Questions abound for UCLA
A 4-8 campaign often prompts changes, especially at a major program. And that’s exactly what happened at UCLA, as head coach Rick Neuheisel brought in new offensive and defensive coordinators. But will new leaders on both sides of the ball make a difference in Neuheisel’s most important season yet in Westwood?
With spring practice commencing this past Tuesday, let’s take a look at some of the key storylines for the Bruins.
Will Brett Hundley win the starting job under center?
Can true freshman Brett Hundley win the starting quarterback job in Westwood?
The quarterback play at UCLA since Rick Neuheisel arrived on campus has been laughable.
While Kevin Prince has been the starter the last two seasons, he is once again on the shelf as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery and a microfracture procedure on his injured right knee. He is, however, expected to take snaps in fall camp. Prince’s backup last season, Richard Brehaut, started seven games in place of him in 2010, but he has looked a little rusty early in camp after playing for the Bruins baseball team. Nick Crissman is limited after returning from shoulder surgery, and Darius Bell remains out after also having surgery on his shoulder.
Because of the attrition at the position, talented 17-year-old early enrollee Brett Hundley will receive plenty of reps this spring. The 6-4, 225-pounder will split most of the snaps with Brehaut, but he has a strong arm and nice mobility — two intriguing traits for any offense, especially one that has struggled so mightily recently. Perhaps his best attribute, however, is his leadership ability and the way he carries himself in the huddle despite his young age. The coaches don’t want him to put any pressure on himself; rather, they want him to merely absorb the offense, work hard and improve every day. However, with his talent, don’t be surprised if he lines up under center if he progresses as many believe he will throughout the offseason.
Will the offense look the same?
Mike Johnson has replaced Norm Chow as offensive coordinator, but the addition of Jim Mastro to oversee the running game may be the bigger story because of Mastro’s knowledge of the Pistol offense. Yes, the pistol remains. However, you’re going to see the quarterback lined up under center more often than last season. The shotgun formation will still be a big part of the offense so the Bruins can run Johnson’s spread, but expect more variety — including times where there will be two running backs in the backfield.
Will more variety lead to better results? Of course, it all depends on the play under center. As much progress as there was made with the running game with the talented backs last season, that talent will all go to waste if an aerial attack is not prevalent.
The defense never rests
ICONDatone Jones returns after sitting out last season with a broken foot.
Joe Tresey has replaced Chuck Bullough as defensive coordinator after the Bruins ranked 94th in the FBS in total defense, and Tresey will continue to run the 4-3 scheme with a little more flexibility. The Bruins were 108th in the nation against the run but respectable against the pass, ranking 53rd in the country. However, the unit allowed 300 yards or more through the air in three of their final six games.
When Tresey was defensive coordinator at South Florida in 2009, the Bulls ranked No. 24 nationally in total defense, and he led impressive units at Cincinnati before that, as well. So he has a track record of getting the most out of his players.
But UCLA will have to deal with the losses of Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore to the NFL. Tresey will have talent to work with, however. Dietrich Riley could be ready to assume the starting job at free safety. He’s currently listed as strong safety Tony Dye’s backup, but both have the ability to play at the free. Dalton Hilliard filled in nicely as Moore’s backup last season. However, he will miss spring drills following knee surgery. Look for either Glenn Love or promising Jordan Zumwalt to take over Ayers’ spot.
The promising aspect of this unit is the defensive line, which was extremely young and inexperienced last season. Seven linemen return with starting experience, so the competition there this spring will be intense. The return of Datone Jones, who sat out last season after breaking his foot on the first day of fall camp, will be huge. He started all 13 games as a sophomore and recorded 11 tackles for a loss and four sacks.
The Bruins will conduct their spring game on April 23.
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