In the Pac-12 this season, the only thing more important than having a good quarterback is having a way to stop all the other good quarterbacks. From top to bottom, the conference has never had more talent at signal-caller, which means that mediocre defensive secondaries are going to be burned more than meals at a bad steakhouse.
UCLA, at least on paper, has the experience to deal with this problem.
All four of UCLA’s starting defensive backs -- redshirt senior Anthony Jefferson and juniors Fabian Moreau, Randall Goforth and Ishmael Adams -- from last year returned, making this positional group one of UCLA’s strongest. The influence of fiery new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, who is in his first year as coordinator after being on staff in other capacities for the last two seasons, seems to be helping, too.
“I feel like we’re a closer group than last year,” Moreau said last week. “Coach Ulbrich, he’s one hell of a coach and it’s fun learning from him and being around him.”
It’s also one of UCLA’s deepest units, too, as there are a quartet of younger players that could all conceivably see significant playing time this season. The four are sophomores Tahaan Goodman and Priest Willis, redshirt sophomore Marcus Rios and freshman Jaleel Wadood. Goodman, in particular, has been pushing Jefferson for his starting spot.
The big name of the starting group is Moreau. He’s been one of UCLA’s best players during training camp, and according to UCLA Coach Jim Mora, Moreau is good enough to be a first-round NFL draft pick next year. Judging by his success at the professional level (32-34 before being fired by the Seattle Seahawks in 2010), Mora seems to be a better judge of collegiate talent than NFL talent, but still, high praise is high praise.
Having a secondary this experienced can only help the offense, too. UCLA’s first 2014 opponent, Virginia, features safety Anthony Harris, who led the nation in interceptions with eight last season.
“I feel like our secondary is the best secondary in the country,” redshirt junior wide receiver Devin Lucien said on Tuesday. “Going against Virginia is going to be like, ‘Let’s see what you all got, for real.’ I’m not going to be scared, I’m more just excited to go against them.”
This is the second of five positional season previews that will run on UCLA Now. Monday was the offensive backs. The rest of the schedule is as follows: Wednesday, receivers; Thursday, defensive front seven; Friday, offensive line and special teams.
For more Bruin observations, follow Everett Cook on Twitter @everettcook.