Today begins our 12-part look at the league’s spring camps, with UCLA, the popular choice to with the Pac-12 South, kicking it off. We’ll continue Saturday with USC and go through the rest of the South before moving to the North.
Starters returning: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense), plus PK Ka’imi Fairbairn and P Sean Covington.
Refresher on 2013: Bruins went 10-3, highlighting a 5-0 start with a 41-21 comeback win at Nebraska. In mid-season, they lost consecutive road games to Stanford and Oregon, then rebounded, only to lose to Arizona State, 38-33, in a game that determined the Pac-12 South title. But they blasted USC and Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl to finish, and the return of QB Brett Hundley ensures they’re a popular choice to win the division in 2014 and stay in the national conversation.
Coaching changes: Head coach Jim Mora fired veteran RBs coach Steve Broussard and replaced him with another vet, Kennedy Polamalu.
Major spring concerns: Solidifying the receiving and running back corps and replacing standout linebackers Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt.
Developments: Hundley, who was the first Bruins QB to lead the team in rushing (748 yards) since 1964, spent time over the winter with some current and former standout QBs about how to improve himself: Phillip Rivers, Donovan McNabb, Brock Osweiler, Jeff Garcia and Tim Tebow . . . Hundley worked more under center rather than only in the shotgun . . . only OL spot not filled by a returning starter is that of all-league G Xavier Su’a-Filo, and a possible replacement is 6-8, 325-pound Miami graduate transfer Malcolm Bunche . . . RB should be strong, with the return of Jordon James, who exited early last year with a significant ankle injury, and the addition of Craig Lee, who redshirted last year and had a number of highlight plays in the session . . . Bruins unlikely to rely as much offensively on standout LB Myles Jack, and Mora chided himself for using Jack so much on offense in the ASU loss, calling it a “poor decision” . . . WR Thomas Duarte is likely to be a threat, but he missed time with a sprained ankle. Third-year soph Kenneth Walker (5-10, 180), is the fastest player on the team and a deep threat . . . dueling at backup QB were Jerry Neuheisel, Rick’s son, and Ashantii Woulard, with Neuheisel apparently leading . . . LB Eric Kendricks sat out recovering from ankle surgery and Zumwalt’s heir-apparent, Isaako Savaiinaea, suffered a shoulder injury described as minor . . . DE Cassius Marsh departs, but the natural successor is Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who sat out last year with two hip procedures . . . early enrollee Zach Whitley, a top recruit, was tried at OLB before being moved inside . . . DT Eddie Vanderdoes broke a bone in his foot in an agility drill . . . secondary looks stacked, and Mora says CB Fabien Moreau is capable of being an All-American.
Spring game: At the StubHub Center in Carson, the Blue team beat the White 28-0, as Hundley played only a series, completing four of five passes. He gave way to Neuheisel, who, mostly against reserves, was 14 of 22 for 180 yards in leading three scoring drives with two interceptions.
Quotable: Mora (on losing standout LBs Barr and Zumwalt) – “We’re excited about the guys that are here – Myles Jack, Eric Kendricks, and we’ve got some younger guys that have really stepped up. Kenny Orjioke, Aaron Wallace, Deon Hollins, Isaako Siaviinaea, Cameron Judge.”
2014 schedule: It could be awhile before we can make sweeping conclusions about the Bruins; they host USC Nov. 22 and Stanford six days later. Earlier, if they can get by a Sept. 13 game with Texas at Arlington, and one Sept. 25 at Arizona State, they’re set up for a big one in Pasadena Oct. 11 against Oregon.