UCLA DE McKinley shows pro potential in Bruins' down season
LOS ANGELES (AP) UCLA has produced a defensive lineman or linebacker selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft in all four seasons under coach Jim Mora, the first time in school history that has happened.
Takkarist McKinley could extend that streak next spring, as Mora sees the senior defensive end as a ''big-time'' pro prospect.
''Just the more productive he is down the stretch here, his stock is going to go way up,'' Mora said.
McKinley had five tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups in the Bruins' 52-45 loss to Utah last month.
One play in particular displayed why McKinley will be in demand at the next level, getting into the backfield and taking the ball from Utes quarterback Troy Williams in one swift motion. The fumble wasn't obvious in real time, and Pac-12 referees needed video review to award UCLA possession.
Mora compared the strip-sack and recovery to what Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller did to Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the Super Bowl, saying McKinley ''just essentially stole the ball.''
''It was amazing,'' linebacker Jayon Brown said. ''It was a ridiculous play.''
With a team-leading seven sacks this season and 18 1/2 in his three-year career, McKinley's pass-rush ability leads Mora to think he can be an impact right end in the NFL working against left tackles in a 4-3 defense. Mora also says McKinley is capable of dropping into coverage, which would allow him to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment.
But it was lining up as a defensive tackle last season that showed McKinley can also play the run.
Injuries forced UCLA to use McKinley inside, where he was facing a significant size discrepancy against offensive linemen. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said McKinley played at 244 pounds last season, but the experience refined his effectiveness stopping the run. Even on the play prior to his memorable strip-sack, McKinley had a tackle for loss, showing he is multi-dimensional.
''I think he likes it a lot better on the outside than being in there, but it's helped him a great deal,'' Bradley said.
McKinley and the UCLA (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12) defense will look to regroup Thursday against No. 21 Colorado (6-2, 4-1) after allowing 332 yards and four touchdowns to Utah running back Joe Williams. The Bruins will look to McKinley for inspiration, as well as impact plays against a balanced Buffaloes offense. Brown, safety Randall Goforth and cornerback Fabian Moreau brought up McKinley's toughness and perseverance playing through a groin injury this season in a recent team meeting.
''He brings the energy,'' Brown said. ''We know he gives it his all. He does not like to be taken out of the game, like, no matter what hurts on him or how bad it hurts.''
A defensive coach by trade, Mora is proud of the impact front-seven players UCLA has sent to the NFL during his tenure. McKinley looks to be the next in that line.
''We've all seen him limp off the field and then a couple plays later run back on, and if it was anyone other than Tak you'd say he was doing it for dramatic effect,'' Mora said. ''And that is absolutely not part of Tak's repertoire. He's something else. He is really a good player and everything you want in a player in terms of mindset, attitude, toughness, work ethic and just killer instinct. He's really special.''