We continue our 2020 UCLA Football Fall Preview series with a look at the Bruin defensive line. The arrival of new coach Brian Norwood has brought about a renewed focus on defense and, while Norwood’s position group is the defensive backs, the Bruins appear to be planning to play a 4-2-5 defense as their base defense this season.
On paper, it looks to add a defensive lineman to the field as UCLA’s base defense last season was a 3-4, but, in reality, we will likely still see an outside linebacker as a DE/OLB hybrid.
The best news for the defensive line is that no one graduated. That means that the Bruins return a wealth of experience on the defensive line, but it doesn’t mean that the defensive line hasn’t lost anyone.
The biggest, and I mean that literally, departure from the defensive line is Atonio Mafi. The defensive line was deep enough that Mafi has switched to the offensive side of the ball.
Mafi isn’t the only defensive lineman to shift to the offensive side. Redshirt freshman Siale Liku is also adding depth to the offensive line now.
Steven Mason’s domestic violence arrest makes it look like he will be gone permanently from the team. Technically, he’s indefinitely suspended but, when Chip Kelly was asked about if Mason has a pathway to return to the team, Kelly said no.
There are just two other departures. David Vardanian and Ulysses Aburto have both left the team. Neither one saw any action last season.
Just as there were no graduating seniors, there are also no new guys on the defensive line either. That means the only thing new on the defensive line will be the fact that the Bruins will play with four defensive linemen this season.
The good news for the Bruins defensive line is that the team returns plenty of experience this season. Look for this year’s line to be anchored by Osa Odighizuwa and Datona Jackson. With Mafi moving to the offensive line, Otito Ogbonnia should start at one of the tackles positions. Tyler Manoa and Odua Isibor will likely play big roles on this year’s line. Martin Andrus, Jr. will return to the team at some point after redshirting last season as the result of tearing his ACL.
This is the full defensive line roster for this season.
This is where things get interesting. That’s because it’s likely that the depth chart will include some linebackers backing up Datona Jackson at defensive end and possibly elsewhere on the defensive line.
This is my projected three-deep depth chart.
This is the most experienced defensive line Chip Kelly has had yet. It’s a line which should be able to stop the run. Hopefully, this year’s line will also be able to do a better job creating a pass rush. Ultimately, Brian Norwood’s contributions will likely make or break the success of the defense and determine whether Jerry Azzinaro remains the defensive coordinator, if only in name, for next season.