Jim Mora was worried about the depth of his secondary before the start of spring practice. After talented junior safety Tevin McDonald was kicked off the team earlier this week, that can be bumped up to full-blown concern. How will the UCLA Bruins keep the top on their defense without McDonald?
McDonald will be a difficult piece to replace next fall. The safety finished No. 3 on the team in tackles last season, tallying 74 takedowns with eight pass breakups, an interception and a recovered fumble. As a two-year starter, his experience will be sorely missed in a secondary that lacks any real depth this spring.
But the Bruins must find a way to press on without him. As spring practice begins, Mora will slot Randall Goforth and Dietrich Riley at the starting safety positions. Goforth saw quite a bit of playing time during his freshman season last year, tallying 39 tackles, including one for loss, with three pass breakups and an interception. Riley missed all of last season with an injury, but recorded 36 tackles, including two tackles for loss and three pass breakups the last time he was on the field in 2011 through eight games.
Goforth and Riley will be counted on hold down the safety position until next fall when the Bruins’ talented crop of recruits hits campus. Tahaan Goodman, Priest Willis, Tyler Foreman and Johnny Johnson will act as much needed reinforcements for the secondary when fall camp opens next August with some or all of them being put into game situations their first year on campus.
Losing their best player in a position that was already a concern will do nothing to help the Bruins repeat as Pac 12 South Division champions in 2013. Can one of the veterans lead the unit or will one of the youngsters step up into a featured role? Will either option be enough to hold down the back end of the Bruins secondary?