The strength of the UCLA team in 2009 will again be on the defensive side of the ball.
The Bruins have relied on their defense to win games over the last few years and this season should be no different. This may be one of the most balanced and consistent squads to wear the blue and gold in recent memory.
There are star athletes at all three defensive levels and some of these guys will be playing on Sundays in the future. The big problem is a lack of depth and pass rush from the ends.
Chuck Bullough takes over for the departed Dewayne Walker but the defensive play calling should be similar. Some have said that Bullough is a bit more conservative than the aggressive, blitzing Walker but only time will prove that out.
The biggest threat up front is Brian Price. He'll again be asked to do a bit of everything this season: placing pressure on the quarterback as well as stopping anyone coming up the middle. His quick first step and immense physical abilities will draw instant double teams.
The rest of the defensive tackle depth is a big concern. Jerzy Siewierski will line up next to Price and the strong 290-pound senior can hold his own but after that UCLA is scary thin up front.
The defensive ends will likely see a rotation with Jones, Stokes, Bosworth and Holmes. None of them have really emerged as a serious pass rushing threat, though I think Boswoth should be in the backfield with some consistency this season. One of these guys will need to step up and help take the pressure off of Price.
I think this might be one of the more athletic linebacking corps at UCLA in recent years. Reggie Carter is the big name in the middle, but I could see Akeem Ayers getting some press this season as well. He had a breakout true-freshman season in 2008 and that success should continue on this year. Senior Kyle Bosworth is back from injury and will anchor the other outside slot.
Depth is a concearn among the linebackers as well, with virtually no proven experience nor size among the backups.
The secondary has some talented young guys, but the biggest worry for opposing quarterbacks will again be senior cornerback Alterraun Verner. Despite being kind of short (a generous 5'11" on the official site) and not the most athletic guy, Verner is one smart player. A true student athlete, and student of the game, he'll lead the secondary and lock down his side of the field as well.
Across from Verner will be red-shirt freshman Aaron Hester.
He had an impressive spring and wowed the coaches and fans with his big plays and toughness. He'll get picked on early by opposing quarterbacks, so the young corner from Compton will need to grow up quickly.
Rahim Moore is back for another year at free safety and he is sure to start every game he'll ever play at UCLA. Next to him will be Glenn Love. The tall, hard hitting sophomore has always been a favorite of mine and he'll be called upon in run support. He probably would have played more in the past but injuries have slowed him down.
The Bottom Line
UCLA's first string defense looks pretty good. Price, Carter, and Verner are all pre-season All-Pac 10 selections. If this group can stay healthy and find a play-maker or two at defensive end, then they should do very well this year. The secondary is young but talented and they have the potential to be truly awesome by the end of the year.
The big problem is depth, especially at defensive tackle. Heaven help us if Brian Price or Jerzey Siewierski go down with injury. There isn't a lot of help at linebacker either. The lack of depth also means this team will run out of gas in games unless the offense can carry some of the load.
That's never a sure thing with the Bruins.