UCLA football is soft.
Ask anyone. Even one of the Bruins.
“I’ve heard that before,” linebacker Patrick Larimore said last week.
Larimore had little else to say on the subject. Actions, as always, have greater volume than chatter.
The Bruins, under new management, have been getting a crash course in toughness from first-year Coach Jim Mora this spring.
“The No. 1 thing is hunting the ball on every play,” Larimore said. “Last year, we’d take a couple of steps to the ball. They want us moving all across the field.”
UCLA has spent spring practice trying to follow those defensive demands. Tuesday’s practice was a light-contact day, but it didn’t stop safety Tevin McDonald from coming across the field for a midair collision with wide receiver Shaquelle Evans.
“All the great defenses I have ever seen, they’ve had a vicious attitude,” Mora said. “Any defense I have ever coached, that’s what I’ve tried to infuse in it.”
Change was promised a year ago in spring practice, with former defensive coordinator Joe Tresey tossing around words like “attack” and “aggressive” like Frisbees.
UCLA’s defense froze when the season began. The Bruins finished 96th nationally in yards allowed (417.6 a game) and 92nd in points allowed (31.4).
It wasn’t a one-year anomaly. The Bruins have given up 40 or more points in seven of their last 19 games.
What’s different about the talk this season is the insistence.
During one practice, Mora’s rant to linebackers and defensive backs left powder burns.
“Let’s just be average,” Mora barked. “Let’s just be 6-6.” He followed that up with “run to the ball,” demand in a voice that indicated this was a graduation requirement.
“If you’re going to avoid a hit when you can light somebody up, then you’re not going to play,” Larimore said.
There can be a price attached. UCLA has had 24 players injured since spring practice began. Some are minor tweaks, but Larimore has been absent since suffering a concussion last week and linebacker Isaiah Bowens had knee surgery and will miss the season.
Wide receiver Devin Lucien was the latest. He left practice on crutches Tuesday, though Mora said he did not believe it was serious.
Mora said that Saturday’s scrimmage will include live hitting, “but we’re going to be smart about it. I hold my breath every time the ball is snapped.” But, he said, “it will be good for our overall psyche to go exhibit a little bit of toughness.”
A little bit of toughness was exactly what the Bruins exhibited last season. They are being pushed to show a little more.
“They expect the first guy in to make that tackle,” McDonald said. “The second guy has to strip the ball. People are going to see that hunger this season. Coaches are instilling that in us whether we like it or not.”
Running back Malcolm Jones (concussion), cornerback Anthony Jefferson (sore back) and guard Jeff Baca (flu) missed practice. … Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm was backstage for a Bruce Springsteen concert last week at the Sports Arena. “My parents are big fans,” Klemm said. “I knew all the songs because I would hear them when my dad drove me to school.”