Much of Adams' value could come in regards to defending receivers lined up in the slot.
Additionally, Adams could see time returning punts. According to Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News, he's been fielding punts during fall camp.
Randall Goforth is the only returning member of the secondary to start a game last season. Not to mention, he's also only a true sophomore.
If that doesn't illustrate the lack of experience returning, nothing will.
Goforth acquitted himself pretty well as a true freshman. For the year, he had 34 tackles. He showed impressive instincts for a young player. However, there were definitely moments where he did look like a young player. Against Nebraska last season, Goforth dropped a sure interception.
Mora does like Goforth's potential. According to the Los Angeles Times last season, Mora remarked about how Goforth "played consistently, confidently. He overcame mistakes and came back to make big plays."
Based on his experience, it would seem likely that Goforth would start at one of the safety positions.
It makes sense to clump the freshmen group together at this point. Only six practices in, it is a bit early to get a complete feel for which freshmen will see time this season.
Jim Mora has been emphatic in saying Priest Willis will be a cornerback. Per the Los Angeles Daily News, Mora specified that Willis stands out. "He absolutely, positively, can play corner at this level. He has the quickness. He has the burst. He's got the length."
Willis has great size for the position at 6'2" and 185 pounds. With that type of praise, Willis seems like a sure bet to at worst play in a reserve role.
According to Edward Lewis of Rivals.com, cornerback Johnny Johnson suffered a separated shoulder in practice. There's no telling how long that could keep Johnson out for. If it is for an extended period of time, he could be headed for a redshirt year.
Jayon Brown was ranked as a 3-star athlete coming out of Long Beach Poly High School. It wasn't exactly clear whether he was to play at linebacker or as a safety. Based on the rankings, Brown wasn't supposed to be as talented as the aforementioned quartet.
Based on early reports, Brown has more than proven his worth. Reporter Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register reported that Brown has stood out amongst the freshmen in the 2013 class. Kartje also tweeted that Brown will play for now as a safety.
It's conceivable that all five freshmen could play this season in some capacity. Willis sounds like he has a chance to see time right away. The other freshmen could impact on special teams and in reserve roles.
Although it's very early, here's a prediction as to whom will start in the secondary up to this point:
CB: Priest Willis
FS: Anthony Jefferson
SS: Randall Goforth
CB: Fabian Moreau
Nickel Back: Ishmael Adams