Sept. 27, 2007
The UCLA defense has gone from being an afterthought to one of the most feared units in the NCAA in the past two years. With the bevy of seniors permeating the 2007 Bruin team, the expectations are even higher thanks in part to a coaching staff that has brought new life to the defensive squad.
When defensive line coach Todd Howard stepped away from the Jacksonville Jaguars and the NFL two years ago, he walked into one of the porous defenses around and had his work cut out for him. But Howard brought an NFL attitude and years of experience on the line to the squad, which has done nothing but drastically improve the play of four senior starters - Kevin Brown, Bruce Davis, Nikola Dragovic and Brigham Harwell.
These four young men have been through it all, as have many Bruins on this year's squad - coaching changes, injuries, position changes and so on, but when Howard arrived on campus, a switch was turned on and the Bruin defensive line began to make some noise.
"Coach Howard brought the NFL system and his technique to UCLA and that helped us out a lot," said Davis. "We all have aspirations of going to the next level and being big time players and he was really able to fine tune our game and give us tips that really helped us improve."
"Details and the little things are what separate good from great," added Dragovic. "Howard brought the small thing and showed us how important they are to success on the field."
Brown adds, "Coach taught us how to use our instincts and anticipate more. He really helped us grow up as players and evolve our game." Those instincts and details helped Davis notch 12.5 sacks last season, while the Bruins ended the year ranked ninth (tied) in the country against the rush. In the first two games of the 2007 season, the Bruins have already sacked the opposing quarterbacks on eight occasions, with seven of those coming from defensive linemen.
Although the Bruins will see the graduation of its starting d-line, the cupboards are not bare for UCLA with many up-and-comers ready to step up when the time comes. For the foursome of Brown, Davis, Dragovic and Harwell there's no doubt that the next group of linemen will be ready.
"Having Coach Howard will help them out a lot," said Davis. "We were kind of raw when he got here and he got us where we needed to be. I feel that if he was able to develop us, then he'll be able to develop the younger guys. There's a lot of talent, size and speed on this team and we're leaving the defense in good shape when we graduate."
"The guys coming back next year have enough experience to hold it down," added Brown. "It's hard for four starters to leave, but we know that the next group will be ready to step up."
One thing is certain - the defensive line is in good hands with the help and guidance of Coach Howard.