» A linebacker competition that defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich called “wide open” last week might be near close. True freshman Kenny Young has nearly locked down the inside spot. Outside, redshirt junior Aaron Wallace has been used most in the base scheme, while sophomore Deon Hollins gets a lot of play in the nickel formation.
“There are some frontrunners, but it’s not done,” Ulbrich said. “It’s not over with.”
The odd man out is junior Kenny Orjioke, who at 19 years old still hasn’t fully put together his athletic gifts. Ulbrich talked up Orjioke’s versatility, but hinted that the 6-foot-4, 235-pound outside linebacker is a little behind the others.
“He’s a great guy that, if he doesn’t earn the starting spot, will get a ton of paying time,” Ulbrich said. “He’ll spell Deon. He’ll spell Wallace. He’ll be involved in both facets of the defense. That’s a guy we’ll take advantage of for sure.”
» Asked if UCLA’s defense looks tougher now than it did two years, Ulbrich agreed.
“It just feels different,” he said. “There’s a different vibe. Just a different attitude. I don’t know if you guys see that from the outside in. They’ve got a little spiciness to them. It’s like that feeling, like there’s always going to be a fight on every single play. They’re on edge, which I think is a good thing.”
» When pressed on players that stand out in terms of embodying that type of toughness, Ulbrich didn’t hesitate in starting with nose tackle Kenny Clark.
“He’s a grown man,” said Ulbrich. “I’ve played with a lot of really good defensive linemen in my career. He’d be in the top 3 up there with those guys. That’s a guy that if I’m an inside backer, that’s the type of guy you’d want to play behind. He’s unselfish, he’s technically sound, he’s tough as hell. He’s everything that you want.”
Other players Ulbrich named included defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa and linebacker Eric Kendricks.