Pac-12: Aaron Wallace

UCLA spring wrap

May, 2, 2014
May 2
7:30
AM ET
Three things we learned this spring
  1. Raising the (next) Barr: All indications are that Kenny Orjioke probably has the inside track at outside linebacker to replace the departed Anthony Barr. Aaron Wallace (dealing with grade issues) and Deon Hollins are still very much in the mix. Several members of the staff said they were pleased with what they saw from Orjioke -- though it’s worth noting he didn’t play in the spring game for reasons not revealed.
  2. Welcome back, Owa: After missing last season with a hip injury, defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa (aka the scourge of spellcheck), returned with a very strong spring session that included a pair of sacks in the spring game. His return bolsters a pass rush that has to replace Barr and Cassius Marsh.
  3. Back depth: The staff has been very pleased with the progress of running back Jordon James. But they feel equally solid about Paul Perkins, Steven Manfro and redshirt freshman Craig Lee. Combined with the scrambling ability of quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins should build upon last year’s average of 196.6 yards per game.
Three questions for the fall
  1. Line-up: While the coaching staff feels pretty good about its offensive line, finding the right replacement for Xavier Su'a-Filo is still paramount. They think they might have it in graduate transfer Malcolm Bunche from Miami. But a couple of starting spots should still be up for grabs when the Bruins return for fall camp.
  2. Backup plan: A lot rests on the legs and arm of Hundley – a Heisman trophy candidate and presumptive top 10 pick in 2015. Whether it’s Jerry Neuheisel or Asiantii Woulard backing him up remains to be seen. Neither were particularly sharp in the spring game, with Neuheisel throwing two interceptions and Woulard completing just 4 of 13 passes.
  3. More D-to-O coming? We know about Myles Jack and the impact he made on offense for the Bruins last season. He didn’t get any carries in the spring, though Jim Mora said they’ll likely have some packages for him. Will we see others? Eddie Vanderdoes? Ishmael Adams? Not that they’ll give it away in the spring, but it will be fun to watch this fall to see how many defensive players see offensive time.
Way-too-early prediction: The Bruins will win the Pac-12 South for the third time in four years. With Hundley at the helm and an experienced defense, the Bruins not only have the fewest question marks among their Southern brethren, but they have plenty of talent to match on both sides of the ball. Staying healthy will be key, as will gaining some early momentum with critical conference games against ASU, Utah and Oregon in the first half of the season.
One of the ways a football team transitions from a group of wishful maybes to a sense of near-ontological certainty is when its collection of spring practice questions becomes mostly an array of appealing potential options.

So we have UCLA as it transitions from an underachieving program (1999-2011) to a good one (2012-2013) to one that has the makings of a national contender in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty ImagesWith few questions to answer this spring, Jim Mora has the makings of a special 2014 season with UCLA.
While the Bruins have questions on their depth chart, there isn't any particular area of vexing concern. The five positions where starters need to be replaced seem likely to be filled by promising athletes with playing experience. If those more veteran players don't rise to the fore during spring practices, that mostly speaks to the program's strong recruiting under Jim Mora.

Further, it's reasonable to project that those 20 or so freshmen and sophomores who saw significant playing time last year will physically and mentally mature into their primes.

There simply aren't any worrisome voids on this team.

As in:
There are, of course, important questions.

Is defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa fully healthy? He told reporters Tuesday that he is. So then is the former A-list recruit ready to break through as a senior?

What does LB/RB Myles Jack do for an encore after one of the best true freshman seasons in recent memory?

And speaking of what's next, is it reasonable to project Hundley taking a strong step forward as a third-year starter? Of course, that's why the program has already launched a Heisman Trophy campaign.

A lot of variables beyond personnel go into a special season -- a Rose Bowl-, College Football Playoff-type season. A team needs a great offseason. It needs positive chemistry and leadership. It needs to avoid injuries. It needs to stay hungry. It needs laser-like focus every week.

Returning starters do not guarantee anything. National champion Florida State only had 11 of them last year.

But on paper, UCLA appears to be the most likely candidate to break the five-year Stanford-Oregon Pac-12 hegemony atop the Pac-12. The Bruins might even be a team that catches the notice of the CFP selection committee in December.

Q&A: UCLA's Jim Mora

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
5:30
PM ET
UCLA opens spring football on Tuesday with high hopes and a good chance to be ranked in the preseason top 10. This is the third spring for UCLA coach Jim Mora, who has led the Bruins to a 19-8 mark in two seasons. He took a couple of minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog before spring kicks off.

This is your third spring. What have you learned during those first two, and are you going to be doing anything different this time around?

