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2015 Pac-12 Football: A UCLA Q & A

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Is 2015 the year UCLA's talent finally breaks through? We talk to Bruin Nation writers for perspective on this year's edition of football at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

1) What is the most important position of worry for you, and why is it quarterback?

gbruin: See? You already know. The reason it's quarterback is because the new quarterback isn't going to be Brett Hundley, so anyone new will be a step or more backward. Although Coach Mora was noncommittal on naming a starter during spring, everyone watching practices or interpreting the coachspeak or checking the reactions of the team says it's going to be the true freshman, Josh Rosen. The recent news that former Elite 11 MVP and probable #2 QB Asiantii Woulard is transferring seems only to solidify that belief. Rosen ran a very similar offensive style to U.C.L.A. in high school, so his adaptation to the Bruins offense has been very smooth, and he is the best pure passer - on paper - the Bruins have had since Troy Aikman. The key will be how well he adapts to the speed of Pac-12 football and whether the O Line improves from its heinous 41 sacks allowed in 2014. Optimists think that with 9 offensive starters returning, Rosen only needs to be solid or better right now, and if he can get up to speed quickly enough, the Bruins will remain a top contender in the South. Pessimists will say "true freshman quarterback", and it is hard to argue that point right now. We'll see in September.

JoeBruin15: Of course, the focus goes to quarterback because the QB is seen as the team leader. But, to me, I find the offensive line to be a bigger concern. Why? Because last year Brett Hundley was sacked 41 times and he was a mobile quarterback. Regardless of whether the new QB is Rosen or Jerry Neuheisel, we're looking at a decidely less mobile quarterback. That makes the state of the offensive line critically important. While, according to Phil Steele, the offensive line has more experience than any other offensive line in the country, an injury or two can severely impact the state of the line and that could affect the play or even the health of our new quarterback.

2) Which player should Cal fans worry about who will torture our souls next season?

gbruin: You should worry about Jr RB Paul Perkins. The smart strategy while breaking in a true freshman QB behind a porous pass blocking O Line is to rely more on the running game, and Perkins will be the guy carrying the load for the offense again this year. He's reminiscent of the Bruins all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin in terms of speed and shiftiness, but Perkins may even have a bit more power inside. And for all the struggles the Bruins OL had with pass blocking last year, they did open enough holes in the run game for Perkins to be the Pac-12 leading rusher in 2014 with 1,575 yds, and that was even while Hundley was leading the offense with his own arm and legs. So while U.C.L.A.'s opponents might fall prey to focusing on the widely hyped freshman QB, it'll be Perkins breaking down those defenses all game long.

JoeBruin15: Deon Hollins is a guy who will torture Cal fans this year. Hollins will have an expanded role as an outside linebacker, especially with Myles Jack moving to the inside. Hollins will fill the role that Anthony Barr did two seasons ago. Look for the UCLA defense to be much improved this season due to the change in defensive coordinators from a young, inexperienced DC in Jeff Ulbrich to the more experienced Tom Bradley.

3) Tell us about your coach and why you dislike him.

gbruin: Why are we talking about Steve Alford in a football Q&A? Oh, you mean football coaches? Well, actually, there aren't any I dislike, at least not in the Alford sense, but there is certainly room for improvement with some of the football staff. I think OC Noel Mazzone's offense is predictable, timid, and doesn't take enough chances. OLine coach Adrian Klemm is a beast of a recruiter but his O Line has been the most consistently inconsistent and underperforming unit on the team during the Mora regime. QB Coach Taylor Mazzone has proven to be a good recruiter in his own right, but plenty of fans have questioned whether our QBs are developing to their potential, and that brings up concerns about nepotism. And while I love Coach Mora's approach and dedication to his players and to the school, he's got too much of the overly conservative NFL mentality that punts or kicks field goals instead of going for opponent's throats with some glorious and awe-inspiring finishing move. Overall, U.C.L.A. has a good coaching staff, but so far they aren't great to the level of Urban Meyer & staff, or Nick Saban & staff, or even Mark Helfrich & staff, and that's what U.C.L.A. needs to take the next step. If you want to know my thoughts on Alford, make sure the children aren't reading any further....

JoeBruin15: gbruin hits the nail on the head with his answer. He touches on each of the coaches who have yet to deliver. We don't "hate" Mora. Mora is a likable guy who really seems to have our student-athletes best interests at heart. He is very concerned about making sure our players go to class and get the best education they can at UCLA and he wants to help each of them achieve their dreams.

We just want him to beat Stanford and Oregon and win Pac-12 and National Championships. None of which he's done yet.

4) How do your fans view Cal this season, and why do you love us so much?

gbruin: I always love Cal. Maybe it's a U.C. thing because I root for U.C. Riverside, too. Cal is always an interesting team to play because you do a lot of what we want U.C.L.A. to do, you recruit some real playmakers, you put your them on the field, and and you let things rip. The Cal offense doesn't hold much back during a game and it's a real challenge for a defense to stay disciplined and make enough plays to stay with them and for an offense to stand up to them in a shootout. Jared Goff has been so prolific, he is putting up numbers that are surpassing a guy like Aaron Rodgers (who turned out pretty well), and we'll have to deal with him again this year now with two full seasons of experience under his belt this year. I'll admire him even more when he's gone and it's safer. I also admire all of the Cal student-athletes for living through the Sandy Barbour era and not leaping off the Bay Bridge. Believe me, I understand.

