Big names gone, UCLA to reload on defense

LOS ANGELES -- The UCLA glass is half-empty on defense. Everyone acknowledges that losing first-team All-Pac-10 tackle Brian Price, cornerback Alterraun Verner and linebacker Reggie Carter as well as three other starters from one of the best units in the conference is an issue.

But the Bruins glass is also half-full on that side of the ball.

"Rahim Moore, Akeem Ayers, Datone Jones, David Carter -- those four guys are big-time players," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "They all will get chances to play at the next level. The next seven who come after them have to play their [rear ends] off. I think there's enough talent. There's just not a lot of experience."

Fact is the Bruins look pretty good getting off the bus. Take converted tight end Nate Chandler, a 6-foot-5, 291 pounder who's lining up beside Carter at defensive tackle.

"He's a physical specimen. In the weight room, he's a freak of nature," quarterback Kevin Prince said.

Then there are cornerbacks Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester. Both are over 6-feet. Both are fast. Both have good hips.

"You can't go out and look at two prettier corners," Neuheisel said. "They look like what the NFL looks for. But they've got to play like it."

Glenn Love has a 6-foot-4 frame that could fill out and make him a speedy outside linebacker instead of an inconsistent safety. Hard-hitting Patrick Larimore is making noise at middle linebacker, where he's competing with Steve Sloan.

Still, the front-seven depth is questionable. What is not questionable is whether a highly rated crew of incoming freshmen will contribute. "They have to," Neuheisel said.

The Bruins led the conference in turnover margin a year ago in large part because they forced 30, which was five more than any other team. Three fourths of a secondary that grabbed 20 interceptions is back. UCLA ranked third in scoring defense (21.2 ppg) and total defense (334 yards per game), which was even more impressive when you consider that the offense was mostly rotten.

The offense should be better this fall because Prince and most of the starters are back. The question now is whether -- or how much -- the defense falls off. It has been solid in recent years in large part due to Price, Verner and Carter, who combined for 120 starts over the past four seasons.

"I feel real comfortable with the defense," Prince said. "They don't have the names yet but I think they will start establishing names for themselves."

That's the message. The big names are gone. Which means new names are poised to grow.

Jones, for one, thinks the defense will be faster in 2010. And, he said, it will play angry.

"A lot of guys think we lost a lot but we're going to be loaded," he said.