UCLA Football: 5 Things to Watch for During Spring Football
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On April 3, spring practice will commence for the UCLA Bruins football program. With this inauguration comes copious amounts of anticipation and enthusiasm.
New head coach Jim L. Mora will look to implement his style of coaching upon the team during this period. This marks the first time where Mora will actually be on the field coaching up members of the squad.
There will be a sense of pressure existing throughout this month.
Returning members of the team will look to impress the new staff with their effort.
Also, the staff will have to adjust the mediocre malaise that the program has been operating under for years.
With that in mind, a renewed sense of urgency has befallen upon the program. This month of instruction will go a long way in telling how the upcoming season will unfold.
Here's a look at five things to watch for in spring football for the Bruins...
Who Will Be the Starting QB?
The much maligned Prince
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The biggest question heading into spring football will be the quarterback position.
It's entirely fair to say that a lack of consistency from the signal-caller of the offense has truly crippled the program.
In 2011, UCLA quarterbacks ranked second to last in the conference in passing yards.
The Bruins were also dead last in passing attempts per contest, completions per game and passing touchdowns per game.
Suffice to say, a change needs to happen quickly.
Incumbent starter Kevin Prince has battled inconsistency in addition to a myriad of physical ailments throughout his college career.
His inability to throw the football with efficiency has resulted in turnovers and poor play. For his career, he has almost as many interceptions (21) as he does touchdowns (23).
Richard Brehaut has flashed moments of solid play, but he's currently playing on the UCLA baseball team.
He's expected to be available for spring practice, but questions about commitment to the football program will undoubtedly persist.
The third horse in the quarterback derby is highly regarded red-shirt freshman Brett Hundley.
Hundley was a coveted 5-star recruit with offers from all over the country. His upside far surpasses both Prince and Brehaut, but his lack of experience will provide growing pains.
A leader for the football team needs to be designated. A lack of continuity from the position has effectively compromised the growth of the team.
The appointment of the starter this spring will alleviate any doubts about who will lead the team heading into the fall.
Bye Bye Pistol, Hello Spread
Returning RB Johnathan Franklin
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Let's be honest: The pistol offense shot blanks under former head coach Rick Neuheisel.
A lack of a passing attack made the offense incredibly predictable and unimaginative. At times, the offensive display was both head-scratching and abysmal.
Enter Noel Mazzone.
The highly regarded offensive coordinator will bring the spread offense from Arizona State to Westwood.
This type of offense is a far cry from the pistol. A reliance upon a pass-heavy scheme will now reign supreme—something not seen at UCLA in years.
A complete overhaul will take place in regards to formations, player positions and positioning on the field.
One thing to keep in mind is the current personnel. Members of the roster were brought in to run the pistol offense, not the spread.
Mazzone will have to tailor his offense around the personnel's skill sets until he's able to recruit athletes to fit the system.
This period of transition may be rough at times. However, it will be imperative that a rudimentary retention of the offense takes place during this upcoming month.
The more comfortable the offense becomes with the spread, the quicker Mazzone can incorporate the exceedingly complex principles.
Here is a detailed look at what Mazzone hopes to accomplish this spring.
Jordon James could be a key cog for the offense
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With the graduation of top receiver Nelson Rosario, UCLA truly has a void of established and reliable pass catchers for this upcoming season.
That's not a recipe for success—especially when transitioning to an offense predicated upon four and even five wide receiver sets.
UCLA's top returning receiver is tight end Joe Fauria. Fauria finished the 2011 season with only 39 catches for 481 yards and six touchdowns.
The next best returning receiver statistically is Shaq Evans, who finished last season with 19 catches for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
Capable athletes who can catch the ball and make people miss in space are paramount for this specific offense.
One current Bruin who fits that mold is Jordon James.
Nicknamed "joystick" by his teammates, the red-shirt sophomore has all the skills required to be an impact player in the spread.
He not only has wonderful agility, but he displays "jitterbug-like" quickness in the open field. Look for Mazzone to get James out in space via reverses, bubble screens and even out of the backfield.
Red-shirt freshman receiver Devin Lucien should also be a valuable addition to the offense.
The confident Crespi High School product is a very polished player with great route-running ability. He looks like a perfect fit for what Mazzone is trying to accomplish.
With only five scholarship wide receivers available for the spring, Mazzone definitely has his work cut out for himself.
However, the Bruins do have a luxury in the form of senior running back Johnathan Franklin.
Franklin led the Bruins in rushing with 976 yards last year. Look for him to become a featured playmaker in this offense.
The Transition to a 3-4 Defense
Datone Jones is expected to apply the pressure this season
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In addition to a new offensive scheme, UCLA will be abandoning the 4-3 alignment in favor of the 3-4 configuration.
New defensive coordinator Lou Spanos joins the Bruins' staff after a 16-year stint in the NFL.
He coached under renowned defensive whiz Dick LeBeau for the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he learned the 3-4 system.
Similarly to the offense, the personnel isn't necessarily tailored for this configuration.
The team lacks both a true nose guard with game experience and hybrid outside linebackers/defensive ends that can rush the passer with regularity.
Last season, UCLA ranked in the bottom half of the conference in most defensive categories. The team also gave up a porous 31.4 points per game.
The biggest culprit behind the paltry statistics? Conservatism.
The word 'blitz' was apparently a foreign term for the former staff.
A lack of a consistent pass rush allowed opposing quarterbacks to pick the Bruins' secondary apart.
In addition, the cornerbacks were often employed with a conservative 10-yard cushion—allowing opposing wide receivers to pick up yards in big chunks.
To remedy the situation, many position changes have taken place. Keenan Graham and Damien Holmes, formerly defensive ends, were moved to outside linebacker. Nickelback Andrew Abbott was also switched over to safety.
The most notable position switch had wide receiver Anthony Barr switching over to outside linebacker. At 6'5" 238, Barr has the athleticism needed to rush off the edge while also having the ability to drop in coverage.
There's no secret that the Bruins need to get better defensively this season. With the amount of pass-happy offenses in the Pac-12, an improved overall unit is needed for success.
This spring will also be key for Spanos to evaluate his personnel and make the requisite adjustments.
Here is Spanos speaking about the new defensive scheme.
How Will the Dynamics of the Team Change Under Mora?
Head coach Jim L. Mora
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A new sheriff is patrolling Westwood.
His name is Jim L. Mora.
Mora exudes energy, discipline and toughness—three aspects not found within the football program in recent memory.
A no-nonsense disciplinarian 'captaining the ship' is something the program desperately needs. In essence, a complete culture change is crucial if the Bruins are to be competitive in the Pac-12.
Steps have been taken in order to fortify that premise.
During Mora's short time in charge, he's instituted a 'strike system' in regards to tardiness and a lack of accountability.
A UCLA football tradition (if one could call it that) was officially eradicated by Mora. It effectively glorified the ditching of football practice randomly.
In addition, Mora dismissed three members of the team for failing to live up to the standards he's set forth.
A level of excellence and responsibility is expected at this point. The same couldn't necessarily be said under Neuheisel.
It will fascinating to see how the team responds to Mora once they're out on the field in pads. The tough-minded style of football wanted by Mora is completely different from the laid-back nature of the former regime.
From this video, one can tell that Mora is brimming with excitement and optimism.