JoeBruin15: The UC Berkeley Golden Bears will be a better team this season because they have another year under Head Coach Sonny Dykes. But, I also think the problem they have is that they haven't improved enough to pass up much, if any, of the rest of the conference. So, they may end up having a year similar to last year and I think it may cause Cal fans to start calling for a change. Heavens knows, that would have us calling for our coach's head.

I don't really love UC Berkeley, but don't hate them either. I didn't even apply there.

5) What were your biggest questions heading into spring practice? Were they addressed during the spring?

gbruin: We talked about quarterback and how it wasn't answered but it really was. The other big question mark was at middle linebacker and how the Bruins would replace the Lott and Butkus Award winner Eric Kendricks (Mychal's little brother). The answer seems to have been to move two-way athletic freak Myles Jack to MLB (alongside sophomore Kenny Young in the Bruins 3-4 defense). Jack played OLB the last two years so this will be a new position for him, and it might seem to minimize one of his greatest attributes, his incredible speed and cover ability. But the Bruins new DC Tom Bradley, the former Penn State LB coach and interim head coach following the Sandusky disaster, knows a thing or two about developing linebackers, and both he and Jack think this is going to work out just fine. The Bruins D Line should be excellent, so that should keep Jack free to roam the field from his MLB spot and eliminate the offense's option of simply avoiding Jack's side of the field. Jack will need to stay disciplined and not overrun his assignments from the middle, but it looked like things were clicking nicely in spring.

JoeBruin15: My biggest question was quarterback and while the media seems to think it's going to be Rosen. I just have a feeling that Mora may try to redshirt him and go with Jerry instead. Even after Woulard announced that he's transferring, I think people are going to be surprised. That won't be answered, though, until the first snap if you believe what Coach Mora has been saying.

I wanted to also wanted to see what the defense is going to look like under Tom Bradley. I didn't really see that even though I attended multiple practices and the "Spring Showcase". Like QB, I think that's going to have to wait until the team takes the field.

6) What are your biggest needs for improvement after the spring?

gbruin: Field goal kicking remains a concern. Ka'imi Fairbairn is very solid inside 35 yds and a tossup outside of 35. When your goal is a conference title, the margin of error becomes so thin and a single game going either way can make all the difference in a season. Fairbairn is going to have to make a long field goal to turn a loss into a win this year. He had two chances to beat Utah on the final play of the game last season, both from 50+, and missed both. That loss meant ASU was the Pac-12 South winner and U.C.L.A. was an Alamo Bowl participant. Granted, you don't want your kicker to have to bury a 50+ yarder at the gun for a win because you'd simply rather have your defense stop the previous game winning drive by Utah in the first place. But if you want to be a championship team, those are the plays you have to convert. The other big step needs to come from the coaching staff. As I said, the staff is good, but it's not great, and Bruin fans really want great. You can reasonably attribute two of last year's losses, Utah and Stanford, to coaching. The game plans and game management need to step up. Play calling on both sides needs to be less predictable, more flexible, and more aggressive. In-game adjustments need to made faster and more decisively. Penalties absolutely need to get reined in. Better coaching wouldn't have put Fairbairn in that position against Utah.

JoeBruin15: gbruin hit the nail on the head again. Fairbairn is still too inconsistent outside of 35 yards for my liking, but penalties has been a huge problem, despite Mora's statements to the contrary. I think most Pac-12 fans know that officiating has been a big problem for the conference, but, when you commit as many penalties as UCLA did last season, sooner or later, you need to look inward.

The coaching staff had officials at every practice I attended this spring, but they didn't really seem to do a whole lot other than signal touchdowns and field goals. There weren't all that many flags being thrown. If you're going to bring officials to practice, have them call it tight so the guys stop with the stupid penalties!

7) Post-spring analysis: Your team is going to be a Contender, Pretender, or Middle of the Pac?

gbruin: Contender...if Rosen is solid or better (and his potential is far above that), if the O Line stays healthy and plays anywhere close to its potential, if the defense can adjust to the new schemes under DC Bradley, if the coaching staff stops playing not to lose and coaches to win instead, and if the stupid Pac-12 refs are replaced by actual living breathing humans with brains and the gift of sight. We're all in agreement on that last one, right?

JoeBruin15: Contender. I expect the team to contend for the Pac-12 South title again this season. I really want them to beat Stanford this year. It's a Thursday night game on my birthday. That's what I want as a birthday gift.

8) Who do you want to punch in the face?

gbruin: I'd never hit a woman, but Cersei Lannister really deserves it. I so hope Arya takes her out.

JoeBruin15: The home plate umpire from Monday night's baseball game against Maryland. Darrell Miller, Jr. was safe at home, but the home plate ump was out of position to see it and his strike zone was all over the place. The called strike that ended the game was high and it felt like the guy just wanted to go home.