This is the last in a series reviewing spring football camps in the Pac-12. Today, UCLA.
Starters returning – 14 (7 each way), plus P Jeff Locke.
Refresher on 2011 – A make-or-break year ultimately broke the regime of Rick Neuheisel, the ex-Washington coach, after four seasons in Westwood. The Bruins were all over the place – playing in the Pac-12 title game and a bowl (the Kraft Fight Hunger against Illinois) but finishing 6-8; getting consecutive, key wins over Cal and Arizona State in mid-season, but suffering too many ghoulish defeats to sustain Neuheisel’s reign. If the low point wasn’t a 48-12 loss at Arizona (which had dropped 10 straight FBS games) after a mid-game brawl eventually resulted in suspensions to six Bruins, it was a 50-0 defeat to rival USC that defined the distance between the two programs. Among other things, the incessant quarterback problems under Neuheisel continued, as Bruins completed only 55.8 percent. On defense, UCLA had only 14 sacks and allowed 191 yards rushing per game. Johnathan Franklin, returning in ’12, was a bright spot, rushing for 976 yards and a 5.9 average.
Coaching changes – With Neuheisel’s exit, the Bruins turned in several directions before settling on former Seahawks coach Jim Mora Jr., whose staff has a heavy Northwest accent. Ex-Husky QB great Marques Tuiasosopo is tight ends coach, and Demetrice Martin was hired away from Washington to coach CBs. Ex-Seahawks-and-UW aide Eric Yarber is coaching wideouts, and former WSU RB and assistant Steve Broussard tutors running backs. Offensive coordinator is Noel Mazzone, who last coached on Dennis Erickson’s staff at Arizona State.
Major spring concerns – Bringing clarity to the competitive quarterback picture . . . Sorting through WR candidates, with Shaquelle Evans’ 19 catches representing the leading returnee . . . getting a once-highly-regarded defensive line to perform to expectations . . . adjusting to Mora’s firmer hand.
Developments – Mora set a hard-charging tone early for the Bruins, telling the LA Daily News, “One of our goals is to get them comfortable being uncomfortable.” . . . Mora announced last week that the QB starter would be named on Aug. 16, after a couple of weeks of fall camp and some scrimmages. Brett Hundley, redshirted as a freshman in Neuheisel’s final year, made up serious ground and positioned himself to possibly take the reins in August. The other two in the picture are oft-injured Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, whose participation with the Bruin baseball team was something of a bone of contention in the past. Brehaut participated fully in football, leaving the diamond for the duration . . . Bruins have gone to a spread offense under Mazzone, and like a lot of teams in the Pac-12, a 3-4 defense capable of multiple looks . . . LT Xavier Su’a-Filo, returned from a Mormon mission, lifted the O-line play . . . S Dalton Hilliard moved to RB and impressed, then spent time back at safety late in the session because that spot was thin . . . Mora raved about S Tevin McDonald, son of ex-NFL standout Tim McDonald and brother of USC All-American Tim Jr. . . . RS freshman RB Stephen Manfro (5-11, 195) looked good and could press for playing time . . . S Dietrich Riley, who started five games last year, had neck surgery midway through drills and figures to miss the ’12 season . . . WR Darius Bell, a former quarterback who shed more than 20 pounds, looked good at his new position . . . LB Isaiah Bowens took a helmet to the knee and suffered a torn ACL . . . WR Ricky Marvray had back surgery to correct a disc problem but is expected ready for fall camp . . . soph NT Brandon Willis (6-3, 275) impressed after an odyssey that saw him enroll at North Carolina early in 2010, transfer to UCLA, re-enroll at UNC and then return to the Bruins, all of it related to a grandmother in the South battling kidney problems . . . in January, Mora announced DB Randall Carroll, DE Wesley Flowers and TE Raymond Nelson were no longer on the team for “violating team rules,” but Flowers was reinstated for the start of spring drills . . . Neuheisel’s son Jerry is a reserve QB . . . LB/DE Damien Holmes’ progress was evident to coaches . . . veteran CBs Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price responded well to new assistant Martin’s bump-and-run tactics . . . punting is in great hands, as Locke’s 44.58 career average is No. 2 in school history . . . it was a physical session, as, by mid-week before the final scrimmage, the LA Times reported 24 players injured from the time workouts started.
Spring game — Against a defense missing most of the key linebackers Saturday, Brehaut completed 12 of 16 for 249 yards and four scores, Prince was eight of 11 for 101 yards and a TD, and Hundley was 12 of 20 for 185 yards, a TD and an 18-yard rushing score.
2012 schedule – It appears built for a workable start for the Bruins, who open with Rice, Nebraska, Houston, Oregon State and Colorado before October. UCLA has five Pac-12 home games and catches an apparent break missing both Oregon and Washington.