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UCLA's Eric Kendricks could move into the spotlight this season

UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks led the Pac-12 in tackles as a sophomore in 2012
Eric Kendricks has been largely overshadowed but could move into stoplight this season
Eric Kendricks is on watch lists for Butkus Award and Lott IMPACT Trophy

Eric Kendricks was brought to the Pac-12 Conference's football media day Thursday to represent UCLA's defense.

Which meant the senior linebacker spent a lot of time answering questions about sophomore Myles Jack.

Everyone seems to know Jack, who starred on both defense and offense last season. Kendricks might as well have been his public relations advisor.

Not a problem. Kendricks is used to it, and plays right along.

"He's going to be a bigger, badder Myles Jack this season," Kendricks assured the handful of media members who stopped to talk with him.

A few feet away, a throng of notepads, microphones and tape recorders huddled around UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, hanging on every word. Coach Jim Mora had a crowd reminiscent of the group Pete Carroll attracted when he was USC's coach.

The spotlight was not going to find Kendricks this day. "Let's keep it that way," he said.

It might not be possible.

Kendricks led the Pac-12 in tackles as a sophomore in 2012 while playing beside two future first-round NFL draft picks — defensive end Datone Jones and linebacker Anthony Barr.

Kendricks was third in the conference last season while playing through back, shoulder and ankle injuries. He was sidelined for the Sun Bowl in December because of surgery on his ankle.

"He's kind of that guy that everyone wants to orbit around, a commander in the middle who was assertive," Mora said. "E.K. plays with such passion; he runs sideline to sideline."

Still, somehow, Kendricks' contributions largely go unnoticed outside UCLA.

Jack, Barr, Jones, defensive end Cassius Marsh, who was drafted in the fourth round last spring, and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, who was drafted in the sixth round, were the headliners on defense the last two seasons. They filled up notebooks. Kendricks filled holes.

"I don't think he cares that he's been overshadowed," Mora said. And he doesn't.

"I have always been the underdog, even in high school," Kendricks said. "I embrace that."

Kendricks had 149 tackles in 2012 and 106 last season, despite sitting out two games — and parts of two others — because of injuries.

Still, the heavy attention was on Hundley and Mora on Thursday, the second of two conference media days at Paramount Studios.

"I don't care; I'm used to it," Kendricks said. He later acknowledged that it did create a "little chip" on his shoulder, though.

Internally, Kendricks' worth is well established.

"When guys get so much attention people don't look at the other players aiding in their success," Hundley said. "E.K. has been a critical part of our team, not only defense. People will see that this year."

Others saw it earlier on. Mora took the word of his father, Jim Mora, former New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts coach.

"I think my dad is a pretty good judge of talent," Mora said. "His favorite player on the team has always been Eric Kendricks. He loves the way he plays the game."

The days of anonymity may be ending. Kendricks has been placed on the "watch lists" for the Butkus Award and Lott IMPACT Trophy.

"It's nice," Kendricks said of the honors, "but we haven't played the season yet. Let's just play the season."

Hundley had a warning to other quarterbacks once the season starts: You may know Jack. But you better know Kendricks as well.

"E.K. is smart," Hundley said. "Very smart. Anything you try to do, he will be there."

Quick Hits

UCLA opens training camp Aug. 4 at Cal State San Bernardino. … Mora, on the conditions he hopes to find in San Bernardino, "I hope it's hot. I would just like us to be in triple digits. As long as we're in triple digits, I'll be happy." He said taking the team inland allowed the Bruins to work with fewer distractions. The heat, he said, was "a plus."

Follow Chris Foster on Twitter @cfosterlatimes

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