UCLA Football's Best Quotes and Takeaways from Pac-12 Media Day
With the college football season nearly upon us, UCLA head coach Jim Mora, quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Eric Kendricks gave the media a look into the Bruins on Thursday afternoon.
Mora provided immense information on the team's outlook for this upcoming season. Both Kendricks and Hundley spoke about the development of the team in the offseason, including the enhanced expectations for the squad this year.
Here's a recap from Pac-12 media day with the UCLA Bruins.
A catalogue of pictures, video and an assortment of other things relating to the Pac-12 media day can be found here.
Expectations in 2014
Expectations are incredibly high heading into the 2014 season. Seemingly for the first time since 1998, UCLA is a potential player on the national stage. The team was picked to win the conference's South Division by the media and ranks No. 16 in the AP Top 25 poll.
Being in a somewhat new position, it will be imperative for Mora to manage these expectations from within the squad.
Every day our goal is to be the best we can be that day, and come back the next day a little better. That is the approach you have to take. For us, it's about always narrowing the focus down to what we can control and what matters, and that's what we're doing that day.
In a leadership role, Hundley has a responsibility in regards to the younger members of the squad.
We have to break [the freshmen] down and show them that it takes hard work and dedication to get to this point. As a team we came from the bottom to the top, but still have to stay hungry.
Kendricks echoes the sentiment as well and said, "We have to lead by example and work day in and day out, putting our hard hats on and not taking any days off."
Thoughts on the Defense
UCLA will usher in a new defensive coordinator in the form of Jeff Ulbrich. The former San Francisco 49ers linebacker had previously been the linebackers coach until former defensive coordinator Lou Spanos went back to the NFL.
As Mora alludes to below, Ulbrich should offer assistance in regards to both on-field play and off-field guidance.
I think it helps our defense and specifically our linebackers. Jeff played that position at a high level. Ten years, one team in the NFL, that doesn't happen much. So that speaks about Jeff's ability as a player and also about the type of person he is. So he's able to go in every day and meet with these kids and teach them lessons.
It will be fascinating to see how the scheme could change. Under Spanos, UCLA's base defense was a 3-4. With Ulbrich at the helm, we could see more of a 4-2-5 or a 3-3-5 alignment. This could be done in order to utilize UCLA's depth at defensive line and in the secondary.
It also helps having a captain of the defense like Kendricks. Mora was incredibly effusive in his praise of the senior linebacker.
Eric is a real leader for us and in his own quiet way. He doesn't say a lot, so when he does, it holds some weight. It's usually significant. He's an excellent football player. He's fast, he's quick, he's tenacious.
Incoming Freshmen to Watch For
UCLA signed a very solid recruiting class in 2014.
While there might not be an impact freshman right away (a la linebacker Myles Jack last year), depth was shored up at various positions on the roster.
Multiple freshmen were specifically mentioned by Mora as standouts during the summer conditioning program with famed coach Sal Alosi.
I've heard really great things about Alex Van Dyke. The players that I've talked to, talking to Brett, talking to Eric. They keep talking about Nate Starks. They keep talking about Matt Dickerson. They all talked about Kenny Young. Certainly they know about Zach Whitley and Najee [Toran]. Of the guys that weren't there in the spring, those are names that keep coming up, and Jaleel [Wadood].
Of the names mentioned above, Whitley and Young seem like potential contributors in a reserve role behind Kendricks and projected starter Isaako Savaiinaea. Wadood could be a factor on special teams, and Starks might be able to fit the bill as the big back on the roster.
As has been the case, Mora isn't afraid to integrate true freshmen into the mix.
Hundley, Hundley and More Hundley
Much of the attention will sit squarely with UCLA's star signal-caller.
Should he have the season many project him to have, Hundley will likely find himself on every Heisman Trophy watch list. In such a case, the press clippings could lead to an inflated ego.
However, Hundley's supremely mature about the process. He took a humble approach when speaking about the potential accolades and opted to speak about the team as a whole.
It's all about understanding what it came to get to this point. It's not focusing on outside expectations. We have to stay hungry, stay focusing, keep grinding and enjoying the moment…taking it one week at a time.
Mora also spoke about his quarterback's ability as a football player.
"I can tell you unequivocally Brett Hundley is a first-round draft pick," said Mora. "The guy is a future star in the NFL. He's got every tangible and intangible quality you can look for."