UCLA post-spring position outlook: Secondary

Spring football is done, and over three months still stand between us and the start of UCLA’s third season under Jim Mora — one that comes with national title aspirations and accompanying media glare. This blog will cover the status of each position group moving forward. Next up …

Secondary

UCLA is very familiar with offense-to-defense success. With the last project off to the NFL as a top-ten pick, can the Bruins duplicate that sort of transformation?

Heading into the 2014 season, the best bet on the roster is Fabian Moreau — a former three-star running back who converted to cornerback as soon as he arrived in Los Angeles two years ago. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound soon-to-be junior earned an all-conference honorable mention in just his second year at the position — one in which he started 12 games.

Through spring, the consensus among wide receivers is that Moreau has developed into one of the top lockdown corners in the conference. Head coach Jim Mora even took a tumble off Hyperbole Cliff last month, tapping Moreau as not only an All-American, but potential first-round draft pick.

Though that may be optimistic, Moreau remains the budding star of a secondary that has — in just two years — turned itself from UCLA’s biggest liability to arguably its deepest unit. Though the defensive backs don’t possess the same sort of top-end talent that rests on UCLA’s defensive line, it returns all four starters and has enough bodies to sustain a serious injury or two without disastrous results.

That depth has allowed the Bruins to shift more heavily toward a nickel defense this spring, something that will most likely carry over into the regular season. After battling multiple injuries to start his college career, Anthony Jefferson became the team’s most improved defensive player, and returns as a senior capable of playing either safety or cornerback.

Joining him as experienced starters are safety Randall Goforth and cornerback Ishmael Adams. The former can also slide down to corner at times, while the latter is the team’s resident defensive pest — one that has had some UCLA receivers pointing out how often he likes to hold. Late in spring, Adams also moved to nickelback and took the spot well. At a listed height of just 5-foot-8, he plays with a chip on his shoulder and should be a mainstay in the defensive backfield for three more seasons.

Sophomore Tahaan Goodman was the group’s breakout star this spring, turning himself from a special teams player into arguably the team’s hardest hitting safety. He started in the nickel formation for parts of spring, but bounced back to second string later on. However, still appears well ahead of good friend and fellow 2013 classmate Priest Willis, who signed as one of the nation’s top 60 recruits.

After a promising start to fall camp as a freshman, Willis fell off sharply and has yet to pull himself back into tight competition for a starting spot. That season, he admitted, hurt his confidence as he transitioned from safety. He improved late last month and started with the first-team defense in the spring game, but still hasn’t lived up to the hype that surrounded him coming out of Tempe’s Marcos de Niza High.

Redshirt freshman Johnny Johnson reinjured the same shoulder he had surgery on last summer, and could be questionable for this fall. However, four-star recruits Adarius Picket and Jaleel Wadood both enter as potential rotation cornerbacks. Pickett enrolled early and had some good moments, while Wadood — the Los Angeles Times and Long Beach Press-Telegram — should also contribute.

Level of concern: 2/10

*With 10 being the highest cause for concern this upcoming season, the scale is based mainly on the unit’s top talent as well as its depth. The latter might be weighed more or less depending on the position group; it would be more important to have multiple running backs than multiple quarterbacks, for example.

Previously …
May 1 — Quarterbacks
May 2 — Running backs
May 3 — Receivers
May 4 — Offensive line
May 6 — Defensive line
May 8 — Linebackers

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