Pac-12: Eric Kendricks

#4Pac: Most impressive defensive player?

September, 17, 2014
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Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're identifying the best defensive player through the first three weeks of the season.

[+] EnlargeDanny Shelton
Larry Placido/Icon SMIWashington nose tackle Danny Shelton is clearing up doubts over his production and consistency.
Ted Miller/@TedMillerRK: In the preseason, there was plenty of chatter about Washington NT Danny Shelton, mostly centered around if and when he'd be taken in the first round of the NFL draft this spring. The question with Shelton has never been talent or potential. It's been consistency and production. Was he just a big guy who gobbled up blockers, which is important for any interior lineman? Or was he something more, such as a guy who gobbled up blockers but also was a disruptive force -- as in unblockable? There's also the question of whether he'd take a few plays off here and there. Based on the early returns, let's just say the 339 pounder has NFL scouts and defensive coordinators salivating. Shelton not only leads the Pac-12 in sacks with six and tackles for a loss with 7.5, he also leads the Huskies' defense in tackles, period, with 27. Has a 3-4 NT ever led his team in tackles? We're going to say no without even fact-checking that assertion, at least not at the FBS level. It probably won't hold, but the mere fact that's where the numbers are after three games bodes well not only for the Huskies defense, it also figures to make Shelton a lot of money this spring when everyone wants to hand his name to Roger Goodell.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Is there a defensive player in the conference that can do more than Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson? Over his first two seasons, he proved to be one of the nation's best linebackers, but some still believe he would make for an even better safety. Against Illinois last week, Thompson scored on a 36-yard interception return and a 52-yard fumble return to become the first player in college football with multiple defensive touchdowns this year. The performance earned him Walter Camp national defensive player of the week honors and came after a 15-tackle game against Eastern Washington the week prior in which he recorded a sack a forced fumble. Thompson is the Huskies' only player to have recorded a sack, interception, pass breakup, and both forced and received a fumble. We're talking defense here, but it seems appropriate to point out he also has six carries for 82 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, which stands as the Huskies' longest run of the year.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: No defensive player in the Pac-12 has been more productive over the last three seasons than UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks. And he's picked up where he left off last year and the year before that. Kendricks leads the Pac-12 with 37 tackles through three games, including a league-high 21 solo stops. He's averaging 12.3 stops per game -- a full tackle more than Arizona's Scooby Wright (11 per game) -- and more than two tackles per game over every other Pac-12 defender. If the name of the game is production, then Kendricks absolutely qualifies as the most impressive. And it's not just about making tackles, he also has an interception returned for a touchdown and he forced a fumble that led to a defensive score. Both of those happened on the road at Virginia, and as a result he was named the national defensive player of the week for Week 1. On a team loaded with talented playmakers -- some of whom get more buzz than Kendricks -- he's not only been the most complete and impressive player on the Bruins, but also the Pac-12. Excited to see what he does Sept. 25 with the trip to Arizona State against the Sun Devils and D.J. Foster, who leads the league with 170 rushing yards per game.

[+] EnlargeIfo Ekpre-Olomu
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu isn't putting up big numbers because opposing QBs aren't throwing his way. His one interception this season tells all you need to know about his play-making skills.
Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is going to have a pretty short highlight reel this season -- because he's that good. Opposing quarterbacks would rather learn what it feels like to be sacked by four members of Oregon's pass rush than to throw at Ekpre-Olomu. And so, through three games, the senior has only tallied 11 tackles and one interception. But my goodness, the one interception displayed everything you need to know about Ekpre-Olomu and his play-making abilities. He showed his awareness, change of direction, speed, jumping abilities, body control and athleticism in that one play. I can't think of another play in the Pac-12 this season in which all of those abilities were displayed so well. I'm expecting a handful more plays similar to this, maybe even something more impressive. But the most impressive part of his play -- and the part that speaks to why he is the best defensive player in the Pac-12 -- is the fact that we're not seeing a ton of him. Because QBs want nothing to do with No. 14.

Pac-12 names players of the week

September, 1, 2014
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video

USC quarterback Cody Kessler, UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks and Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay have been named the Pac-12's players of the week.

