It's officially football season.
UCLA football begins spring practice on Tuesday at 7 a.m., meaning absolutely no one will go without ingesting at least five cups of coffee.
Last season, fans came out in full force, filling Spaulding Field for over three-quarters of all practices. Back then, no one knew if Jim Mora would be able to back up his talk of "culture change" and his desire to put UCLA back on the map.
A year later, and we want
mora More-a more Mora.
Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't questions and concerns heading into spring ball. Let's walk you through some position battles and other things to note before we start discussing spring practice.
1) Running Back. Perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding this team is that of the tail-back. After a wildly successful senior year — and a historic career that catapulted him as the best running back in UCLA history — Johnathan Franklin has left a gaping hole at running back. While Damien Thigpen was poised to be his successor, an ACL tear against USC has shelved him until fall, and no one's sure if he'll be the same after that. Jordon James will get the first nod to start, but his status as the first back on the roster is far from solid. While James will get his shot, UCLA senior-turned-transfer-turned-walk-on Malcolm Jones will return to Westwood to take another stab at earning real playing time. In the meantime, Steven Manfro will get a shot at redemption after disappointing fans in the fall following an insanely-successful offseason. The Bruins brought in only one recruit at running back in Craig Lee, but he won't show up until fall (if he can clear academic requirements first).
2) Cornerback. While Jim Mora's staff put together one of the best recruiting classes in the nation as it pertains to defensive backs, those recruits will not likely factor in to the rotation until fall. For now, the secondary will be deathly thin (again) now that safety Tevin McDonald has been dismissed from the team. Randall Goforth will be the lone returning starter in the defensive backfield, while Dietrich Riley will make his long-awaited return to the field after suffering a neck injury nearly two years ago. At corner, UCLA will have to replace Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price, both of whom contributed greatly to opposing teams' momentum-shifting touchdown passes. Ishmael Adams and Marcus Rios will figure to be the guys stepping in at corner, with Fabian Moreau breathing down their necks.
Questions Heading In
1. Will UCLA employ an uptempo philosophy again, or will the Bruins slow it down? Last year, Jim Mora impressed spectators with the pace of the practice, and a fan who clocked the practice and counted plays noted that the tempo was much faster than Neuheisel's practices. This pace helped conditioning tremendously — UCLA finished games strong last year — and it aided Noel Mazzone's offense. We're sure that Mora will keep the pace up, but there's a chance he doesn't.
2. Will there be an open QB competition or will Brett Hundley just be the starter? In 2012, Mora held an open quarterback competition that saw Richard Brehaut and Brett Hundley fight tooth-and-nail for the starting spot. Hundley would go on to win that competition and have a successful freshman season. Did the competition help Hundley to progress, and if so, will Mora hold such a competition again? Or will he see the risk of hurting Hundley's psyche, thus gifting him the spot in Year Two?
3. How will the staff curtail concussions? Last season, concussions were actually a pretty big problem, and injuries shelved players like Albert Cid for quite awhile, and linebacker Patrick Larimore quit football altogether due to concussions suffered both in seasons past and during the spring. It's likely that the kids are getting acclimated to Mora's gritty style — indeed, last year's practices proved to be far more aggressive than seasons past — but how many kids will find themselves dropping out of the program because of injury?