LOS ANGELES —The UCLA football program completely overhauled its defense, spending the offseason replacing four coaches and nine starters.
Coach Chip Kelly, who signed a contract extension in January, hired Bill McGovern as the Bruins’ new defensive coordinator and former standout Ken Norton Jr. as inside linebackers coach.
Both coaches were working in the NFL last season before joining Kelly’s staff.
Chad Kauha’aha’a (defensive line) and Ikaika Malloe (outside linebackers / special teams coordinator) also joined the staff and previously coached at other Pac-12 schools.
Assistant head coach and secondary coach Brian Norwood is the only returning defensive position coach.
Safety Stephan Blaylock and outside linebacker Bo Calvert are the only full-time starters returning from last season. They are also the only two of the Bruins’ top eight leading tacklers returning.
McGovern acknowledged that the season-opener against Bowling Green will allow for several players, beyond those listed on the two-deep depth chart, to play Saturday.
“We are looking to see who shows up when the lights are on,” McGovern said. “It’s going to be a hot day and we are going to play a lot of people. It will sort itself out and guys will find their spots.”
The defensive coordinator admitted that the coaches are “anxious” to see how the players execute in live action for the first time.
“It’s a relationship sport and everyone is different,” McGovern said. “Everyone learns differently, everyone reacts differently to different feedback.
“It’s getting to know your players and just getting to talk to them so they understand what you want and how you want it.”
McGovern and his staff have expressed the need to create turnovers since spring and to get the UCLA offense back on the field as soon as possible.
“(We want) to get off the field,” Blaylock said. “We don’t want to keep our offense cold and we want to get our playmakers out there and put points up on the board.”
Hawai’i transfer Darius Muasau came in this spring and worked his way into a starting role at linebacker for the Bruins. He has recorded 100 tackles in each of his last two seasons at Hawai’i and tied for second in the nation with five forced fumbles in 2021.
JonJon Vaughns and Kain Medrano were also listed as starting linebackers for the Bruins. Both players were recruited at different positions by UCLA before they were converted to linebackers.
Medrano, a former receiver, has not started a game for the Bruins during his first three seasons with the program but has contributed on special teams. Vaughns has played as a defensive back and inside linebacker for the Bruins, earning one start in the seven games he played in during the 2020 pandemic season.
The addition of the Murphy Twins through the transfer portal helped fill the void and experience of Mitchell Agude (Miami) and Myles Jackson (Indiana), who left the program during the offseason.
Gabriel Murphy is listed ahead of Grayson Murphy at one of two outside linebackers spots but both players are expected to have an immediate impact this season. The duo combined for 15.5 sacks, 26.5 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries during the 2021 season at North Texas.
Calvert will start at the other outside linebacker spot, with Carl Jones listed behind him. Calvert, a redshirt senior, has played both as an inside and outside linebacker for the Bruins, starting 19 games over the last four seasons.
Martin Andrus Jr. and Jay Toia are penciled in as the defensive tackles for the season-opener. Andrus played in just two games last season, after missing the last two years with injuries. Toia is coming off his first full offseason with the program, after coming in as a late arrival last fall. The sophomore played in all 12 games last season as a reserve.
The secondary was one of the program’s most experienced position groups in each of the last two seasons. Blaylock is the only defensive back returning of the five starters in the secondary from last season.
Blaylock has started 31 consecutive games for the Bruins, dating back to 2019. The redshirt senior has finished among the team’s top five tacklers in each of the last three seasons.
Sixth-year senior Mo Osling III will get his opportunity as a full-time starter as the other safety.
Sophomore Devin Kirkwood steps into a starting role, after playing in all 12 games as a reserve cornerback and special teams player. Azizi Hearn, who started 28 games in three seasons at Wyoming, will take over at cornerback on the opposite side from Kirkwood.