With UCLA's season around the corner, here are five things to watch for in camp.
By ABBEY MASTRACCOFS West
UCLA is set to open training camp Wednesday at Cal State San Bernardino. With the season around the corner, here are five things to watch:
It's hot. It's dry. It's intense. And it is not fun, but Mora's pro-style training camp held on the campus of Cal State San Bernardino worked wonders last year. During the height of UCLA's winning streak last season, when asked why the team was clicking, each player cited that training camp as the ultimate bond-builder.
It's a little unconventional as most teams practice on campus, but the Bruins are happy to trade in the comfort of Westwood if it means winning.
The running back race
UCLA's record-setting tailback Johnathan Franklin is gone, and there is no heir apparent.
Mora has said he will use a "running back by committee" approach with dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley expected to run the ball often. Malcolm Jones, the once-promising recruit that never quite panned out, has changed his approach under new coaches and is hoping to make the most of his second chance.
Redshirt senior Damien Thigpen has the most experience at the position, but is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered against USC last season. Steven Manfro, Paul Perkins and Jordon James are all in the mix to get some reps as well.
The secondary step up
It's no secret that the Bruins' weakest spot is the defensive backfield. In spring, cornerback Anthony Jefferson looked to be making a strong bid for a starting spot, and redshirt freshman Ishamel Adams, who played in two games last season before being sidelined by shoulder surgery, is expected to make a big contribution as well.
But there are even more question marks with the safeties. Dietrich Riley was forced to into a medical retirement, leaving Randall Goforth as the only safety on the roster with any starting experience. The good news: UCLA is bringing in four top freshmen in cornerback Johnny Johnson and safeties Tahaan Goodman, Priest Willis and Tyler Foreman. Look for at least one to step up and make an impact right away.
The intended targets
There is no shortage of talented targets for offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's pass-heavy spread offense. Last year's leading receiver Shaquelle Evans will anchor the backfield, but there are several options to replace Jerry Johnson and Joseph Fauria.
Devin Lucien made it clear in the spring that he intends to win a starting role, and head coach Jim Mora said Lucien's competitive fire and intense effort caught his eye. Jordan Payton, who caught 18 passes with two touchdowns in 2012, is improved after a season under his belt, and Mazzone's son Grayson will likely catch a few passes as well.
The receiving corps is one of the strongest aspects of UCLA's game and is sure to produce some good camp competition.
The recruiting efforts
Mora's first go-around with recruiting was nothing short of a success. He hauled in the third-best class according to FOXSportsNext.com, bringing in highly-touted players that are expected to compete for starting spots right away.
Goodman, Foreman, Priest Willis and Kylie Fitts have been the most buzzed-about defensive players. Fitts was gained after USC would not allow the defensive end to join the team in the spring and projects to start at defensive end right away.
Wide reciever Eldridge Massington, another former USC commit, will be a strong deep threat. The Bruins also strengthened the offensive line and brought in a punter to replace Jeff Locke.