Anthony Jefferson, Ishmael Adams, Fabien Moreau and Randall Goforth are the starters.
A year ago,
Safety Anthony Jefferson spent his first two seasons at UCLA in the training room with foot and back issues. Cornerback Ishmael Adams was coming back from shoulder surgery. Fabien Moreau had played defense only one season. Randall Goforth, the veteran of the group, had started five games in 2012.
This season the quartet is back and it's a different story.
"Maturity is a big thing," Adams said. "That comes from experience. We know what we're going to see in games. We know how a season goes. We're mentally prepared for that."
The group held its own last season. Adams intercepted four passes, Goforth three and Jefferson two. Moreau steadily developed into a lock-down corner. The Bruins finished a respectable 40th nationally in passing yards allowed.
A year later …
"I see more of a brotherhood in the group," defensive back coach Demetrice Martin said. "They know each other so they trust each other."
And hold each other accountable.
"It's to the point where the junior and seniors patrol things, so we don't have to rely on Coach Meat to regulate us," Adams said.
But job security doesn't come with the package. All four players have competition. Cornerbacks Marcus Rios and Priest Willis and safety Tahaan Goodman are pushing for playing time.
"If you slack up at any moment, there is always someone ready to go on the field for you," Adams said.
"It works two ways," he added. "It keeps you prepared and also lets you go hard every play because someone can come in for a few plays. We'll all be primed for the game."
Simon Goines, a starting tackle last season, is out at least two more weeks. Jake Brendel, the starting center, is questionable for the opener at Virginia on Saturday.
That, in past seasons, would be reason for widespread panic — as well as deep-seated concern for quarterback Brett Hundley's health. But the Bruins have reached the point where they can absorb such losses.
Line coach Adrian Klemm thought back two years, when he arrived in Westwood, and said, "It's totally different now."
A heavy emphasis on recruiting linemen, plus the transfer of tackle Malcolm Bunch from Miami, has improved what was a chaotic situation three seasons ago.
What Klemm likes most about the situation is the competition,.
"It gets guys energized," Klemm said. "If a guy finds out he's not starting, he's upset about it and works a little harder. The guy ahead of him works harder because he knows someone is going to take his position."
UCLA and Virginia have never played in football. They had two common opponents in 2013. Virginia lost to Oregon, 59-10, and to Virginia Tech, 16-6. UCLA lost to Oregon, 42-14, and defeated Virginia Tech, 42-12. … The Bruins are likely to use two punters in the opener, Matt Mengel, a transfer from Long Beach City College, and Adam Searl, a walk-on who was on the team last season. … UCLA sold out its allotment of 1,800 tickets for the Virginia game and asked for another 100, which also were sold.