LOS ANGELES — A year ago, the UCLA secondary was down to the last man on the depth chart in practices. They knew help would be on the way come spring but it the position with by far the biggest question mark next to it.
That question mark disappeared, just like defensive back Anthony Jefferson said it would, and the secondary boasts some considerable depth this season.
It’s somewhat of a luxury compared to a year ago.
"In practice right now we’ve got guys coming in and out every single set," Jefferson said.
"I’m kind of selfish and five is not enough," said defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin. "The depth chart is just a rep chart. We renamed it, it’s not a depth chart anymore."
Third and fourth-leading tacklers Jefferson and Randall Goforth from last season return as the leaders of a secondary that so far this spring is proving to be a much more flexible group than in the past.
"We have more numbers, more versatility," Goforth said. "This year, we’re not trying to just look for one group, we want rotations and that takes a commitment for everybody. If you want to be a great secondary, you can’t fall off."
"I’m trying to move guys around," Martin said. Today (Adarius) Pickett played a little bit of nickel for the first time, a little later in the week we’ll probably move Tahaan (Goodman) down closer in the box to play some nickel. Just get guys all around and familiar so they can known their fit in their own position."
Pickett, a four-star freshman out of El Cerrito, will be an important piece, as will freshman Ron Robinson and redshirt freshman John Johnson. Johnson’s learning curve is expected to be significantly less steep as he spent last season with the team rehabbing his surgically repaired shoulder, but Pickett and Robinson have both been quick studies.
"He and Ron Robinson are kind of right where I expected them to be, as far as being guys that are going to come in kind of wide eyed and kind of like, ‘Whoa, it’s a lot faster and bigger and stronger than I thought it was going to be,’ " Martin said. "One thing that you know that we’re going to have, some non-success, so you want to see how they’re going to bounce back from that."
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The two sophomores that Martin wanted to see take a big step forward in their development was Goodman (safety) and Priest Willis (cornerback) and they have done exactly that.
"Both on and off the field. He and Priest both have grown and matured a lot and it’s showing up in their play out here. They’re playing a lot more confident around the ball, making tackles, communicating, hand signs – everything that you want them to do, they’re starting to own it now.
"Just one year of experience can do a lot for you," Jefferson said. "Just being in the system for a year I think it served both of them tremendously."
The secondary might still be young, but with redshirt senior Jefferson and junior Goforth leading a significantly reinforced group, the immediate future looks much brighter than before.