Kessler is the offensive player for posting a career-high 394 passing yards in USC's 52-13 win over Fresno State. He tossed four touchdown passes and also rushed for one.

Kendricks was named defensive player of the week for a 16-tackle effort in UCLA's 28-20 road win over Virgnia. The Bruins turned in three defensive touchdowns in the second quarter, including an interception that Kendricks returned 37 yards for a touchdown. Kendricks, who was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week, also forced a fumble that led to another touchdown.

Clay took home this week's special-teams honors for returning a pair of kicks for touchdowns in Utah's 56-14 win over Idaho State. The first was a 46-yard punt return late in the first half. Later in the game he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score. He became the league's first player since Cal's Deltha O'Neal in 1999 to score off a punt and a kicker return in the same game.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 1

August, 31, 2014
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Football is back. That means helmet stickers are back! Here’s who gets one of college football's most coveted honors for Week 1.

Kaelin Clay, KR, Utah: The Pac-12 blog is always hesitant to dole out too much praise for victories in FCS games. But Clay went above and beyond in Utah’s 56-14 win over Idaho State. He returned a punt 46 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona: Not a bad night for the new guy. He threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns in his first career start (also adding 50 yards on the ground) as the Wildcats totaled a school record 787 total yards in their 58-13 win over UNLV.

Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: This is getting to be a troubling trend. Halliday has a monster game, but the Cougs lose in the fourth quarter. Sort of how we ended last year. Still, he threw for 532 yards and five touchdowns against a Big Ten team, a 41-38 loss to Rutgers. That has to count for something.

UCLA’s defense: While the offense significantly underwhelmed, the defense kept the Bruins alive with three defensive touchdowns in the second quarter, which was ultimately the difference in their 28-20 win at Virginia. Interception returns by Ishmael Adams and Eric Kendricks, with a Randall Goforth fumble return in between, gave the Bruins a big enough lead.

Jalen Jefferson, LB, Cal: Been a while since we tapped a Cal defensive player for a helmet sticker. Feels weird. Feels good. Jefferson led all players with 16 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss and a critical 11-yard sack on Northwestern’s penultimate offensive play of the game. On the final play, it was Jefferson who snagged an interception, sealing a 31-24 win. He was Eh-vre-where.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC: I know, I know. We could do three or four quarterbacks every week. And just an FYI, we probably will, because they’re that good this year. Kessler picked up where he left off against Fresno State last year and posted a career high 394 yards on 25-of-37 passing with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the 52-13 win over the Bulldogs.
More watch list news with nine Pac-12 players being named to the Butkus Award list. The Butkus is given annually to the top linebacker in college football. (There are also professional and high school level awards.)

The last winner from the conference was USC’s Chris Claiborne in 1998, so it’s been a while.

Here are the Pac-12 players named to the preseason list.
You can see the complete list here.
The watchlist roll out continues this week with the announcement of the Rotary Lombardi preseason list.

Of the 123 players on the list, 15 are from the Pac-12 representing six schools.

Eligibility for the Lombardi Award includes offensive or defensive “down” linemen or linebackers “who set up no farther than five yards deep from the line of scrimmage.”

Here are the Pac-12 players.
We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Up next: Linebacker. Teams in each category are listed in alphabetical order.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: The Ducks are in great shape with inside linebackers Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick returning next to outside linebacker Tony Washington. The only departure they’ll have to account for is Boseko Lokombo, and that spot appears destined for Tyson Coleman once he’s completely healthy following a knee injury that sidelined him for the Alamo Bowl. Sophomore Torrodney Prevot is one of several talented young players to keep an eye on when the Ducks empty their bench during blowouts.

Oregon State: The Beavers are deep at linebacker with D.J. Alexander, Jabral Johnson and Michael Doctor projected to start in their 4-3 scheme. Rommel Mageo was a starter down the stretch last season and should see plenty of playing time, as will Caleb Saulo and Darrell Songy.

USC: Only outside linebacker Devon Kennard is gone from a a solid group that should have a rather seamless transition playing in new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's 3-4 defense. Hayes Pullard and Anthony Sarao figure to start inside, with Jabari Ruffin or Quinton Powell playing outside opposite J.R. Tavai.

