Fall camp preview: Linebackers

When it comes to UCLA linebackers, might as well start here:

Anthony Barr announced himself to many national viewers with that hit, even if it was helped by abysmal blocking. It was a microcosm of the UCLA-USC rivalry tilting toward Westwood: Matt Barkley’s college career ended, and Barr made him highlight-reel fodder for a potential Heisman campaign. He’ll likely be a top-ten pick come May, after he’s flooded with various all-conference and All-American honors.

Already a dynamic player, Barr has worked to improve his pass coverage skills and bulked up to an impressive 255 pounds. While he’s easily the team’s best player, his position teammates aren’t shabby either.

Key returners: UCLA has several skilled starters and supporting players, making the linebackers arguably the team’s deepest unit. Inside linebacker Eric Kendricks led the Pac-12 with 150 tackles last season, and should be one of the conference’s top-25 players after his all-conference snub last season. Senior Jordan Zumwalt is an underrated athlete and a good tackler who pairs well with Kendricks in solidifying the middle of the defense.

The spot opposite Barr at outside linebacker is still up for grabs, but the soft-spoken Aaron Wallace enters camp with a slight lead there. The sophomore looked bigger through spring practice and has a physical, well-rounded game.Another candidate is sophomore Kenny Orjioke, an athletic 18-year-old who should be a quality starter at some point in his career.

Redshirt junior Ryan Hofmeister took most of the first-team reps in spring while Kendricks was sidelined with a sprained ankle. He impressed coaches enough and should be a solid backup inside.

Key newcomers: True freshman Myles Jack has earned early praise from both Barr and head coach Jim Mora. An athletic four-star recruit, Jack was named Washington state’s Player of the Year by the Seattle Times. He has the size (6-foot-1, 225) and pass-rushing instincts to become a star, and could push for a starting spot soon if he proves capable in coverage. Also a star running back at Bellevue High, he could see some situational reps on offense.

Deon Hollins Jr. is another four-star recruit who could contribute right away outside. Inside linebacker Isaac Savaiinaea was regarded as one of Hawaii’s best recruits in recent years, and should blossom down the line.

Projected starters:
OLB — Anthony Barr, Sr., 6-4, 255
ILB — Eric Kendricks, Jr., 6-0, 228
ILB — Jordan Zumwalt, Sr., 6-4, 235
OLB — Aaron Wallace, So., 6-2, 240

Fall camp previews:
Offensive line
Wide receiver/tight end
Running back
Defensive backs