UCLA post-spring position outlook: Linebackers

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. This blog will cover the status of each position group moving forward. Next up …

Linebackers

Myles Jack is already UCLA’s all-everything superstar, and did nothing this spring to suggest that his sophomore effort will far short of the already sky-high expectations. He continued to excel in coverage, and will play behind the ball when the team deploys a nickel formation. After finishing with just one sack last season, he’s also spent extra time focusing on his pass rushing moves.

He won’t practice at running back until the season starts, but that only gives him more time to cement his role as the Bruins’ defensive leader.

The question marks facing the team in its post-Anthony Barr era lie elsewhere. Continue reading

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Spring notes: Defensive back Johnny Johnson leaves practice with wrist injury


– Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone talked about running back Craig Lee, the backup quarterback battle, and a couple of receivers.

– Defensive back Johnny Johnson left practice after injuring his right wrist trying to tackle walk-on receiver Andrew Huusfeldt. Johnson was expected to contribute to the secondary as a true freshman last season, but sat out the year after separating his right shoulder.

Even if his latest injury is serious, UCLA’s secondary should still be in good shape. Arguably the team’s weakest unit two seasons ago, it now balances plenty of depth and talent. The name to watch now is safety Tahaan Goodman, who looks like a completely different player than one that arrived at UCLA last summer. Continue reading

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Spring notes: Linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea leaves practice with injury

– Inside linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea left UCLA’s practice early on Wednesday morning with his left arm in a sling. The severity of his injury is not yet clear, but he did not return to the field.

The Bruins are without both their inside starters from last season, with Jordan Zumwalt training for the NFL draft and Eric Kendricks still recovering from ankle surgery. Savaiinaea started one game last season, and was a candidate to play next to Kendricks this fall. Sophomore Jayon Brown and senior Ryan Hofmeister are also in the rotation.

Still, the team is thinner at outside linebacker, where a stable starter has yet to be found opposite Myles Jack (who actually worked with the inside linebackers during individual drills). Junior Kenny Orjioke is still the favorite to secure that spot, but rising sophomore Deon Hollins and true freshman Zach Whitley are vying for the job too. Continue reading

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Isaako Savaiinaea ready for larger role in Sun Bowl

With inside linebacker Eric Kendricks sidelined following ankle surgery, UCLA will rely instead on true freshman Isaako Savaiinaea.

Replacing the team’s leading tackler won’t be easy, but Savaiinaea has some experience trying to fill the void. After playing nearly an entire half at Stanford on Oct. 19 after Kendricks left with injury, the Hawaii native got his first career start two weeks later in a win over Colorado. He had six solo tackles.

“It was night and day,” Savaiinaea said of the two outings. “There was a big difference (in) … my patience and my feet. I had a little happy feet at Stanford. Just calming that down. Technique. That was the main thing.”

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LB Isaako Savaiinaea trying to shed ‘high school habits’


When linebacker Eric Kendricks left at halftime of UCLA’s 24-10 loss at Stanford, true freshman Isaako Savaiinaea moved up to first-string. Rated, the No. 1-ranked recruit out of Hawaii said he needed a series to fully acclimate himself to the game.

“I got into a lot of high school habits,” he said. “That’s what I’m working on this week, just fixing my technique. … Playing high. In high school, you could just throw linemen around.”

After notching five tackles, how much Savaiinaea plays at Oregon on Saturday remains to be seen. Kendricks’ tests for kidney damage turned up negative, and he is expected to play through bruising on the surrounding tissue. He participated fully in Wednesday’s practice, taking the red non-contact jersey he wore a day earlier.

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