UCLA is preparing for competition in the secondary

UCLA safety Randall Goforth intercepts a pass intended for Washington receiver Jaydon Mickens back in November at the Rose Bowl.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The entire starting secondary returns for UCLA.

And none of those guys should get comfortable.

If there is one area where the Bruins have an overabundance of talent, it’s at defensive back. By fall, they will have 14 scholarship players in the secondary.

“That’s always good,” said safety Randall Goforth. “We were limited in numbers last season. It was pretty tough. Now we got more people here and more experience. It’s less teaching and more evolving. I like it.”

But that comes with a warning, and Goforth knows it.

“You better compete for your job every day,” he said.

Goforth and Anthony Jefferson return at safety. Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau are back at cornerback.

A year ago, the remainder of the secondary was green. Safeties Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman and cornerback Priest Willis were freshmen.

This spring, Goodman has been particularly impressive through three practices.

Added to the mix are cornerbacks Marcus Rios and John Johnson, who missed their freshman season with health issues. They are joined by incoming freshmen Ron Robinson III and Adarius Pickett, who enrolled early to participate in spring ball.

“It’s going to save our legs,” said defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin. “We didn’t have enough guys last year and I was trying to keep everyone’s legs fresh.”

Which meant withholding Adams from returning kicks through the first 10 games. He proved to be an effective weapon the last three games, averaging 35.0 yards in 10 kickoff returns. He also returned a punt 49 yards.


And, of course, Martin likes the competition.

“Everybody knows they got to get better every day,” he said.

Gathering bodies in the secondary was a high priority for Coach Jim Mora. That was especially key given the number of Pac-12 coaches who employ a squirrel derby offense. Defenses are being stretched by guys from Pullman (Washington State Coach Mike Leach) to Tucson (Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez).

“This conference, and really college football in general, the ball is the air now,” Mora said. “People spread the field and have multiple-receiver formations. It’s just critical that you have numbers there. You have to have guys who can go out and cover. They got to be able to tackle one on one.”

And he likes the competition.

“We got guys pushing from behind,” Mora said.

Welcome to college

Linebacker Zach Whitley, who enrolled early to participate in spring practice, has shown off abundant skills so far.

“We see him catching up fast,” Mora said. “He is incredibly athletic. We’ll see him on film chasing the ballcarrier down and he’s chewing up the ground.”

Guard Alex Redmond gave Whitley something else to chew Saturday. He flattened Whitley on back-to-back plays. All part of the learning process.

“That happens, right,” said defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. “Two things happen. You either quit or you get more physical. I think he’s going to do the latter.”


A hint that came Thursday, when Whitley showed up to do extra work.

“Zach didn’t think he got enough work in Tuesday, so he worked on his own for 11/2 hours,” Mora said. “He was hitting bags, doing change-of-direct stuff and running sprints.”

Quick hits

Receiver Darren Andrews underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee Friday and probably will miss the rest of spring practice. … Punter Sean Covington showed off an improved leg in both distance and hang time during Saturday’s practice. …Offensive lineman Ben Wysocki suffered a left ankle injury and was taken to the locker room on a cart. Running back Tre Hale left practice with what could be concussion-like symptoms. Trainers took away his helmet.

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