A projected strength of Chip Kelly’s 2023 UCLA team this season is the linebacker core, where there will be considerable depth led by JonJon Vaughns and Laiatu Latu. But when Kelly was asked about the value of having so many good options at the position, he pushed back in a unique way.
“Don’t jinx anything,” Kelly said after spring practice Friday. “I’ve been a lot of places (where there’s) one position I feel great about and then three days later four of them are down and you’re like, ‘oh my god, we’re really hurt at this position.’”
Vaughns, who doubles as an outfielder for the Bruins baseball team in the spring, was third on the team in tackles last year with 53. Latu, who is an EDGE, was the team leader in sacks with 10.5. He was named to the All-Pac-12 first team in 2022 as a defensive lineman.
“I think the one thing about that position is it’s so integral to our team because of the special teams component,” Kelly said. “You’re gonna see four or five and six linebackers on whether it be punt or punt return or kickoff, kickoff return. We’re going to use a lot of guys. We’re a two or three linebacker system. You want to keep your guys healthy. You want to keep the guys fresh. You’ve got to be rotate.”
Oladejo arrives from conference rival California, where he spent the past two seasons. He had maybe his best game of the season in the Golden Bears’ season finale against the Bruins, notching 17 total tackles.
His 91 tackles last season were second on Cal.
Heimlicher comes from Penn, where he played four seasons as both a linebacker and on the defensive line. He was a finalist for the 2022 Buck Buchanan Award, which goes to the defensive player of the year at the FCS level. Over 10 games last season, he had nine sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
“I don’t consider it a luxury,” Kelly said. “I think it’s actually a necessity to have multiple, what we call, mid-level skill players. It’s the same thing with the tight end spot. You’ve got to have a bunch of those guys. If you have a bunch of guys 6-2 to 6-4, 6-5 that can run and hit, are physical.”
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