Washington: The Huskies weren’t fully stocked during the spring, but figure to have one of the best groups in the conference with John Timu playing between Shaq Thompson and Travis Feeney. Cory Littleton can be listed at defensive end or outside linebacker -- UW calls him a rush end -- and is coming off a productive sophomore season.

GOOD SHAPE

Colorado: Addison Gillam led the Pac-12 in tackles per game last year (8.9) and will likely start between sophomore Kenneth Olugbode and senior Woodson Greer. The Buffaloes have depth, too, with Brady Daigh, a reliable backup for Gillam, and outside linebacker Deaysean Rippy, who sat out last season after transferring from Pittsburgh. Rippy was listed as an alternative starter to Greer on Colorado’s post spring depth chart.

Stanford: There might not be a more difficult task in the conference than replacing outside linebacker Trent Murphy and inside linebacker Shayne Skov, both of whom drew All-American accolades in multiple season. Inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley, already a three-year starter, is one of the conference’s unheralded players and outside linebacker James Vaughters is poised for a breakout senior season. Kevin Andersen has seen a lot of playing time over the past two years at outside linebacker, but the other inside spot needs to be ironed out.

UCLA: Like Stanford, the Bruins have a tough task in replacing Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt, but have two talented returners in Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack. UCLA could very well end up one of the best groups in the conference pending the development of Kenny Orjioke, Deon Hollins, Isaako Savaiinaea and Zach Whitley.

Utah: Junior Jason Whittingham is a potential first-team all-conference type player and the Utes are high on Jared Norris, who started seven games last year. The group looked even better when Miami-transfer Gionni Paul was projected to contribute, but the start to his season is expected to be delayed by a broken bone in his foot. Uaea Masina, after contributing on special teams last year, will likely see a lot of playing time.

Washington State: Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen return as starters and Tana Pritchard, who saw his role grow as the season went along, will be leaned on heavily. The final spot up for grabs is the ‘buck,’ which looks like it will come down to Kache Palacio, a slight favorite who started at the end of the season, and Ivan McLennan. Chester Su'a could also make some noise after missing last season with an injury.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona: The Wildcats need to replace three-year starter Marquis Flowers and two-year starter Jake Fischer. Scooby Wright started 12 games as a true freshman last season and gives the Wildcats a good piece to start with, but we’ll take a wait-and-see approach once the other pieces are in place. The good news is that Arizona has recruited well at linebacker.

Arizona State: Salamo Fiso returns, but having to replace three of the four starters from a year ago leaves more questions than answers. Early-enrollee D.J. Calhoun drew rave reviews during spring practice, but will have to beat out redshirt junior Antonio Longino for a starting job. Eriquel Florence (devil), and Laiu Moeakiola/Marcus Washington (spur) were also listed as starters at the end of spring practice.

Cal: Jalen Jefferson, Michael Barton and Hardy Nickerson are all back, but after last season’s defensive woes it’s hard to go in with much optimism. The situation at linebacker is clearly better than it was last year, but that’s not inspiring enough not to erase speculation.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS:
There’s nothing like a good ol’ award watch list to generate some college football discussion during the height of summer, and the good folks at the College Football Performance Awards are the latest to publish theirs.

Eight Pac-12 schools are represented (sorry ASU, Cal, Colorado and Utah) on the three defensive lists, highlighted by USC’s Leonard Williams, UCLA’s Myles Jack and Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

Here is the full list of Pac-12 representation.

Defensive linemen
Tony Washington, Oregon
Leonard Williams, USC
Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington
Xavier Cooper, Washington State

Linebackers
A.J. Tarpley, Stanford
Myles Jack, UCLA
Eric Kendricks, UCLA
Hayes Pullard, USC
Shaq Thompson, Washington

Defensive backs
Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Arizona
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
Steven Nelson, Oregon State
Jordan Richards, Stanford
Su'a Cravens, USC
Josh Shaw, USC

Mailbag: Bucks = boos?

