Mora holds open auditions for UCLA's QB job
First-year coach Jim Mora has plenty of questions to address during spring practice, which starts April 3 for the Bruins. Chief among them is determining the starting quarterback heading into the fall.
Either Kevin Prince, Richard Brehaut or Brett Hundley will emerge as the No. 1 quarterback for Mora's pro-style offense. The gimmicky "pistol" offense that former coach Rick Neuheisel tried to install is gone.
Prince is the incumbent starter, but his arm strength is questionable. Brehaut started much of the 2010 season and half of 2011 until he broke his leg at Washington State.
Hundley is an intriguing redshirt freshman who was highly touted coming out of high school in Arizona. This is a particularly important spring for Hundley to show Mora and his new staff what he can do because they have no film to judge.
Mora said he would like to designate a starter.
"I think the sooner you can identify who that guy is, then you can tweak what you do offensively to fit his skill set," Mora said. "I don't know if that'll happen. We'll like that to happen, but we'll see."
One other objective for Mora is instituting a new culture inasmuch as he replaced a former Bruin in Neuheisel. Mora has indicated that practices will be a lot more serious and that players will be held more accountable than under Neuheisel, who tried to be a players' coach.
"I think it's important that we come in and establish a level of physical toughness that you only get by going through some tough times by banging on each other a little bit," Mora said. "I need to find out, our coaches need to find out, the players need to find out who's in and who's not in ... who's willing to make the commitment physically, emotionally and all of those things to be great and who's kind of wavering."
Bruins plan a physical spring
--Coach Jim Mora's spring-practice plan is to run about 90 plays a day of full team work and 7-on-7 drills so that he can learn about the team as much as possible. Those sessions will be as physical as possible, he said, to emulate real game situations.
"It's not going to be a bloodbath or anything," Mora said, "but it needs to be hard, it needs to be demanding, it needs to be tough. That's the only way you find out about guys, and I don't want to wait until the fall to find out. I want to find out as quick as we can find out. And they need to know what the expectation level is going to be."
--Mora is preparing for some of the returning players to not warm up to his demanding style and to transfer.
"Those that won't (welcome his style) probably need to find another place to play football," Mora told ESPN.com. "And those that embrace it, those are the guys that you want. Those are the guys that you want to go play football with on Saturday. I think you owe it to those guys that embrace it the way you want it embraced to eliminate the guys who aren't all in."
KEY QUESTIONS: How will some of Rick Neuheisel's former players handle the more rigorous Jim Mora as head coach? Who will emerge as the starting quarterback? Bruins fans want to see touted redshirt freshman Brett Hundley on the field, but will he beat out returners Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut? How long until the new coaching staff and players click? As many as 10 players have already switched positions after Mora's arrival.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Jordan Zumwalt -- The junior-to-be totaled 60 tackles, six for a loss, and one interception as an outside linebacker last season. The conversion to a 3-4 defense makes for an interesting scenario for Zumwalt. UCLA could elect to use Zumwalt's ability to get in the backfield quickly. He was successful in the 4-3, but the new defense gives him more freedom to make plays all over the field.
LB Eric Kendricks -- UCLA's team captain, Patrick Larimore, will return healthy for the Bruins in 2012 after suffering a thumb injury that kept him out of the team's bowl game last season. Filling the middle of the defense next to him will be Kendricks, a rising sophomore. In his first season on the field, Kendricks was second on the team in tackles with 76, including 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
QB Brett Hundley -- Hundley was highly recruited out of high school and has been patiently waiting for his opportunity to compete. A dual-threat quarterback with athleticism, Hundley's chances of being the starter in 2012 are very realistic. Kevin Prince will get a fair shot because he has the most experience, and Richard Brehaut is a returner who has shown poise in the pocket. But Hundley, who redshirted last season, is the man UCLA fans want to see on the field.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Guys are about to get hit in the mouth a little bit. We put the pads on, and there is going to be some adversity. We'll just see how we react." -- First-year coach Jim Mora, regarding the start of UCLA's spring practice April 3.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2012 OUTLOOK: The four years of Rick Neuheisel as head coach of his alma mater set the program back even further from the Karl Dorrell years. New coach Jim Mora will attempt to institute a winning attitude in a program that went 21-29 under Neuheisel. UCLA has experience and depth at quarterback and some talented returners on defense, including linebackers Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks. The Pac-12 schedule is not all that bad with the Bruins missing perennial power Oregon and with the toughest road game being at California.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley can emerge as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the conference if he beats out returners Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. The winner of the quarterback derby will hand off to the capable Malcolm Jones, a junior who was highly touted out of high school but has not got his needed reps with the Bruins. The offense will change from the running style of the "pistol" offense to a more pro-style offense under Mora, a former NFL head coach.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense is anchored by two quality linebackers in Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks, whose athleticism figures to shine in the Bruins' new 3-4 set. UCLA also has a reliable player in the defensive backfield in senior cornerback Andrew Abbott, who led the team with four interceptions last season. Abbott and senior safety Tevin McDonald must make great strides from last season, when the Bruins allowed almost 300 yards passing per game.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior Jeff Locke is one of the best punters in the nation. He averaged 44.3 yards per punt last season, which ranked fifth in the Pac-12 and 12th in the nation. He also made field goals of 51 and 49 yards against Texas.
DT Ellis McCarthy (Monrovia High, Monrovia, Calif.) -- Rated as a five-star prospect by the major recruiting services, he might be the highest-touted UCLA recruit in about a decade. He's has the size (6-foot-5, 326 pounds) to be a major force in the middle of the line, making a greater impact than even Brian Price did several seasons ago. The Bruins have a need at defensive tackle and will want to take advantage of a rare elite prospect at the position.
QB Devin Fuller (Northern Valley High, Old Tappan, N.J.) -- A four-star recruit and one of the nation's top dual-threat quarterbacks, he seemingly was favoring Rutgers before coach Greg Schiano left the week before Signing Day. Fuller has family in Los Angeles -- he is the nephew of actor Sinbad -- and he joins QB T.J. Millweard in this class. With touted QB Brett Hundley being a redshirt freshman, Fuller has the athleticism to contribute in a number of ways if the quarterback position gets too crowded.
WR Jordan Payton (Oaks Christian High, Westlake Village, Calif.) -- He was all over the map in recruiting, committing at various points to USC, Cal and then Washington on ESPNU the day before the signing period started. He then woke up on Signing Day and put his name on a UCLA letter-of-intent. That was great news for a UCLA team rebuilding its receiving corps, as he is rated the nation's 15th-best receiver by Scout.com and Rivals.com.
--LB Damien Holmes is a converted defensive end who has started 20 games the last two years. He started all 14 last season and tied for second with six tackles for lost yardage.
--DE Datone Jones flirted with the idea of going pro, but much to the delight of new coach Jim Mora, he is returning. Jones led UCLA with 6.5 tackles for lost yardage and three sacks last year.
--LB Keenan Graham has played in 26 games and started seven times over the past two years.