LOS ANGELES -- Last season, a group of players on the UCLA defense got together to watch the BCS national championship game. One Bruin in particular -- defensive end Datone Jones -- watched with a keener eye and sense of purpose.
"I was watching Alabama's defense and they were fearless," said Jones, who is heading into his fifth season at UCLA. "I'm a fan of good defense. Those guys aren't that much more special than we are. We are all 6-4 and strong. They just have a different mentality than we do. They found out who they were early and they weren't going to be anything else but that.
"That's how we have to be. I feel like we lost our way as a defense. When I got here, guys like Reggie Carter and Brian Price were taking control of the defense and making plays. We were known as a defensive team. We lost our way and now we're trying to find it. If we do, we've got eight fifth-year seniors on this defense, and we could be something special."
UCLA's numbers from last season suggest anything but special.
8th in the conference in scoring defense
8th in total defense
11th in rush defense
6th in pass efficiency defense
11th in sacks
12th in opponent first downs
11th in opponent third-down conversion
9th in red zone defense
"That's not us," Jones said. "We left too many plays on the field last year and got exposed and didn't look very good. That's not who we are. We're going hard on each other and the coaches are putting us in tough situations. We're being asked to man up and that's what we have to do."
Jones, in particular. After missing all of the 2010 season with a fractured foot, the 6-foot-5, 280-pounder from Compton, Calif., was heavy on the hype, but not so much on the results. Some of that wasn't his fault. Teams knew his reputation and either ran away from his side or double and triple teamed him. Tough to make a play with three offensive linemen on you.
Still he led the Bruins defensive line with 41 tackles, three sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss. But that's not good enough in his mind.
"I know I had a lot of hype last year -- teams know UCLA has a potential All-American defensive end -- so they aren't running the ball or they are double-or-triple teaming me, but other guys weren't there to make the plays. If I'm getting double-downed, that means someone is free. But it works both ways. There were times when I was freed up and didn't make the play. That's what it comes down to. As a defense, we need to start making plays."
Jones is very encouraged by UCLA's switch to a mostly 3-4 defensive front. His responsibility changes a bit. The defensive linemen aren't asked to get as much penetration as they were in the 4-3. Rather their focus is on gap control and controlling the man in front of them. The new system means less double teams for Jones and more of an opportunity to showcase his skills as a run-stopper.
"I'm very excited about this defense," he said. "It's taking some getting used to. But I think at the next level this is what I'm probably going to have to do so it's good preparation.
"And I probably won't see as many double teams. Because if you double the end, [linebacker] Patrick Larimore is going to come free and I would not want to get hit by that man. Or Eric Kendricks or Keenan Graham. I feel like we're going to be loaded this year."
New defensive coordinator Lou Spanos said he and defensive line coach Angus McClure -- the only holdover from the previous coaching staff -- are spending the spring trying to change the mentality of the group. And Jones is going to be a big part of that.
"Right now he's doing a very good job adjusting," Spanos said. "He's focusing on the details and that's what we need and we drill these guys and install the ideas we think you need to be a successful defensive line."
With a renewed sense of excitement around the program and the scheme, Jones feels like he's ready to better handle the expectations this season.
"I'm definitely ready for the hype," he said. "I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid. I know it's there. There are always going to be assumptions that I can't do this or I can't do that. I'm ready to prove everyone wrong and I'm ready to start winning with my teammates."