Bear Necessities

UCLA has a chance to take a major leap forward this spring if a new mindset clicks in, but it will only work if a few crucial things happen. Here are the five things Bruins need to find out about themselves during these 15 days…

Who’s the starting quarterback?

An obvious beginning.
The only beginning.
This is it, folks. Is Noel Mazzone a miracle worker? Can he actually sprinkle some pixie dust on a position that has been so bad for so long? Is there some magic potion he can drop into the Gatorade? We should find out early, as his system demands a specific kind of quarterback.
The switch from pistol to spread is not the most drastic switch in college football – both have zone tendencies and theoretically work to create space – but a pistol quarterback is not necessarily a spread quarterback. Thing is, none of UCLA’s current crop were necessarily pistol quarterbacks. The former coaching staff tried to force the idea that Kevin Prince was the perfect fit for the pistol, but the results did not translate. In came Richard Brehaut, most certainly an ill fit for the pistol, and while he showed flashes, again, nothing to light up the scoreboards.
Brett Hundley and T.J. Millweard will vie for the position in spring ball as well, but it will likely come down to the two seniors, Prince and Brehaut. Prince gets the first snaps, but Brehaut should follow close behind. If one of them shows tremendous consistency with the short pass and develops a good rhythm early, it will go a long way in the coaches’ eyes.
They’re certainly going to be looking out for it.

Is Xavier Su’a-Filo a factor or a work-in-progress?

There is a 5,000-watt spotlight shining on Su’a-Filo, and for good reason. His status is crucial, if only for the trickle-down effect that might ensue if he’s not up to par.
It’s not an either-or equation – either he’s good or bad – because if he’s physically, mentally and emotionally ready to reinsert himself into live action in the college game, he’ll be good. He’s too good not to be good. Great might have to come later.
But the mental and emotional re-adjustment has nothing to do with his drop-step or his right hand placement. He left UCLA as a smart kid, a very well-adjusted, informed, intelligent kid. But just a kid. My sit down interview with him shortly after his return showed me that he returned a man. He was quiet, pensive, calm. Almost serene.
Does he have that nasty switch ready to go quite yet? If he does, the Bruins smile wide.

Will this be a waltz, the Texas Two-Step or Dance, Dance Revolution?

Tempo, tempo, who’s got the tempo?
This has been covered pretty much ad nauseum, but it cannot be ignored: Will the Bruins wake up at practice? Discussions with Jim Mora and his staff – particularly Mazzone – make it clear that these guys want it to be a get-up-and-go affair. Drop a pass? Run back, start over. Miss a block? Run back, start over. Forget your pants? Run back to the locker room, start over.
If there was such thing as too much instruction, it happened at UCLA the last couple years. The whistle was as constant as a cloudless day, practices stopped and started and stopped and started for every minuscule foible. It sounds like the staff intends to let the players work out their issues on the field rather than pause for a quick lesson, and that should translate into a crisper team, which is sorely needed.

Just Give _____ The D*mn Ball?

If the UCLA offensive staff can figure out a way to use Joseph Fauria effectively, he can be the most productive tight end in college football. That’s not a news flash.
But who else is, umm, ____ going to throw to?
Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler threw for more than 4,000 yards last season, and 14 players caught passes, 10 for at least 100 yards on the year. The leader, Gerrell Robinson, finished with more than 1,300. UCLA needs to find and develop its Robinson.
Shaq Evans and Devin Lucien have a chance to really impress this spring, and both should be favored targets. The Bruins will need to find out if Jerry Johnson or Ricky Marvray can provide reliable targets, as well.

Do star rankings matter for defensive linemen?

According to the prognostications of those who prognosticate about college football, UCLA should by all accounts have one of the best defensive lines in the country this season.
There’s top-10 ranked Damien Holmes, Keenan Graham, Cassius Marsh and Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Datone Jones, Iuta Tepa, Brandon Willis and Seali’i Epenesa ranked in the top-45 of their respective positions in their respective classes. That’s a lot of star power.
Is this the time it finally translates?
A shift in scheme toward a 3-4 should be an improvement because UCLA does have pretty good edge speed, but against power teams, who controls the interior? The Bruins need to know their options, and that can only be known on the field.