June, 25, 2014
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Ken in Berkeley, Calif. writes: Kevin, If college teams were populated by professional employees instead of amateur athletes, wouldn't it change the relationship with fans, who would play the role of shareholders with Athletic Departments being like corporate management? It is currently very rare to boo an unpaid player. But if a paid player screwed up, we could be all over them like we now boo coaches when they screw up. Is that the world they want? Even their fellow students would become their employers via the tickets they buy. If they slack off senior year looking to the NFL, then they should be at risk for losing their job. And what does this mean for equality of opportunity for women athletes? A full ride, including room/board/books is quite another thing as many scholars receive that.

Kevin Gemmell: You tell me, Ken. Would it change how you feel about a player? Have you gone to a Single-A baseball game and ripped into an 18-year-old pitcher who was just drafted in the third round? Did you boo Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett when they jumped from high school to the NBA and got paid, but had bad games?

Are those taunts justified compared to, say, the UCLA folks who were booing the Bruins on their final offensive drive against ASU last year? After all, Brett Hundley was sacked twice and there were back-to-back holding penalties. The Bruins went 11 yards in eight plays with the South Division title on the line. That didn't stop people at the Rose Bowl from booing. Was that deserved?

I get your point, and it's valid. But folks are going to boo players regardless of whether they are getting paid. Usually it's out of heat-of-the-moment passion. Sometimes fans are just jerks (see the Marcus Smart situation).

Now, as for the idea of equity. That's a whole other argument -- especially when you're talking about women's athletics and non-revenue sports. In terms of payment, does the starting quarterback make more than the backup long snapper? Or is it equal across the board? Those answers depend on how much money we're talking about.

No question, it's dicey. And I don't have a perfect and equitable solution. I do think more needs to be done for athletes. Whether that's full cost of tuition and/or modest stipends to go with the scholarships and room and board and meal plans, etc.

There will always be those who believe a college education is payment enough -- especially when you look at the cost of some of the private schools. And there will always be those who feel college football is simply a farm system for the NFL and players should be getting a thick piece of the pie. I believe there is common ground between those extremes.

But how you choose to look at the athletes is entirely up to you. If you were the kind of person who was programmed to boo them before, you'll boo them again.

We're always looking for good poll questions, and this might be an interesting one for later in the week.



John in Dublin, Calif. writes: While I agree Nelson Agholor is an important player for USC, in a conference with a bunch of returning quarterbacks, and a variety of offenses, the most important player will always be on defense. In which case, Leonard Williams or even Su'a Cravens should emerge as the most important player.

Kevin Gemmell: Can't argue with that. So I won't try. What Justin Wilcox did at Washington with three- and four-star players was outstanding. And I can't wait to see what he's going to do now that he has some four- and five-star athletes to work with.

USC's defense made fantastic strides when it moved to an odd front. The Trojans were first in the conference in total defense and third in scoring defense last year. Compare that to 2012 when they were fifth in scoring defense and seventh in total defense. Strides were made, and guys such as Cravens and Williams were a big part of that.

That's the beauty of the Most Important Player series. Some folks have sent mailbag notes saying it's a boring waste of time. Ted and I concoct these types of series not just to fill the slow summer months, but to spark some debate amongst fans.

I have a feeling, John, if you and I sat down over a couple of root beers, we could talk for a few hours about this. And it would be a fun discussion. And while we sit around and speculate and count days until the season starts, I don't see anything wrong with a little lively debate.



Joe Bruin in Los Angeles writes: Hey Kev! Long time! Maybe it's just me, but do you feel like Kendricks hasn't gotten the attention he deserves over the years and is classified as underrated? Obviously, you guys of the Pac-12 blog are quick to notice how important of a player he is for UCLA, but why don't the ESPN "expert" analysts such as Herbstreit, Corso, Palmer, etc. give him much love? Also, are you taking any vacations this summer? You have been working hard on the blog and definitely deserve a nice PAID vacation from Ted!

Kevin Gemmell: Every moment Ted and I aren't working together is like sticking toothpicks under my fingernails. I just can't quit him.

Your Pac-12 bloggers are just as guilty as some of those other guys you named. True, I picked Eric Kendricks as Most Important Player. But go back and look at our preseason and postseason Top 25s from the past couple of years. You won't see Kendricks on them. And that's our fault.