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJim Mora believes spring is a great time to go hard and be physical.
Jim Mora: Nope. Pretty much the same thing. It’s a great time to develop your younger players and start to get a feel for what your team is going to look like in the fall and start to develop that bond you need to have success. We won’t change anything. We go hard in the spring. It’s physical. It’s demanding. I think it’s a great time to get physical work in.

After the 2012 season, you closed with the back-to-back losses to Stanford and the bowl loss. Last year you closed with a win over USC and a bowl win. Do you buy into the idea of offseason momentum?

JM: No. To me, that first year, everyone says, “Oh, you lost three games in a row.” But those were three pretty different games. It wasn’t like we lost our last three regular season games. We lost our last regular season game, we lost in the Pac-12 championship game and we lost our bowl. It’s not like we had this huge slump or something. Every season is a new season. You have to develop the identity of your team. You have to commit to a certain work ethic, and our guys have done that. To me, spring ball signifies the start of a new season.

As a coach, what position battle are you most interested in?

JM: Outside linebacker, the guy who is going to replace Anthony Barr. I think that will be a good battle with Kenny Orjioke and Aaron Wallace and Deon Hollins. I’m excited to see how our defense adapts. We’ve got a new defensive coordinator. And as a staff we’ve learned a little bit more about our players and how to play in this conference and how to play college football with what teams are doing. We’re going to have to adapt a little bit, but it’s going to be fun to see.

With defensive coordinator Lou Spanos heading back to the NFL and Jeff Ulbrich being promoted from within, what kind of impact, if any, will that have on the defense?

JM: Not a lot. Just like every year, you tweak some things. It’s not going to impact it a lot. We’ve certainly made some changes. But we’re going to make changes next year, too. You continue to adapt. You try to grow. You try to add things that will make you better. You try to improve upon things you didn’t do well and you try to cut the fat so you’re not teaching things you’re not going to use throughout the year.

Was that a tough adjustment coming to the college game from the NFL? Every year in college there is going to be a lot of turnover and each season is a different team and a different personality.

JM: It’s interesting because it’s very different than the NFL. You’re right, there is more turnover. But at the same time, there is a little more certainty as well because unlike the NFL, where there is free agency so you’re adding guys, and there’s a draft where you’re adding guys who should be ready to play right away, in college you know there is going to be a natural attrition and you have a pretty good idea of who you can count on and who still needs to develop going into a season. Hopefully some of the freshmen develop, but you can’t always count on that. In some ways, as strange as it seems, it might be a little bit easier because you know what your team makeup is going to be a year in advance.

[+] EnlargeFabian Moreau
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIRising junior corner Fabian Moreau has earned positive reviews from Jim Mora.
Heading into spring, who is a player we haven’t heard of yet, but you think we’re going to hear his name a lot in 2014?

JM: I don’t know if you’ve heard his name a lot. Hopefully you don’t hear it a lot because he’s a cornerback and when you hear a cornerback’s name a lot, that means he’s making a lot of tackles because the ball is getting caught on him or he’s giving up touchdowns. But I think we have a really fine player in Fabian Moreau. Defensive backs are where I’ve worked most of my career and I think this guy has some real special traits. I think he has a chance to be a great player.

You’re big on leadership, as all coaches are. And you like to see players naturally develop into team leaders. Who are you eyeballing this year?

JM: That’s a great question. That’s the point of most uncertainty for me is -- who is going to assert themselves on the team. Four of our six team captains return, which is a real positive because they were voted captains by their teammates. You’ve got Brett Hundley. You’ve got Eric Kendricks, Jake Brendel our starting center and Ryan Hoffmeister, a linebacker and special teams guy. Xavier [Su'a-Filo] and Anthony [Barr] leaving, those are huge voids. It will be fun to see who steps up. Guys like Fabian, even though Myles Jack is only a sophomore, I think he’s got some leadership qualities to him. I don’t want to point too many guys out because there are a whole lot of guys on our team who are capable of stepping into that role.

Biggest shoes to fill: UCLA

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL or not. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Today we look at UCLA.

Biggest shoes: OLB Anthony Barr

A two-time All-Pac-12 first-team selection, Barr was one of the most feared linebackers in the nation. He totaled 65 tackles last season, but did most of his damage in the backfield, where he tallied 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. He also forced five fumbles (recovering four of them). He ranked second in the league in tackles for a loss and third in sacks.

Stepping in: Kenny Orjioke (maybe)

The junior-to-be has a ton of upside and potential. He’s built like Barr (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) and possesses similar natural athleticism that made Barr such a productive edge rusher. Orjioke produced 11 stops last year, including two tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks. But he’s not the only one in the mix. Aaron Wallace and Deon Hollins should also get looks. Wallace appeared in 13 games last year and had five tackles, while Hollins appeared in 11 with seven stops and a tackle for a loss. UCLA’s linebacker corps is solid, despite the departure of Barr and Jordan Zumwalt. Myles Jack is a gifted playmaker and Eric Kendricks has been one of the most productive linebackers in the league the last couple of years. Those two will occupy plenty of attention, leaving Barr’s replacement room to work on the edge.

