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2022 UCLA Football Position Preview: Defensive line

UCLA football defensive linemen run sprints at practice. The Bruins lost their top two defensive tackles and top edge rusher from 2021. (Jon Christon/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Gavin Carlson

Aug. 23, 2022 12:21 p.m.

With the 2022 UCLA football season on the horizon, Daily Bruin Sports will preview the Bruins’ outlook at each position group as the countdown to football begins. Next up, Sports staff writer Gavin Carlson takes a look at the defensive line.

Personnel

No position group for UCLA was influenced more by transfer activity this offseason than its defensive line.

Eight Bruins classified as defensive lineman or edge rushers left the program this offseason, more than any other position group. The exodus included arguably the defense’s best player from 2021 in edge rusher Mitchell Agude, who transferred to Miami in February after leading the defense with four forced fumbles and ranking third in tackles and tackles for loss.

With zero incoming freshman recruits on the defensive line, UCLA replaced the eight portal exits with five transfer additions – again more than any other position group in 2022.

The transfer portal has changed the way programs build their rosters in college football, and it’s no different in Westwood.

Incoming North Texas transfer defensive ends and twin brothers Gabriel and Grayson Murphy could earn legitimate playing time atop the depth chart alongside two established edge rushers in redshirt senior Bo Calvert and senior Carl Jones Jr. Calvert led the Bruins with four sacks and ranked seventh on the team with 38 tackles in 2021, while Jones saw consistent field action in all 12 games and tied for the team lead with three quarterback hits last season.

Each standing at 6 feet, 3 inches and weighing in at 262 pounds, the former Mean Green twins combined for 15.5 sacks and 90 tackles during their 13 starts at opposite defensive end positions last season. Gabriel proved the more complete player, totaling 52 tackles compared to his brother’s 38, but Grayson was more active in opposing backfields after notching 8.5 sacks to Gabriel’s seven and totaling 14.5 tackles for loss versus his twin’s 12.

(Jon Christon/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Grayson Murphy practices. Murphy and his twin, Gabriel Murphy, transferred from North Texas this offseason. (Jon Christon/Daily Bruin senior staff)

In addition to the Murphy twins, Calvert, and Jones, incoming Washington transfer and edge rusher Laiatu Latu could see time alongside a handful of other depth pieces on the edge. Latu hasn’t played since 2019 after medically retiring because of a neck injury in 2021.

On the interior, transfer defensive linemen Jacob Sykes from Harvard and Gary Smith III from Duke will join a defensive tackle room with no clear starter. Both starting nose tackles from last year, Datona Jackson and Otito Ogbonnia, are gone, and primary backups Odua Isibor – who transferred – and Tyler Manoa – who moved to offensive line – are no longer available either.

The 6-foot-3-inch, 277-pound Sykes earned first-team All-Ivy League honors in 2021 after totaling 29 tackles, eight tackles for loss and leading Harvard with seven sacks from the interior. On the other hand Smith, who recorded 24 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss at Duke in 2021, provides a greater physical presence up front at 320 pounds, and functions as more of a run stopper up the middle.

Redshirt freshman Quintin Somerville, sophomore Jay Toia and redshirt senior Martin Andrus Jr. round out the group of notable figures inside who could see legitimate time on the field for the blue and gold.

Predictions

Despite all of the changes in personnel, expect UCLA’s defensive line to perform similarly to last year’s: Respectable against the run, but not a force to be reckoned with.

Last year’s Bruin defense ranked 23rd in rushing yards allowed per game with 124.2, but its 2.17 sacks per game ranked tied for 69th and its 5.4 tackles for loss per game ranked tied for 76th. As it did last season, UCLA’s defensive line in 2022 lacks the star pass rusher usually needed to have a consistent pass rush, but possesses the depth and positional versatility needed to be a solid run defense.

Calvert should remain the team’s sack leader and lead the team in tackles for loss after coming back for a fifth season, while the Murphy twins should have double-digit tackles behind the line of scrimmage as well.

With less depth in the linebacking core, expect the 6-foot-2-inch, 228-pound Jones to see more time off the line of scrimmage and less time on the defensive line this season. His 0.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss from last season shouldn’t see a huge jump this year, but don’t be surprised if he becomes one of the Bruins’ top tacklers in 2022.

Inside, the transfers in Sykes and Smith III are likely the closest thing UCLA has to its highly-productive Jackson-Ogbonnia combination at defensive tackle last season. Even if Sykes and Smith III somehow equal that level of production in their first seasons in the Pac-12, depth is a concern with the top four at the position from 2021 all gone.

With slightly fewer options inside and more depth on the defensive ends of the line, the Bruins’ rush defense and pass rush statistics could look more level in 2022. But at the end of the day, the success and failures of this year’s defensive line group will come down to its new defensive coordinator, Bill McGovern, above all else.

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Gavin Carlson | Sports staff
Carlson is currently a staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. He was previously a reporter on the softball and men's golf beats.
Carlson is currently a staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. He was previously a reporter on the softball and men's golf beats.
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