Every year when Ted and I put those lists together, there is vigorous debate and usually a bit of name calling. And when we're finally done, there are always a couple of names that we look back and ask ourselves, “how the heck did we leave him off this list.” Kendricks is one of them. But I promise you he will be in the preseason top 25. You hear that, Ted!? You won't shout me down this time.

No one in the league has had more tackles over the past three seasons than Kendricks (331). The only other player close was Deone Bucannon, who had 300 and led the league last season.

Kendricks doesn't tally a lot of the premium stats, like sacks and tackles for loss, that some of the other outside linebackers do. He's just a good, hard-nosed run-stopper. And he's one of the best in the country at what he does.



Tom in Ft. Myers, Fla. writes: You missed what I thought was the worst loss for Colorado -- Fresno State. 69-14 from 2012 and down 35-0 after 1 quarter. Colorado best win 17-14 at Utah in 2011. Snapped a 23 game road losing streak, which dated back to 2007.

Kevin Gemmell: Yep, that one was all kinds of yucky. It was as demoralizing of a loss as there was in the league over the past four years. I picked those assorted games for Colorado because I just remembered all of those games where players were setting offensive records.

Each week during the season, I do the Pac-12 Blog player of the week post on Mondays and it felt like every single week during 2012 I was picking a player who did something great against Colorado.

As for wins, that Utah victory is a good call. I went with the Colorado State game from last season because, to me, it symbolized a changing of the guard of sorts. Out with the old and in with the new.

But like our Most Important Player post, there really isn't a right or wrong answer. It's just fun to have those kinds of discussions in the offseason.
Eight Pac-12 players were named first-team preseason All-Americans by Athlon's on Monday, while 11 others were named to the other three teams.

Oregon, Stanford and USC each had a pair of first-team selections. The Ducks were represented by center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Stanford's pair was OT Andrus Peat and kick returner Ty Montgomery, while USC was represented by WR Nelson Agholor and DT Leonard Williams.

The other two first-team selections were UCLA LB Myles Jack and Washington LB Shaq Thompson.

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, the Pac-12's top Heisman Trophy candidate was second-team behind FSU's Jameis Winston, who won the trophy last year.

On the third team were three defenders: UCLA LB Eric Kendricks, USC LB Hayes Pullard and Washington DT Danny Shelton. Agholor also was named a punt returner, so he got two spots.

On the fourth team: Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong, Oregon State C Isaac Seumalo and USC O-lineman Max Tuerk, who was listed as a guard even though he plays center. Stanford safety Jordan Richards was fourth team with the defense, while Utah kicker Andy Phillips was a fourth-team specialist.

Most important player: UCLA

June, 19, 2014
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All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Players series.

First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Marcus Mariota is Oregon's most important player.

And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too. USC’s Leonard Williams might be the best defensive lineman in the nation, but is he the Trojans' most important player, considering the talent and depth on their D-line?

Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on them living up to expectations. Or their absence.

[+] EnlargeEric Kendricks
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks led the Pac-12 in tackles in 2012 and finished third in 2013.
UCLA: LB Eric Kendricks

2013 production: Recorded 106 tackles, including four tackles for a loss and two sacks. He also had one interception, blocked a kick, forced a fumble and broke up a pair of passes.

Why Kendricks is important: Kendricks has been one of the most productive tacklers in the league the last two seasons, leading the conference in tackles in 2012 and coming in third in 2013. It’s just those same years, the Bruins happened to have a pretty good outside linebacker named Anthony Barr who sacked the spotlight away from Kendricks.

As fate would have it, the Bruins have another rising outside linebacker -- who also does a little bit of work on offense and is getting a lot of the attention in the linebacker corps. But those who know Bruins football know what Kendricks is capable of. He’s a veteran leader who quietly comes to work every day, turns in double-digit tackles, then comes back and does it again next week.

His numbers aren’t flashy in the sense that he doesn’t pile up the premium stats. And in a league dominated by talented outside linebackers who tally huge sack and tackle-for-loss numbers, Kendricks’ production in the middle often gets lost. But it’s Kendricks who allows those OLBs to flourish. Teams can’t double-team the outside because they have to account for Kendricks in the middle. If there is a play to be made, he'll make it. Likewise, they can’t double-team Kendricks because that leaves the outside open. It’s your classic pick-your-poison scenario when he’s on the field.

