Where UCLA stands at defensive line entering the 2020 season

It’s not a secret UCLA’s defense needs some major improvement. In 2019, the Bruins ranked No. 117 out of 130 defenses in the FBS, allowing opponents an average of nearly 35 points per game.

Though not stellar numbers, the defensive line, however, can be credited for limiting its rushing yards allowed from 4.7 yards in 2018 to 4.2 yards last season.

The team returns its core defensive line unit but with a new position coach. Johnny Nansen will see his first season with the program in hopes of leading the group to immediate improvement.

Here’s a breakdown of UCLA’s defensive linemen group heading into the summer:

On the roster

The key piece returning to the Bruins’ group is redshirt senior Osa Odighizuwa. In 2019, he led the team with three quarterback hits and tied for most tackles for loss  with 10. A starter at left defensive end all 12 games last season, Odighizuwa is going to need to show improvement on being consistent with field awareness.

Odua Isibor will most likely pick up a starting job at defensive end as well. After playing linebacker in 2018, the redshirt junior switched over to the interior last season and recorded 10 tackles with 2.5 sacks.

Without nose tackle Atonio Mafi, who switched over to offensive line, the Bruins will most likely look to junior Otito Ogbonnia. Playing in all 12 games with five starts last season, Ogbonnia recorded 12 total tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.

Reserves include Tyler Manoa, Datona Jackson and Steven Mason. Senior Martin Andrus Jr., who played three games last season before suffering a season-ending injury, is also likely to jump in at tackle depending on his health.

Off the roster

Technically Mafi is still on the roster, but his move to the offensive line is one of the biggest changes for this group. The junior from Serra High started at nose tackle five times last season, but his size – 6-foot-2, 363 pounds – will be greatly utilized along the offensive line.

The other notable change is the loss of Elijah Wade. The defensive end from Las Vegas played four games with three starts last season before suffering an undisclosed season-ending injury. Wade could be a redshirt sophomore, based on the games missed last season, and would have teamed with Odighizuwa as a formidable pairing, but decided to eave the program. The former four-star recuir remains at UCLA as a student and a part of the school’s Undergraduate Student Association Council.

On the way

The Bruins hired Nansen, the former USC defensive run game coordinator, in March to oversee their defensive linemen. Nansen spent the past six years with the Trojans, holding various positions including assistant head coach from 2016-2018. In 2017, he was named the Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year by 247Sports and helped USC rank fourth nationally in red zone defense (.712) and fifth in sacks (3.3).

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