UCLA spring camp position reviews: Defensive backs

UCLA Bruins defensive back John Johnson (7) during a NCAA college spring football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Saturday, April 24, 2015. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News)

UCLA cornerback Johnny Johnson runs with the ball during the Bruins’ “Spring Showcase” at the Rose Bowl on April 24, 2015.
(Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Like UCLA’s offensive line, the secondary is a unit that has grown significantly during the Jim Mora era. Back in 2012, the Bruins were maligned for their pass defense, one that ranked eighth in the Pac-12. In the last two years, they haven’t ranked lower than fourth.

With every starter returning, there’s plenty of depth in the defensive backfield, one that has emphasized positional versatility to facilitate the use of shifting schemes and to better secure against injuries. This fall, the X-factor will be whether or not any one player makes the leap into becoming a dominant, shutdown corner.

The best candidate is likely still senior Fabian Moreau, who looked fantastic in spring and fall camp last year before a very uneven 2014 season. The former running back was burned repeatedly through the first half of his junior campaign, but eventually found more a rhythm as the year wound to a close. Position coach Demetrice Martin said in April that Moreau often appeared to be in great position for a play, then explicably stopped running all the way through. The Florida native has since made an effort to work on his ball skills and fix that habit. Continue reading

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Demetrice Martin breaks down UCLA’s veteran secondary

UCLA defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin said this week that he’s coaching the deepest secondary he’s ever had in Westwood — one that will also welcome a highly touted freshman this summer in four-star recruit Dechaun Holiday.

Much of that has been due to Martin’s own recruiting efforts, landing multiple four-star prospects every cycle. This year, the Bruins’ top five defensive backs have 80 combined games of starting experience in this system.

The assistant coach broke down a few of his players.

On cornerback Marcus Rios, who put on more than 20 pounds since the end of last season:

“Now he’s feelin’ a lot more cushion for the pushin’. I always joke with him, say he took his legs off and attached them to his shoulders, put his arms on his legs. He’s able to run into guys, feeling real muscular. … He’s fearless, man.”

On cornerback Fabian Moreau, who struggled out of the gates in what was a heavily hyped junior campaign:

“I call him a Cadillac. He’s a such a smooth, powerful guy, where sometimes he feels like he’s in great position, and then it looks like he relaxes. Continue reading

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UCLA announces Tom Bradley as new defensive coordinator

UCLA has announced the hiring of former Penn State assistant Tom Bradley as the Bruins’ new defensive coordinator, officially ending a search the began almost three weeks ago.

“To bring a coach of Tom Bradley’s caliber to UCLA is very exciting,” head coach Jim Mora said in a statement. “His knowledge of the game, extensive experience, level of intensity and attention to detail all make him one of the best defensive teachers in college football.

“Combine that with the fact that he has strong national recruiting ties and is one of the most well respected coaches in the game — it all adds up to Tom being a tremendous addition to our staff.” Continue reading

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UCLA assistant Jeff Ulbrich named defensive coordinator

Linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich has been promoted to defensive coordinator, making official a promotion that had been expected for weeks. He fills the vacancy left by Lou Spanos, who left the Bruins last month to become the Tennessee Titans’ linebackers coach.

Ulbrich was also the team’s special teams coordinator, a unit that leads the country in blocked kicks and punts over the last two seasons, and was top-20 last fall in both kick and punt return coverage. The 36-year-old was nominated for the 2013 Broyles Award for college football’s top assistant coach. Continue reading

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