UCLA ready to begin first season under Mora
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Jim Mora made no big promises when he took over as UCLA's head coach, vowing only that he would make fans proud.
With his first season at the helm almost upon him, Mora will soon get a chance to show whether even more modest goals are within reach of a team that hasn't appeared in the Rose Bowl in 13 seasons and is overshadowed by Southern California, the behemoth across town.
Mora said it hasn't been difficult getting his players to buy in and believe in the new system.
"As coaches, we've all been fired and we've all been hired to replace somebody," he said. "Our rule is that we never talk negatively about the past. If we reflect on it, it's in a positive way."
Mora replaced Rick Neuheisel, who went 21-29 in four seasons and lost the inaugural Pac-12 title game to Oregon in December. UCLA was the Pac-12 South champion last season because USC was ineligible for the postseason.
A former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks head coach, Mora hadn't coached college football since a single season with the Washington Huskies a quarter-century ago until he took over the Bruins. Nevertheless, Mora has energized the Bruins fan base with strong recruiting and an attention-getting attitude.
"College football is all about change," said starting quarterback Brett Hundley, a redshirt freshman. "We just got to get better and keep it moving with the new coach we got."
While a few returning starters will lead the Bruins' offense, including running back Johnathan Franklin and wide receiver Joseph Fauria, a slew of freshmen have been asked to shoulder a lot of the load. In addition to Hundley, Mora said the receiving trio of Jordan Payton, Javon Williams and Kenny Walker will all get major looks.
"What's kind of neat is they're all different," he said.
He said Payton is a strong-handed receiver who uses his body well, Williams is a tall, quick player whom Mora considers a "homerun threat" and Walker is a smaller-bodied slot receiver who is very quick-footed.
There's also a lot of youth on the Bruins' offensive line, the area that Mora called his "biggest concern." With returning starters Jeff Baca and Greg Capella sitting out with concussions in the first week of fall, young players like redshirt freshmen Ben Wysocki and Jake Brendel saw valuable time.
"We're still developing, obviously both sides of the ball and even in the kicking game, because everything is brand new," Mora said.
Totally new is the 3-4 defensive scheme Mora brought to UCLA from his NFL days. Since his arrival, Mora has been mixing and matching players to fit the scheme. Even talented returning starters like Tevin McDonald and Sheldon Price have to adjust.
"We're focusing on the little things," Price said. "(Defensive Coordinator Lou Spanos) is staying on us about small details that I thought didn't matter before."
"I think they enjoy the schemes," Mora said. "They're aggressive schemes and we try to play at a high tempo and attack and I think players enjoy that."
Still, Mora will have his hands full with the linebackers, trying his best to replace last season's leading tackler Pat Larimore, who announced his medical retirement during fall camp. Ryan Hofmeister, a junior who redshirted last season, will try to fill that role.
"We're not a finely honed machine by any stretch of the imagination but we're working that way," Mora said.
"This year we're putting people in the position to make plays," he said. "It's a spread offense and our defense is looking real nice. We have a lot of potential. This year we get to utilize all our talents. So get ready."