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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Jim Mora talks injuries, offensive line and weight goals


– Running back Jordon James (ankle) and left tackle Simon Goines (knee) likely won’t play on Saturday at Arizona. Reserve running back Steve Manfro (ankle) is also not yet healthy enough to return.

Backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel had surgery on his right thumb, and has had his hand wrapped all week. He will still be able to hold kicks, but not pass. Walk-on Mike Fafaul will likely sub in if Brett Hundley gets injured. Continue reading

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UCLA 45, Colorado 23: Defensive end Ellis McCarthy


Sophomore defensive lineman Ellis McCarthy had another strong game, notching a sack and tipping a pass for a pass breakup. He also addressed how chippy the game got towards the end, with several UCLA and Colorado players getting in each others’ faces.

“We were just — I guess all the dumb penalties committed by me and other teammates just got to them,” he said. “There’s really nothing to say.”

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LT Simon Goines, LB Eric Kendricks practice lightly

Wrecked by injuries, UCLA started three true freshmen on its offensive line in a 42-14 loss at Oregon.

Reinforcements are working back. Sophomore Simon Goines (knee) and Conor McDermott (shoulder) both practiced Tuesday, albeit without pads. Goines, who started at right tackle before moving to left, was still limping and had his right knee wrapped.

(Starting left tackle Torian White’s season ended on Oct. 3 when he broke a bone and tore a ligament near his ankle.)

“They develop a sense of urgency to get back,” head coach Jim Mora said. “I feel that with a lot of guys. You look at our injury report and it’s pretty vast. You see a bunch of guys that want to get back out here and do whatever they can, whatever they can.”

Linebacker Eric Kendricks, who played through a back bruise with the help of an anesthetic shot on Saturday, was at practice without pads. Continue reading

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Jim Mora not emphasizing ‘payback’ against Stanford


– Many Bruins still have last year’s back-to-back Stanford games fresh in their minds: UCLA’s 35-17 loss at home followed by a 27-24 heartbreaker in the Pac-12 Championship. Head coach Jim Mora is trying to make sure it doesn’t become their primary focus this weekend.

“I hope that — I think somewhere deep down in their psyche is payback, payback, payback,” he said. “But if you make that your main motivation, I think you make a mistake. You have to focus on this game, this year, and what it’s going to take to win this game, this year.”

His role as a coach will be to talk to the team the right way in order to instill calm heading into the weekend.

“You don’t necessarily whip them into a frenzy on a Tuesday,” Mora said. “You let it slowly build so you create the right mindset going into a game.”

– Defensive end Ellis McCarthy is expected to play at Stanford after sitting out last Saturday with a head injury. Continue reading

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Jim Mora: DE Ellis McCarthy doubtful for Saturday


– According to UCLA head coach Jim Mora, nothing about Cal quarterback Jared Goff’s film makes him look like a true freshman.

“His poise for his age and his experience (stand out),” Mora said. “His ability to get the ball out of his hand quickly and throw accurately. His decision-making. I think he’s a really good football player.”

– Defensive end Ellis McCarthy returned to practice after suffering a head injury against Utah last Thursday. He did light work on the sideline and is still doubtful to play Saturday. Continue reading

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Notes: Ellis McCarthy injured, Brandon Willis playing OL


– Ellis McCarthy missed both Monday and Tuesday’s practices with a head injury. Mora said the starting left end is improving, but not yet asymptomatic. If he isn’t cleared by Saturday’s game, freshman Kylie Fitts will see increased snaps.

Running back Jordon James (ankle) is still doubtful to play against Cal. Considering how capable Paul Perkins is as well as the depth the Bruins have at tailback, I’d be very surprised if James gets any carries.

– Buried on the depth chart, junior defensive lineman Brandon Willis asked coaches for a chance to play on the other side of the trenches. He started taking some snaps at guard today, and could be used there in late-game situations or in an emergency.

“It was his idea to go over there and give it a shot,” Mora said. “He could be a two-way player for us. … He’s our Ironman.”

“The kid wants to help the team. Because really, who wants to be an offensive lineman?,” Mora joked. Continue reading

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Defensive lineman Ellis McCarthy down to 325 pounds


Former five-star recruit Ellis McCarthy has had surgeries on both knees since arriving at UCLA — prompting him to lose over 20 pounds to alleviate the pain. Defensive line coach Angus McClure said that McCarthy, now a 325-pound nose tackle, looks like he’s in his best of his college career. The junior sophomore had a nice interception on the first day of camp in San Bernardino, tipping a pass before diving to secure the interception.

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