By the numbers countdown to kickoff: 9 days

Eddie Vanderdoes (47) talks with Kenny Young (42) at practice. Photo by Steve McCrank/Daily Breeze

Eddie Vanderdoes (47) talks with Kenny Young (42) at practice. Photo by Steve McCrank/Daily Breeze

Countdown the days to UCLA’s season-opener against Texas A&M with key stats facing the Bruins this year.

10 receiving touchdowns scored by Thomas Duarte last year, which led the team

9 RETURNING STARTERS ON DEFENSE

UCLA sent two big stars on defense to the NFL, but the Bruins are set to reload quickly with nine returning starters.

Eddie Vanderdoes replaces first-round pick Kenny Clark in the starting lineup after a season-ending knee injury last year. Vanderdoes had never missed a game in his college career prior to his injury and made 19 combined starts during his first two years with the Bruins.

Cameron Judge is set to take a starting outside linebacker role opposite Jayon Brown. Judge, a senior, played in 12 games last season and made one start while Myles Jack left school early to prepare for the NFL Draft and recover from a meniscus injury.

Deon Hollins started 12 games last season as an outside linebacker in UCLA’s 3-4 front, but with the team’s switch to a 4-3, defensive end Matt Dickerson worked mostly with the No. 1 unit during training camp. Dickerson played in every game last year and made one start, against Washington State.

The Bruins could have 10 (or possibly 11) upperclassmen starting on defense:

  • Defensive line: Takkarist McKinley (Sr.), Eli Ankou (R-Sr.), Vanderdoes (R-Jr.), Dickerson (Jr.)
  • Linebackers: Brown (Sr.), Kenny Young (Jr.) or Isaako Savaiinaea (Sr.), Judge (Sr.)
  • Defensive backs: Fabian Moreau (Sr.), Randall Goforth (R-Sr.), Jaleel Wadood (Jr.), Marcus Rios (R-Sr.) or Nate Meadors (So.)

The group’s experience is “golden,” Vanderdoes said.

“That’s the biggest asset we have right now,” he continued. “We’ve been through everything. … We’ve experienced big losses, small losses, everything, so I don’t think anything can faze us at this point. We’ve seen it all, we’ve experienced it all. We know what it’s like.”

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Defense under Tom Bradley focuses on stopping run

Defensive lineman Eli Ankou, left, and linebacker Jayon Brown work on their selfie game after practice on Tuesday. The two are two leaders on the UCLA defense this season. Photo by Brad Graverson/The Daily Breeze/SCNG

Defensive lineman Eli Ankou, left, and linebacker Jayon Brown work on their selfie game after practice on Tuesday. The two are two leaders on the UCLA defense this season. Photo by Brad Graverson/The Daily Breeze/SCNG

Tom Bradley returns for his second year as UCLA defensive coordinator and a main concern for him and head coach Jim Mora will be solidifying the rushing defense.

The defense lined up mostly in a 4-3 formation during Tuesday’s practice and the shift could go a long way toward solving UCLA’s inconsistent performances against the run last year. However, Mora, linebacker Jayon Brown and defensive tackle Eli Ankou maintained that the changes are minor. Ankou called it “window dressing.”

“You go point A to point B,” he said. “You just play the game. I wouldn’t say it’s much different.” Continue reading

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UCLA will use two players to replace Eddie Vanderdoes

UCLA defensive lineman Matt Dickerson (99) will be one of the two players expected to try and replace Eddie Vanderdoes. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA defensive lineman Matt Dickerson (99) will be one of the two players expected to try and replace Eddie Vanderdoes. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

After losing defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes to a torn ACL, UCLA will attempt to fill the void with two players: redshirt junior Eli Ankou and sophomore Matt Dickerson.

“It’s going to be hard to replace Eddie,” said defensive line coach Angus McClure. “Obviously we all know the type of player he is, the type of force he can be.”

Still, McClure expressed a bit of optimism. Ankou, he said, is one of the stronger guys on the team, and played well in his 20-plus snaps in UCLA’s 34-16 win over Virginia on Saturday. And whereas Ankou is more a of a “bull-rusher,” Dickerson will provide more speed, length and pass rush to the position. Continue reading

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UCLA post-spring position outlook: Defensive line

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. Over the next week, this blog will cover each of the Bruins’ position groups. Next up …

Defensive line

The star power is there. Just look at Owamagbe Odighizuwa, the former five-star recruit who doesn’t look like he’s missed a step after hip surgeries. Or Eddie Vanderdoes, another five-star defensive end who more than lived up to the billing as a Freshman All-American. Or Kenny Clark, the mammoth nose tackle whom defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich already called one of the team’s best players.

The unit’s only significant loss was defensive end Cassius Marsh, who finished second on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and even chipped in a two-yard touchdown catch. Tackle Seali’i Epenesa and sack specialist Keenan Graham also graduated, but both saw their roles dwindle to varying degrees toward the end of the season. Continue reading

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