Previous big shoes

Pregame: UCLA vs. Nevada

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
9:10
PM ET
PASADENA, Calif. –- As far as Week 1 challenges go, the Bruins could be in for a big one with Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo -– a dual-threat athlete with a favorable history of picking on Pac-12 teams.

With 20 career starts, and his favorite wide receiver from last year, Brandon Wimberly, coming back, look for Fajardo to have another strong season. In fact, using ESPN’s adjusted QBR rating, Fajardo ranked 18th in the country last year in efficiency, 10 spots ahead of Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, a “bigger name” quarterback the Bruins will see in a couple of weeks.

Against two Pac-12 teams last year (Cal and Arizona) he completed 74 percent of his throws (47 of 63) and rushed for 237 yards and three touchdowns.

First-year head coach Brian Polian is sure to bring a little of what he learned the last few years at Texas A&M and Stanford. But second-year offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich is pretty much running the show on offense.

Look for a lot of the same pistol/read-option principles we’ve seen from Nevada over the last decade. Keep an eye on UCLA left OLBs Aaron Wallace and Myles Jack, who should rotate a lot playing opposite Anthony Barr. Having to set edges against Fajardo will be very beneficial when they have to do it in two weeks against Martinez.

UCLA Bruins spring wrap

May, 8, 2013
5/08/13
8:00
AM ET
UCLA Bruins

2012 record: 9-5
2012 conference record: 6-3 (First in South Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; Defense: 6; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners: QB Brett Hundley, OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, LB Anthony Barr, WR Shaq Evans, LB Eric Kendricks, LB Jordan Zumwalt.

Key losses: RB Johnathan Franklin, OL Jeff Baca, TE Joseph Fauira, DE Datone Jones, LB Damien Holmes.

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Johnathan Fraklin (1,734)
Passing: Brett Hundley* (3,745)
Receiving: Shaq Evans* (877)
Tackles: Eric Kendricks* (149)
Sacks: Anthony Barr* (13.5)
Interceptions: Andrew Abbott, Sheldon Price (4)

Spring answers
  1. When in doubt, form a committee: There is no replacing Johnathan Franklin, UCLA’s all-time leading rusher and a finalist for the Doak Walker award last season. But the hope is that a group of backs can combine to replicate his production. Jordon James looks like he might have a leg up as the leader of the committee, though Paul Perkins and Malcolm Jones had solid springs. Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen shouldn't be counted out, either, heading into fall since the coaches have said they are fine with using five backs in a game.
  2. The corps stepping up: The coaches were extremely pleased with the production of the wide receiver corps this spring. Devin Fuller might have had the strongest spring of the group -- though returning leader Shaq Evans (60 catches, 877 yards, three touchdowns) still figures to be the primary target. Jordan Payton, Kenneth Walker, Eldridge Massington and Devin Lucien round out what should be a solid group.
  3. LB depth: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt make up a fantastic linebacking unit. Barr and Kendricks were among the national leaders in production last year. But this spring the Bruins saw the emergence of players like Aaron Wallace, Kenny Orijoke and Taylor Lagace and Aaron Porter. Defensive depth was a big concern for the Bruins last year. And for now, at least, it looks like they have solidified the two-deep at all the linebacking spots.
Fall questions
  1. Speaking of depth: The Bruins return the bulk of their offensive line -- but as we learned in the Baylor game when two linemen went down -- you can never have enough depth on the line. Finding backups will be key. And while players like Ben Wysocki stepped up this spring -- showing he can fill in at tackle or guard -- there will be plenty of competition with some good offensive linemen joining the team this fall. The starting five might be close to set -- but nothing is solidified.
  2. Secondary issues: As in issues in the secondary, not secondary concerns. Ishmael Adams and Anthony Jefferson looked solid at cornerback and Brandon Sermons and Randall Goforth stepped up at safety. Though it’s likely that several, if not all four spots, will still be up for grabs come August. A highly-rated group of recruits join the secondary in the fall and playing time in the secondary is expected to be highly contested.
  3. Looking for leaders: Franklin, gone. Jeff Baca, gone. Datone Jones, gone. Damien Holmes, gone. These were leaders who rallied the troops when times were tough and, in their own ways, pulled their respective units together. Head coach Jim Mora talked about the importance of leadership and said it can’t be forced. Rather, it has to happen organically. He said he started to see some guys develop this spring, but the next few months before they meet for fall camp will be very telling in regards to who takes this team on their shoulders.

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