UCLA spring football standouts: Defense

Jaelan Phillips (top), Adarius Pickett (bottom right) and Rick Wade (bottom left) were among the defensive standouts for UCLA during spring practice. (Photos by Keith Birmingam/SCNG/Pasadena Star-News)

It’s next man up for the UCLA defense.

The Bruins aren’t fretting the loss of four NFL Draft picks and two more starters who signed as free agents.

There were many candidates for spring practice defensive standouts, but here are three, along with yesterday’s three standouts on the offensive side:


UCLA safety Adarius Pickett celebrates his interception with John Johnson, right, in the third quarter Saturday against Texas A&M. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Before stepping in front of the cameras after UCLA’s spring game last Saturday, Pickett carefully adjusted the gray headband his mother made him. Across the piece of fabric, Pickett’s mother had written in silver puffy paint “Pick Six.” The safety certainly lived up to that nickname this spring.

Pickett grabbed at least six interceptions during team periods last month, which by my unofficial tally led the team. He credited his standout spring to his winter workout regimen with strength coach Sal Alosi as well as extra film study.

Defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin called Pickett the secondary’s “next Fabian Moreau.” That’s not to say Pickett is taking over Moreau’s starting corner spot (that’s still a wide open competition), but indicates that Pickett is becoming the emotional leader and steadying influence that the soft-spoken Moreau was.

“That’s a big statement coming from him,” Pickett said of Martin’s praise. “I really appreciate the compliments I have been receiving from my coaches. Fabian is one of my big brothers and he has taught me a lot while he was here.”

Pickett is likely an upgrade over Randall Goforth this year because he’s not only good in coverage, but he plays the enforcer role well. Pickett’s NFL idol is Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor — that’s why Pickett wears a dark visor at practice — and he sets the tone for the defense with hard hits.


Rick Wade (right) played almost 400 snaps as a redshirt freshman. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Wade was once the defensive line understudy to Keisean Lucier-South in the 2014 recruiting class, but the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Wade is outgrowing the backseat. Wade added 25 pounds during his redshirt year and played close to 400 snaps last season. Heading into his redshirt sophomore year, Wade said his weight had remained mostly stable, but he’s adding strength and refining his technique.

He seemed like the most dominant defensive lineman of the bunch during one-on-ones and racked up at least two wins against Kenny Lacy every day. During one practice, Wade got multiple touch sacks in team periods against Lacy, forced a safety, recovered a fumble and batted a Josh Rosen pass down at the line of scrimmage. Again, that’s all in one practice’s work.

“He’s playing well,” defensive line coach Angus McClure said of Wade. “He’s playing very physical, good technique, great energy, so we’re fortunate to have a lot of depth right now.”


Jaelan Phillips (15) rushes the quarterback past running back Brandon Stephens (20) during UCLA’s spring game. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/SCNG/Pasadena Star-News)

Replacing Takkarist McKinley is likely too large a task for one player to accomplish this year, but Phillips is one of the many who will combine their efforts hoping to replicate McKinley’s success.

Phillips didn’t look out of place at all as an early enrollee last month. He was hampered a little bit toward the end of the month with a minor toe injury, but that didn’t stop him from breathing down Devon Modster and Austin Burton’s necks during the spring game.

The defensive line is stacked this year, which is why I chose two defensive line standouts, and the group didn’t even have all of its pieces this spring; freshmen defensive tackles Greg Rogers and Martin Andrus will join the squad this summer.

The first-team defense usually trotted out Lucier-South as its staring razor (the pass rushing defensive end role once filled by McKinley) during the first team period of practices, then Phillips would take the first reps during the next team period. McClure is known for rotating his guys well on the defensive front, so expect both former five-stars to get significant playing time this fall, no matter who gets the official “start” in the stat sheet.

Other defensive standouts: DE Osa Odighizuwa (named most improved defensive player), LB Josh Woods, LB Kenny Young, DB Darnay Holmes