UCLA Coach Jim Mora classifies himself as a “bit of a micromanager,” which is true in the same way that a hurricane could be classified as a “bit of a thunderstorm.” His coaching style is to have a handle on everything.
So when he was asked about the concerns over his pass rush earlier in the week, Mora wanted to make it very clear that’s he not worried. The micro-manager instead has questions, which doesn’t happen too often.
“I never felt bad about the pass rush,” Mora said on Wednesday. “As a matter of fact, I’ve always felt very good about it. I think my statements have always been that it will be interesting to see where the production comes from … I know we have guys that can get the job done. I just don’t know who is going to step up when and how, but I’ve never felt bad about it. I’ve always felt good about it.”
The concerns stem from the players UCLA lost more so than the players who will be on the field starting Saturday at Virginia, and there is no bigger loss than Anthony Barr.
In Barr’s senior year last season, he became UCLA’s first-ever Lott IMPACT Award winner. Of the Bruins’ 32 sacks, Barr recorded 10 of them. In April, he was picked ninth in the NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings and became the highest-drafted linebacker in UCLA history.
Barr wasn’t UCLA’s only linebacker loss, as starter Jordan Zumwalt graduated and became a sixth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. On top of Barr and Zumwalt, the team lost three senior defensive linemen, including starter Cassius Marsh, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Seattle Seahawks.
UCLA certainly has the talent on the front seven to fill those departed players, but it’s a matter of it all coming together, especially at linebacker.
Sophomore Myles Jack seems to be focusing more on outside linebacker than running back after his ridiculous freshman campaign, but he also only had one sack last year. The other presumed starter at outside linebacker, Aaron Wallace, had five total tackles last year. At inside linebacker, Kenny Young has been getting great reviews in training camp, but is still a freshman. The one player without any real questions marks is fifth-year senior Eric Kendricks, who is one of the best defensive players in the conference.
The defensive line is a little more solidified. Sophomore defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes was 10th on the team in tackles last season, and while fifth-year senior Owamagbe Odighizuwa missed all of last season recovering from hip injuries, he’s one of UCLA’s most physically dominant players. The starting nose tackle, Kenny Young, has looked the part in training camp too.
“He's a beast,” Kendricks said on Tuesday. “If he's going to perform like he's been practicing in spring ball and this preseason, he's going to have a great year. You guys should hear his name a lot."
While the talent is there, questions remain, but if there is a man to try and figure them out, it’s Mora.
This is the fourth of five positional season previews that will run on UCLA Now. Monday was the offensive backs, Tuesday was the secondary and Wednesday was the offensive line. On Friday, we’ll have receivers and special teams.
For more Bruin observations, follow Everett Cook on Twitter @everettcook http://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/uclanow/la-sp-ucla-season-secondary-20140826-story.html