Spring preview: UCLA
UCLA begins spring practice on Tuesday as Jim L. Mora prepares for his third season in Westwood.
Let's take a look at some of the issues facing the Bruins as they get set for their spring game on April 26.
US PRESSWIREBrett Hundley is back for his fourth-year junior season in Westwood.
He's back: Brett Hundley surprised some people when he decided to return for another season despite setting so many school records and possibly being in the mix to be a high-round NFL Draft pick. But there were differing opinions among scouts about his pro-readiness, so he will look to have a final elite season and possibly position the Bruins for a run toward the College Football Playoff. For all of the accomplishments Hundley has enjoyed thus far, there is still plenty to work on. There were times last season when turnovers plagued his play, particulary in losses to Stanford and Oregon in which he threw two interceptions each. Eight of his nine picks came in the first seven games, but he finished the season strong. And he remains one of the elite dual-threats in the country. Can he be consistent for a full slate this fall?
Born to run?: Hundley will deliver plenty of yardage on the ground after recording 748 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. But which running back will be featured? Senior-to-be Jordon James managed to rush for over 400 yards in his first three games, but an ankle injury ruined the rest of his year. Redshirt sophomore Paul Perkins has a chance to be a difference-maker, and redshirt freshman Craig Lee should also compete for reps. The real wild card of the bunch is Myles Jack, who played both ways toward the end of last season and was the talk of the nation en route to being named the Pac-12’s offensive and defensive freshman of the year. But he will likely only be used in certain situations, so the Bruins will need someone such as James or Perkins to be a true No. 1 back despite Jack's short-yardage production that resulted in seven touchdowns in four games. The offensive line is a bit of a concern right now, both in terms of run blocking and protecting Hundley. Xavier Su’a-Filo is gone, while Torian White is also no longer with the team, according to Mora, after White was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault in November. Malcolm Bunche could step in at left tackle after transferring in but he is still working through admissions. The good news is that Mora and his staff made O-Line a priority in recruiting, and youngsters such as Alex Redmond, Caleb Benenoch and Scott Quessenberry received valuable time last year and could form a strong unit after an entire offseason of work and conditioning.
Replacing Barr: Anthony Barr was a dominant defender for the Bruins. And while the team has a very good linebacker corps, Barr likely can't be replaced by just one player at outside 'backer. Junior Kenny Orjioke is very athletic and could be ready to be a consistent performer. Senior Aaron Wallace is solid and sophomore Deon Hollins has intriguing speed as a rusher, but the wild card could be early enrollee freshman Zach Whitley, who has a ton of upside and could line up anywhere.
Lou Spanos left for the NFL's Tennessee Titans, so linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was promoted to defensive coordinator. Meanwhile, Mike Tuiasosopo was brought in to coach special teams and outside linebackers.
The future is bright for the Bruins under Mora. Eighteen true freshmen played in 2013, and not a ton of seniors will be lost to graduation after this coming season.
Owa Odighizuwa is back after missing the entire 2013 season with hip injuries. The defensive line already features the ultra-talented Eddie Vanderdoes.
Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.