UCLA enters the 2014 season with a considerable amount of hype. While a lot of teams experienced huge talent drains on defense, the Bruins are fairly well stacked. And as they look for their third South crown in four years, Kendricks will continue to play a crucial role in that success.

Other Most Important Players:
Things are good for UCLA this summer. For one, in advance of preseason practices, the Bruins can recline by the pool and reflect on having defeated USC in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98. That span, by the way, is also the last time preseason expectations were this high.

As in Pac-12 and national championships high.

The reclamation project that Jim Mora has wrought, one that had Texas eyeballing him in the winter before he signed a new contract with UCLA, seems to be gathering momentum rather than peaking.

“It feels great, but at the same time, this is where I believe we are supposed to be," linebacker Eric Kendricks said of the swirling enthusiasm in Westwood. "All the hard work me and my teammates have put in, I feel like we were supposed to end up in this situation.”

Yet the 2013 season, a transformative one for UCLA, wasn't so easy for Kendricks. While the Bruins were asserting themselves, their star middle linebacker struggled through a variety of injuries -- kidney, shoulder, back and ankle. He played through most of them, but the bum ankle forced him to undergo surgery and miss the dominant Sun Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

[+] EnlargeEric Kendricks
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks has 332 career tackles, even though he was slowed by injuries in the 2013 season.
Winning eases pain, but it doesn't cure it.

“Last season was probably the hardest season I’ve ever been a part of," Kendricks said of his personal travails. "It was a learning experience for me having to play through pain. It made me mentally tougher. I was playing for my teammates. That was the main reason I was out there trying to fight my butt off.”

Even with the injuries, Kendricks -- who has started 28 games -- didn't have a bad campaign. He still ranked third in the Pac-12 with 8.8 tackles per game. He again earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Still, when folks thought of a UCLA defense that -- finally? -- was developing some grit, they tended to start with Anthony Barr and true freshman Myles Jack, Kendricks' fellow linebackers, and then perhaps move on to a defensive front speckled with young talent.

Kendricks has been a tackling machine in the past three seasons with 332 career stops -- his 150 tackles in 2012 were the most by a UCLA player since 1978 -- but it's fair to say his junior season didn't play out how he would have scripted it. If his season had followed a logical progression from his sophomore production, he would presently be sharing top billing with Jack as the Bruins' defensive stars and probably would have earned preseason All-American attention.

Yet when asked about the finding himself outside the spotlight, Kendricks gives it a rhetorical shrug.

“I could care less," he said. "As long as I do my job, I think the film and the numbers speak for themselves. As far as attention I get from NFL teams, that will take care of itself. I don’t need any of the spotlight, honestly.”

A healthy Kendricks is an NFL prospect. For one, he's got good bloodlines. His father, Marv, led UCLA in rushing in 1970-71. His older brother Mychal, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 at California, is a budding star for the Philadelphia Eagles. Both brothers are listed at 6-foot, but Eric Kendricks is a leaner version (230 pounds vs. 240).

As to who's faster, Eric said this about a 40-yard race between the two: “He might win one without pads, but I’d win one in pads.”

The brothers talk frequently, and Eric is eager to learn about the NFL game and what it takes to play on Sundays. The general gist he's picked up is that everyone is a spectacular athlete, so it's your focus and preparation that separates you from the competition.

That lesson also applies to the current Bruins as they eyeball big goals. Preseason expectations don't mean squat. They don't block and tackle and make plays. No one is ceding the South Division to the Bruins.

Of course, Kendricks and his teammates know that. That, however, shouldn't stop them from enjoying the burgeoning excitement.

Or expressing to each other on a regular basis what it means to presently own the series with USC.

"Yeah," he said laughing. "That is awesome."
It’s time to start thinking about preseason watch lists. And the first one out is the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is given annually to the defensive player who has the biggest “impact” on his team -- impact being an acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.

The award is in its 11th year.

