The UCLA Bruins football team held practice #2 this evening on Spaulding Field. Like practice #1 on Tuesday, the biggest news was not about who was there, but rather about who wasn't there. From our friend Chris Foster at the LAT:
UCLA will be without linebacker Aaron Wallace and running back Aaron Porter this spring. Neither is enrolled for the spring quarter.
Their status will be reevaluated. Both are believed to be working through academic issues.
A UCLA official would not comment beyond announcing the two were not in school.
Aaron Wallace specifically was one of the three players tapped to fill in the giant footprints of Anthony Barr at OLB. This leaves Kenny Orjioke (who appears to be the favorite according to Jack Wang) and Deon Hollins as the two frontrunners, though I wouldn't count out Zach Whitley getting a shot there either.
There is still the chance that both Wallace and Porter can be eligible and ready come preseason camp in San Bernardino, but this doesn't bode well for their future prospects. Never mind the fact that spring quarter in Westwood is epic, what with all the coeds simultaneously hitting the books and working on tans at Sunset Rec, this is really a disappointing development. I hope both of these guys get their academics in order. Football or not, that U.C.L.A. degree opens doors that nothing else can, and all playing careers end one day.
On the field, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone met with the press after practice. He still has his jovial aw-shucks attitude from last season, but he also seems to have a bit more confidence going forward, and he reveals some important clues here and there through his interview.
The most interesting of these to me was his response when he was asked if the offense was going to have a more vertical passing attack than last season, as Brett Hundley suggested after practice on Tuesday. For those of us who got a bit frustrated (ok, really really pissed) with the overly conservative play calling last season, Mazzone basically admitted that his lack of faith in the offensive line limited much of his aggression in his play calling last year.
I think the other thing is that we're gonna have a little bit of experience in the O line. Obviously that was in the back of my head all last year when you got some young pups in there, and so, yeah, I think that gives us a chance, maybe, to extend the field a little bit. ...
Yeah. We'd still like a little bit more. You know, we're still down a little bit numbers, you know, just for depth, but I think the young group we got - you know, one of these years, if I just hang around for long enough, I might actually say, Ok, we got 4 senior linemen coming back instead of all these young guys. But, no, I'm really happy with that group. Very athletic group.
On one hand, I can always understand the baseline desire to do no harm. At the same time, this is football. It has no place for the timid. Mazzone likely has the best quarterback he's going to have for a while, and this season presents a very rare opportunity. I hope he gives the players a chance to show how far they push the limits this year, rather than curtailing those limits by calling conservative runs up the middle and short crossing routes. Let 'em play, Noel. These kids can be special.
Like Mora did on Tuesday, Mazzone spoke very highly about Brett's development from last season and how familiar and comfortable he has become with the offense.
Without a doubt. I always think about it, when he looks over and he knows about one hand signal in to the play he already knows what it is and he stops looking at me. I know he's really catching on. He really knows the offense. He understands what we're trying to do with it.
I think he's had a great off season. He's really studied hard. He's done a great job this spring before spring ball, studying, getting around guys to help him become a better quarterback.
Mazzone said that Hundley has spent one-on-one time with this off season with Phillip Rivers, Jeff Garcia, and Tim Tebow studying film and working on technique and talking about leadership, calling the experience "invaluable". He noted that Hundley was working with him and Taylor Mazzone on a daily basis during the off season.
Mazzone also spoke about the backup quarterback competition as well as Craig Lee, and plans for the offense to go even faster this season. You can see the entire interview below. Thanks as always to Edward Lewis with Bruin Sports Report for the video (from BSRTV via YouTube)
Looking around the Internets, UCLA Football is generating a lot of buzz with the MSM, and it appears they are all buying. ESPN and other sports sites are quite bullish on the Bruins chances in the upcoming season.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11
UCLA has massive expectations heading into the College Football Playoff Era with a superstar quarterback returning and stability on the sidelines for what feels like the first time in more than a decade. The talent is obvious as every position on the roster appears to be stacked with upside prospects and breakout candidates. That said, Mora is breaking in a new defensive coordinator (Ulbrich) and will have to fill voids among his front seven on defense. The schedule isn't easy either, as UCLA has to face Oregon, Stanford and Washington in crossover play once again. The good news is the Ducks and Cardinal, as well as Arizona, USC and Utah, will have to come to Pasadena to face the Bruins. Should things fall right, Mora and company could be smelling Roses at season's end.
Meanwhile, noted concern troll Ted Miller over at tWWL must have had to choke himself to write this:
There simply aren't any worrisome voids on this team.
Good god, Ted, that's the kind of positivity that will get you kicked right off of BN, being the overwhemlingly negative folks we are. And if by negative, you mean a group of loyal, passionate, and diehard U.C.L.A. fans know that the best is still ahead of us, then that is exactly right.
But semantics aside, it's pretty clear to the MSM that the Bruins have a lot of talent and experience coming back, and a lot of talent and potential waiting in the wings where players aren't coming back. The Bruins do have a few question marks in the lineup, but instead of the empty blanks we frequently saw in the past, the Bruins typically have 2-3 names ready to fill in every position that isn't settled.
TD: Coming back to this season, how huge was it for you to win the Sun Bowl this year as a senior and go out on top in that way?
JZ: Oh that was awesome, man. It was a really, really cool experience to be able to do that because my first three years here were kind of a wash. My sophomore and junior years we made it to the Pac-12 Championship and lost both games-after that we just kind of blew our wad and lost motivation. This past year, everyone bought in and was really excited for it. All the coaches changed their mentality for the bowl game, too.TD: How did they change for the Sun Bowl?
JZ:I think it was their first year of college experience; our whole coaching staff came from the NFL, so that in their first bowl game they had in San Diego [the Bruins lost the 2012 Holiday Bowl to Baylor-Ed.], they weren't used to how bowl games worked. So when we went back and did it over again, everything was a lot more strict and things were a lot more on schedule. We were always doing something, always going somewhere, and we were always together. There wasn't as much free time and things like that. There was just more focus and emphasis on the game than there was on being on vacation.