Four UCLA players highlight Lombardi Award watch list

As preseason watch lists continue to drown each other out, the Lombardi Award is trying a new way to distinguish itself: including as many names as it can find.

If such lists are intended as a guideline for award voters heading into the season, this committee won’t get much help from the bloated 145-man roster — a number that more than doubles the size of many other watch lists.

So the fact that four UCLA players are on the radar for the Lombardi Award — given to the top offensive or defensive lineman, or linebacker — is not overly surprising. Linebacker Myles Jack (who also made the Butkus Award watch list today) and defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes are the Bruin defense’s most valuable players. Each of them will finish the season with at least an all-conference nod.

The one UCLA name on the list that could raise an eyebrow is offensive tackle Caleb Benenoch. While the junior has started 22 games at right tackle, he is not as irreplaceable on the line as center Jake Brendel or left tackle Conor McDermott.

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UCLA’s Kenny Clark, Myles Jack make Bednarik Award watch list

UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark and linebacker Myles Jack both made the 80-man watch list for the Bednarik Award on Tuesday.

Both Clark and Jack are entering their junior seasons as arguably the most valuable players on the Bruins’ defense, if not the team as a whole. Clark registered 58 tackles last season, including 5.5 for loss, while Jack had 88 tackles to go with seven pass breakups.

No Bruin has ever won the Bednarik Award, which has been given to college football’s top defensive player since 1995. Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III won it last fall as a sophomore, and is vying to become the third repeat winner after Penn State’s Paul Posluszny (2005-06) and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald (1995-96).

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UCLA lands three on Phil Steele’s preseason All-American teams

Myles Jack is one of three UCLA players on Phil Steele's preseason All-American list. The linebacker is pictured during UCLA's "Spring Showcase" at the Rose Bowl on April 24, 2015. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Myles Jack is one of three UCLA players on Phil Steele’s preseason All-American list. The linebacker is pictured during UCLA’s “Spring Showcase” at the Rose Bowl on April 24, 2015. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Three UCLA players received spots on Phil Steele’s preseason All-American teams, the annual list released on Monday morning.

Linebacker Myles Jack earned a second-team nod, while nose tackle Kenny Clark and center Jake Brendel made the fourth team. Jack and Clark are the Bruins’ two most talented defensive players, and both are likely bound for the NFL draft after their junior seasons. Brendel, a redshirt senior, is a fourth-year starter who has played in 39 of 40 possible games.

Six Bruins landed on Steele’s preseason All-Pac-12 first team, although Brendel settled for a second-team spot behind USC center Max Tuerk — a preseason first-team All-American. In addition to Jack and Clark, the first team included receiver Jordan Payton, offensive tackle Caleb Benenoch, defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, and cornerback Fabian Moreau.

The most notable absence on the list is left tackle Conor McDermott. The 6-foot-9 lineman started the last seven games of the 2014 season, and projects to be the most important player on the offensive line besides Brendel.

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UCLA spring camp position review: Defensive line

Enjoy watching Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes while you can. Both could be signing NFL contracts by this time next year.

UCLA will enter this fall with arguably the best defensive line duo in the conference, a pair that last season combined for 108 tackles, including 11 for loss. All-Pac-12 nods aren’t the most accurate measures of talent and/or performance, but of the eight defensive linemen that made first or second team last fall, Clark is one of two that return. (The other is Oregon’s DeForest Buckner, who like Clark is making NFL mock drafts as a potential first-round pick.) Vanderdoes followed right behind as an honorable mention.

Clark in particular was vital to the Bruins’ run defense, and is about as stout a nose tackle as you can find in college football. Looking back at his impact the last two seasons, it’s incredible that UCLA was considering redshirting him back in August 2013, during his first camp in San Bernardino. There were several times last fall when opposing offenses noticeably directed the ball away from the middle, where he and Vanderdoes stood as imposing obstacles. Continue reading

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