Production, accountability key Walker's philosophy
After a stunning transformation last season, DeWayne Walker's UCLA defense could be even better in 2007.
UCLA's Bruce Davis carried an agenda inside his head when he first met with then-new defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker a year ago. He wanted to use his initial interview to express his feelings and explain his vision to Walker.
Davis, then a junior, wanted to use this important interview to tell Walker he was a linebacker, not a defensive end.
A week later, Walker and Davis had another interview. This time, it was Walker's turn for self-expression.
"Coach Walker laid down the law," Davis recalled. "He said, 'I don't care what you want to play. This is what you're going to play. Just go do it.' He told me how he wanted it and how it was going to be. It was kind of intimidating at the time but I'm glad he did it. It's made me and everybody else better."
"Better" doesn't do what happened justice.
The complete transformation of UCLA's defense in one year under Walker was stunning. What once was soft became sound. The men in powder blue started delivering a pastel pounding.
The next-to-worst run defense in the country (233 yards per game, 5.4 yards per carry in 2005), became the nation's ninth-best unit in 2006 (91.1, 2.8). Where teams hung 34.2 points per game on the 2005 Bruins, they managed just 19.9 in 2006.
Davis? He and fellow end Justin Hickman split 25 sacks evenly between them.
"I think that means we have the potential to be the very best [defense]," Davis said. "We are solid all the way around. We have veterans across the board."
Lots of folks believe the nation's best defense resides in LA. Only it's in downtown L.A. at USC, not in sparkly Westwood. The Trojans' spring media guide muses "a case can be made that almost each returning starter  is an All-American candidate."
"They might have all those All-American candidates, but that's because they get a lot more publicity than we do," Davis countered. "That comes with the territory. So be it. It doesn't really matter what a magazine says. I think our defense is better."
Davis, however, isn't irritated in the least about being asked about the Trojans.
The lifelong Bruin -- his namesake dad played football and his mother, Lorna, ran track for UCLA -- knows that means he gets to talk about his favorite memory: a 13-9 victory over USC last December that knocked the Trojans out of the national championship game and ended seven dreary years of frustration in one of the nation's most heated rivalries.
Coincidentally, Walker was the first assistant Pete Carroll hired when Carroll took over at USC in 2001. And, no, Walker and the ultracompetitive Carroll haven't talked about the game.
"There's a mutual respect," Walker said of Carroll. "But if Pete would have done something like that, I think, to him, it would have shown a sign of weakness."
Walker, who played cornerback at Minnesota and a handful of seasons in the CFL and USFL, cut his teeth as a secondary coach. He favors man coverage more than most Pac-10 coaches, but that's not what he talks about when asked about his philosophies and schemes.
"We hit two things real hard: production and accountability," Walker said.
Walker may be honest to a fault. When asked about specific breakdowns last season, he didn't hesitate to name names. He's certainly not afraid of calling out players who miss tackles or are out of position.
"Some guys might think they want more of a players' coach, but he's turned this team around," Davis said. "He turned my career around. I could have been one of those guys who was hyped in high school but didn't pan out."
The lone void this spring was left by Hickman's departure. The task of filling it will fall first to Nikola Dragovic, who began 2005 as a starter before an ACL injury ended his season after four games.
But Walker is making no guarantees that any job is safe. He quickly clicks off the names of a couple of younger players he's watching, including sophomore Alterraun Verner, who will challenge senior Rodney Van at one cornerback spot.
Every day, after all, is an interview.
"We should be better -- they're older; they know what their coaches want," Walker said. "But I still want to see what they want to do this spring. I'm going to hold off on [talking about my expectations]. I want to see these guys interview again."
Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
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