Why did we fight so hard to ensure that Cal would play UCLA each year? No matter what these two teams look like on paper, UCLA always seems to beat Cal. This is especially true down in LA. Last year was a total disaster. Perhaps the lowest point of the Teddy era. But yknow what? Hope springs eternal. Last year was last year. We have UCLA at home this year and last time I checked Maurice Jones-Drew no longer plays for them. So, I have hope that maybe JUST MAYBE we might win!
To find out more about where UCLA is in their massive transition from the CRN era to the CJMJ era, we spoke with Ryan Rosenblatt at SBN's UCLA site, BruinsNation. They have all the info we need to know about UCLA football right after spring practice ended. So, thank you very much to Rosenblatt and all the BN people for their help with this. Their answers to our questions after the jump. GO BEARS!
It was the same question that UCLA has had for the last 492 years (slight exaggeration): who is going to be the quarterback? Unfortunately, we don't have the answer. Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut are the returning QB's with experience, Brett Hundley is the hotshot redshirt freshman and Jerry Neuheisel is the former coach's son who lacks arm strength. The problem is that is what we knew before spring practice and that is what we know now. Jim Mora said that all four played well and elevated their game, which could be true or could be coach speak, but the reality is that this team still doesn't have a quarterback...again.
2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
Everything. As is to be expected with a new head coach, the staff is all new and ready to bring in a completely new system. Defensively the team played exclusively 3-4 in the spring, although Mora says that they will mix in some 4-3 as well. That alone is a major style change and offensively they are going to a more open system. Noel Mazzone, who was the offensive coordinator at Arizona St., has taken over the UCLA offense and is bringing in a lot of that spread it out, quick pass, run after the catch stuff, although with Mora being a defensive guy, he is requiring that the team play more compact, run the ball a little better and be a little more physical than Mazzone's ASU teams were.
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
Offensively, Steven Manfro was the darling of spring ball. He was barely recruited out of high school, but he was tremendous in spring practice, working as a running back and out of the slot to pick up chunks of yards time and time again. Whether that translates over to when the practices and games get really tough, we don't know, but for now it is fun. Jerry Johnson also came up big in camp, showing off what he can do when healthy as part of a receivers corps that, as a whole, looked very good.
Defensively, Cassius Marsh was tremendous. He looked stronger and played with a better motor than he has in the past. Whether that was the difference or the switch to the 3-4 that suits him better, he was a monster all spring and looks set to make good on the promise he had as one of the top defensive lineman recruits in the country out of high school.
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
Outside of quarterback, which is well-documented, most of the worries are about depth. The offensive line looks like it is going to be alright, but as soon as someone gets hurt then it could get ugly. There is so little depth there and nobody can realistically expect an offensive line to be healthy all season. There is also some depth concerns in the defensive backfield, although that pales in comparison to having offensive line concerns without a quarterback.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
This is probably a middle of the pack team that will fool people into thinking they are a contender because of a weak schedule. All of UCLA's toughest opponents are at the Rose Bowl and without Oregon or Washington on the slate, the schedule looks like cake. This team still needs a quarterback and depth on the line, but the defensive front is stout and the skill positions are looking good. This is a solid team and nothing more that should look a lot better than they are and win eight or nine games because of the schedule.
6. Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?
Ellis McCarthy 100 times over. The defensive line looks exceptional and this is without having McCarthy yet, who is not just an elite talent, but one that everyone says can contribute from day one.
7. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fulfill those shoes?
Kai Maiava and Tony Dye are going to be missed. The Bruins are still looking for a center to take Maiava's place so we don't know who will be there and while Andrew Abbott and Dalton Hilliard have shown promise in replacing Dye at safety, he was the leader of the defense so someone has to fill the leader shoes as much as the safety shoes.
8. Any particular Pac12 match-up/rivalry you are looking forward to this Fall?
I'd like to beat the piss out of USC because, well, duh. Outside of that, I'm looking forward to the Stanford game because I'd love to see a UCLA team finally stand up to a team that will punch us in the mouth and punch back.
9. What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
Where to start? The spring was very physical and at times it looked like there were more people on bikes watching practice than actually practicing. Luckily, most were not overly serious so they aren't major concerns. The season-ending injury to Isaiah Bowens leaves UCLA thin at linebacker so getting Anthony Barr healthy and teaching him to play defense could end up being huge.
10. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
Two juniors who were among the top recruits in the country, Marsh and Owamagbe Odighizuwa, had strong springs and are ready to make good on that promise. Both have elite physical tools and may finally put them to use.
11. Who do you want to punch in the face?
Dan Guerrero. And Matt Barkley.
12. Who's got the best nickname on the team?
Owa, because saying Owamagbe Odighizuwa gets tiring.
13. Which one of your assistant coaches is in the hot seat?
If any are three months after they got hired then I quit sports forever.