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UCLA football’s defensive line remains strong despite Osa Odighizuwa’s departure

UCLA football’s defensive line contributed to a conference-leading 3.29 sacks per game last season and also helped the Bruins pace the conference with 3.6 rushing yards allowed per game. (Ella Barnes/Daily Bruin)

By Sam Settleman

May 15, 2021 11:18 a.m.

Despite losing a stalwart in the teeth of their defense, the Bruins will have ample bodies to fill the void up front.

Consensus first-team All-Pac-12 selection Osa Odighizuwa found a new home in Dallas when the Cowboys selected the defensive lineman in the third round of the NFL Draft on April 30. In his fifth year with UCLA football, Odighizuwa led the Bruins’ defensive line in tackles and ranked second on the team in sacks.

Rising senior defensive lineman Tyler Manoa acknowledged the hole left behind by Odighizuwa but said the returners are up to the challenge.

“Osa was a great leader, and he did nothing but great things for us, just showing us the ways and just showing us a hard work ethic,” Manoa said. “Those are for sure big shoes to fill, but I think our (defensive line) and our group is ready to take on that task.”

Rising senior defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia said the group has been emphasizing technique during spring camp. The two-sport athlete – who has also competed for UCLA track and field in the shot put and the discus – added that he has dedicated his offseason to watching film on defensive lineman, including Odighizuwa, who have gone on to play at the next level.

“I think one of the biggest things we saw with Osa Odighizuwa last year was his tenacity, and he really showed his technique here in the Senior Bowl,” Ogbonnia said. “He kind of proves that what we’re doing is working and (with) a little bit of time and effort, you can get there.”

The Bruins’ defensive line contributed to a Pac-12-leading 3.29 sacks per game in 2020. UCLA also ranked first in the conference in rushing yards allowed per carry, giving up just 3.6 yards per tote.

With the defensive line remaining largely intact aside from Odighizuwa’s departure, and four-star recruit Quintin Somerville entering the mix, Ogbonnia said he hopes the group can be an integral part of the Bruins’ success in 2021.

“This is a premier program here at UCLA,” Ogbonnia said. “Having a good front is one of those things that everybody looks for in a team and one of those things that can take us and help us win a lot more games.”

UCLA will also return its entire offensive front, as each of the five starting offensive lineman from last season will be back in 2021. Manoa said the two groups up front have helped each other improve during spring practice.

“The offensive line is getting better each and every day just like us,” Manoa said. “We push each other – iron sharpens iron.”

Spring ball has also marked the return of fellow pass-rusher and rising sophomore linebacker Myles Jackson, who announced via Twitter on Thursday he had been officially medically cleared after recovering from a knee injury that cut his freshman campaign short one game after it began.

Six months removed from the season-ending injury, Jackson has been a full-go in practice, according to coach Chip Kelly.

“He’s back with a vengeance,” Kelly said. “I don’t know if there’s a kid that works any harder than him in this program, and he’s really a tone-setter for us, so it’s nice to get him back and get him into the mix.”

Kelly had high praise for the former three-star defensive end recruit, who recorded one tackle for a loss in his lone collegiate game thus far.

“One thing that’s been so neat about Myles from the jump is his attitude and his mindset,” Kelly said. “There’s a maturity to him. He came here, he planned on playing as a true freshman, and he played as a true freshman. It was never too big for Myles.”

With Jackson back alongside last year’s sack leader, rising redshirt senior linebacker Caleb Johnson, and Manoa and Ogbonnia entering their fourth seasons, the Bruins will return an experienced pass-rushing group despite Odighizuwa’s absence.

Ogbonnia said the unusual 2020 season brought the team closer together and showed him and his teammates what they are capable of.

“A lot of that (brotherhood) was built during this pandemic,” Ogbonnia said. “All the struggles we went through, all the curveballs that were thrown at us, it was really cool to see how we came together as a team considering everything that was going on. … Coming into this year, knowing what we can do and what we can accomplish, and what we did accomplish in such a short amount of time, I think that’s kind of motivating us.”

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Sam Settleman | Sports editor
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
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