The UCLA Bruins were fortunate to discover the talents of Anthony Barr as an outside linebacker over the last two seasons after Jim Mora converted him from a fullback shortly after taking over as the head coach. In two seasons as he learned the position, Barr was dynamic off the edge, recording 23 sacks before being selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Bruins now face the challenge of replacing Barr’s presence off the edge, but may have the perfect candidate in Kenny Orjioke.
What Barr lacked in experience on defense, he more than made up for with his incredible athleticism. Orjioke might be even more athletic than Barr was, though it hasn’t translated yet in his limited playing time over the last two years. He’s recorded just two sacks in his first two years at UCLA but hasn’t been asked to play much in the defense. Instead, he’s been watching and learning behind Barr while cutting his teeth on special teams.
UCLA needs players like Orjioke to step up in a major way, however, if they hope to maintain their pass-rush on defense. In addition to Barr, Keenan Graham and Cassius Marsh have graduated, taking the top three sack men the Bruins had in 2013 out of the rotation. No returning player on the defense had more than two sacks last season which makes Orjioke (who recorded both his career sacks in 2013) right in line with the rest of the defense in terms of production.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound rising junior has great length and athleticism to cover a less-than-polished pass-rush technique, much like Barr when he first stepped into the starting linebacker job in 2012. There is a tremendous opportunity for Orjioke to start to deliver on his tremendous potential as a pass-rusher and become the next Anthony Barr for the Bruins in 2014.