Of the 42 players on this year’s watch list, 11 come from the Pac-12:
UCLA’s Anthony Barr was the 2013 winner. Cal’s Dante Hughes was the league’s only other winner, in 2006.

Other previous winners include Manti Te’o (Notre Dame, 2012), Luke Kuechly (Boston College, 2011), J.J. Watt (Wisconsin, 2010), Jerry Hughes (TCU, 2009), James Laurinaitis (Ohio State, 2008), Glenn Dorsey (LSU, 2007), DeMeco Ryans (Alabama, 2005) and David Pollack (Georgia, 2004).

You can click here for the complete watch list.

Q&A: UCLA's Jim Mora

March, 31, 2014
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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.
You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

This year, we're breaking things down by division. We've already done offense for the South and North divisions.

Next up: South Division defensive three-headed monsters.

1. USC

LB Hayes Pullard, DT Leonard Williams, S Su'a Cravens

The skinny: Pullard was second-team All-Pac-12 after leading the Trojans with 94 tackles. While DE Devon Kennard led the Trojans with nine sacks last year, Williams was a force inside with six. It's also possible, of course, that attention to Williams, a certain preseason All-American, will open things up for a DE/OLB, such as J.R. Tavai. Cravens is likely to become as a true sophomore an all-conference performer. He had four interceptions last year, second on the team.

2. UCLA

LB Eric Kendricks, OLB Kenny Orjioke, CB Ishmael Adams

The skinny: Kendricks ranked third in the Pac-12 with 8.8 tackles per game last year. Does he finally break through on the all-conference team after two years as an honorable mention? Orjioke is the frontrunner to replace Anthony Barr. He's 6-foot-4, 240 pounds and has tons of potential. He, however, had just 12 tackles and two sacks as a sophomore. Adams led the Bruins with four interceptions last year.

3. Arizona

LB Scooby Wright, DE Reggie Gilbert, "spur" LB Tra'Mayne Bondurant

The skinny: Wright earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 as a true freshman, finishing with 83 tackles, including 9.5 coming for a loss. With both MLB Jake Fischer and weakside LB Marquis Flowers gone, he seems like a favorite to lead the team in tackles, even if he stays at strongside backer. Gilbert ranked second on the team with four sacks, though it's possible the Wildcats defense will do some juggling to increase anemic sack numbers this fall. Or a new guy, such as LB Antonio Smothers or DL Jeff Worthy, will break through. Bondurant, a hybrid LB/safety, led the Wildcats with four interceptions in 2013.

4. Arizona State

LB Salamo Fiso, DE/OLB Viliami Latu, S Damarious Randall

The skinny: The Sun Devils are replacing nine starters on defense, but Randall and Fiso are two of the three returning starters. It is notable that coach Todd Graham has been moving guys around on defense this spring, so ultimate positions are a matter of conjecture at this point. Fiso ranked fourth on the team with 71 tackles. Sophomore Latu might have a lead in the battle to replace Carl Bradford at the highly productive "devil" LB position. Randall had three interceptions last year.

5. Utah

LB Gionni Paul, OLB Jacoby Hale, S Eric Rowe

The skinny: Paul, a Miami transfer, is drawing raves this spring. He was a terror on the scout team a year ago. Hale is likely to replace Trevor Reilly, who led the Utes in tackles and sacks last year, at the "stud" linebacker. He was second on the Utes with 10 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks a year ago. As for the Utes’ leader for interceptions, well, funny you should ask about a team that had just three picks all of last year, tied for fewest in the nation. We're going with Rowe, even though he didn't have a pick in 2013 and had just one in 2012.

6. Colorado

LB Addison Gillam, TBA, CB Greg Henderson

The skinny: Along with Wright and UCLA's Myles Jack, Gillam was a true freshman LB revelation last year. He led the Buffaloes with 107 tackles. He might be a good bet to lead the team in sacks, too. The Buffs are replacing leading sacker Chidera Uzo-Diribe (4), and it's unclear who will fill that void. D-lineman Samson Kafovalu is a possibility, but he's sitting out spring focusing on academics. Derek McCartney -- yeah, that McCartney -- has been playing well this spring. Henderson led the Buffaloes with four picks a year ago.

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.

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