UCLA junior safety Rahim Moore was miked up in practice on Tuesday, and he was talking and talking and talking.
Not much surprise there, though, seeing as Moore talks and talks and talks.
But this season, his words have new meaning.
The Bruins have few seniors and even fewer seniors in starting roles, leaving the lion’s share of leadership responsibility to several key juniors.
“It puts a lot of pressure on us, but it is good pressure,” said Moore, who led the nation in interceptions as a sophomore and is a major awards candidate for 2010. “Someday, we have to grow up. Guys like me, Datone (Jones), Akeem (Ayers) – we welcome that leadership, we want to be in that role. Coach will tell us, ‘You ain’t got to be an older cat to be a leader.'”
But it helps, and in UCLA’s case, it will hurt not having many seniors in key roles.
Of the 12 Bruin seniors including redshirts who practiced on Tuesday, only five were in the two-deep rotation on offense or defense. Defensive tackle David Carter has likely locked up a starting role, as has offensive guard Eddie Williams, while linemen Micah Kia – working his way back from a torn ACL – Ryan Taylor and Sean Sheller are competing for roles that should be flushed out in fall camp.
“It’s not normal; this is an unusual circumstance,” Neuheisel said. “Programs go through these ebbs and flows. Following this class, I think we’ll be in a routine with our seniors. There will be five to six freshmen who play and the rest will redshirt, and away we go.”
For now, the leadership responsibilities fall to sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince, junior linemen Jeff Baca and Kai Maiava and junior receivers Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario on the offensive side, and Moore, defensive end Datone Jones and linebacker Akeem Ayers.
“We are the ‘senior’s now, we are the older guys,” Jones said. “We played in big games. It’s our turn. You can be a freshman and you can be a leader, as long as you’re a football player. If you’re a baller, you’re a player, you’re making plays, everyone’s going to look at you. If I was a freshman and I got 30 sacks, everyone would look to me.”
As such, those who return with extensive experience are embracing the role.
“My role is not only to worry but myself, but to share my wisdom and knowledge with those guys,” Moore said. “I once was in (sophomore cornerback) Sheldon Price’s shoes. I’ve been ran through. I’ve been dipped on. I’ve been beaten for touchdowns. I had to learn, I had to get put on. Now I’m a big dog, and I’m gonna show ‘em what a big dog do.”