UCLA is in a precarious position right now, with several contributing factors making this class a very important one. First, USC’s recruiting efforts have not slowed – and actually seem to have increased – under the new regime, making the in-state battles all the more difficult. Second, the retirement of Nik Abele due to injury causes even more need on the line, which was already a position of need. Third, UCLA could only have around 14-17 scholarships to hand out.
(This is part two, on the defense. For the offensive portion, click here.
With such a major focus on the defensive side of the ball in the last recruiting class, UCLA’s focus will have to shift a bit this season. Linebacker is nowhere near the need it was last year, after signing Josh Shirley, Jordan Zumwalt, Aramide Olaniyan and Eric Kendricks. The defensive backfield, meanwhile, snagged a pair of potential future starters in Dietrich Riley and Anthony Jefferson.
But defensive tackle remains a top priority, taking on added meaning with the loss of Brian Price, though Bruin fans hope Cassius Marsh and Sealii Epenesa were blue chips for the future during last season’s haul.
With USC hauling in a pair of early major commitments in Antwuan Woods and Jalen Grimble, the position is even higher demand.
“The big focus is inside,” Huffman said. “They’ve offered Woods but he’s committed to USC, and Jalen Grimble going to SC. They could end up with four top-100 defensive linemen. What helps UCLA is that those guys are all leans, so Todd Barr or Christian Heyward become big-time UCLA targets. They have a very good chance of landing those guys. Do (the players) keep trying for the SC offer and if they don’t get it, do they still commit to UCLA?”
Barr and Heyward could end up being two of the key guys for this class, and both are getting plenty of attention. Barr, in particular, seems very ready for the college game, and in all of my conversations with him, he’s been very impressive.
“Those are two guys they want from the get-go,” Huffman said. “Heyward was one of the very first guys they offered. Barr is a guy that if UCLA got him, he’d be the most important recruit on that side of the ball. He’s having that good a spring on the camp circuit.”
With Owamagbe Idighizuwa at defensive end for maybe the next four years, defensive end is not as much of a concern, but like linebacker, they would take an elite one – such as Colt Lyerla, Grimble, and Brennan Scarlett.
“If they can get an elite linebacker they’ll take him,” Huffman said. “The only two they’ve offered is Devon Moreland at Salesian and Jason Gibson whose not really reciprocating the interest. The secondary, I think they’d like to get another corner and another safety, but neither of those spots are a huge concern. The pickins are kind of slim. Except for a no-brainer, they want to see more at the one day camp.”
With USC picking up its early commitments, the pressure is on UCLA to start making some noise, and soon. The thought among Bruin fans – or was it just hope? – was that the Trojans’ recruiting success would slow down after the Pete Carroll era, but it’s shown no signs of slowing.
“It’s two words: Ed Orgeron,” Huffman said. “He’s the best recuirter in the game. Head coach, assistant – doesn’t matter. EO puts a whole new meaning to recruiting. Now you have a guy selling that he’s at the school he really loves. He knows all these schools. He’s a tireless recrujter. When you have an assistant coach who will do all this recruiting and then you throw Kiffin on top of it? Now more than ever, guys are seeing the rock-star status of Orgeron. Now EO comes in with the resume of Mike Patterson, Shaun Cody, Warren Sapp. He takes it up a notch. I remember writing an article for Fox Sprots that now is as good a time as any to catch up to USC if you’re the Pac-10. The next day, wrote another article after they hired Kiffin and Orgeron, and said, ‘”Well there was your 24 hour window and it just closed.”
So, quite simply, what will UCLA have to do?
“There’s a reason they’ve had to be very deliberate in this class. They don’t have a lot of offers to give out,” Huffman said. “They’re in that 14-17 range, and that makes them have to be very picky in the spring. They’ll see how it shakes out after fall practice. They may end up with 20 to give by the time signing day comes around. That’s one thing that’s hampering the recruiting efforts a little bit. Last year, they ended up with a top-10 class and they didn’t even get a commitment until the middle of June. They won’t win any races at the beginning, but then you get in to February, and they get the guys they want.”