Friday is going to be a wonderful day for UCLA redshirt sophomore linebacker Eric Kendricks and his family.
So much happiness and joy ready to burst out as big brother Mychal, Cal’s 2011 Pac-12 defensive player of the year, is expected to be a second-round pick in the NFL Draft.
A full 99.9 percent of the time, the younger Kendricks will be ecstatic for his family, but that other small piece of him will be looking toward his future, so, so close. Right there for the taking. Inches, maybe, but important inches.
“It makes it so it’s like in my grasp,” Kendricks said, clenching his fists then releasing them, “but it’s not, I still have to work toward it. I see how much hard work he puts into it, and I have to do the same thing.”
He knows what he has to do, too.
That’s where the inches come into play.
Returning for his redshirt sophomore season after an impressive freshman year in which he ultimately carved out extensive playing time mostly behind senior Sean Westgate, Kendricks is working on getting low and staying low, dropping just two inches, he said. New UCLA linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich is pounding him on it, chanting, ‘Get low, get low,” to Kendricks in every drill, on every play.
And Ulbrich likes what he sees of Kendricks, who was named an honorable mention freshman All-American by collegefootballnews.com.
“He’s got some special attributes when it comes to playing linebacker,” said Ulbrich, who had a lengthy pro career with the San Francisco 49ers, where he eventually helped Patrick Willis along in his maturation. “I just don’t want him to get complacent, because it comes so easy to him, so much natural talent. My impression of him is he’s a hard working kid, a humble kid, a kid who wants to be great without a doubt in every way. but he hasn’t had success yet. We have to keep him disciplined and working hard. I’ve got to stay on him but the potential is through the roof.”
Ulbrich is hesitant to say too much about his young protg as he wants to pull every drip of potential out of Kendricks. He’s trying to keep Kendricks focused on the little things – this game of inches – while helping him emerge from big brother’s shadow.
“To me that’s a distraction. His standard, his level of play should be its own thing,” Ulbrich said. “I really believe that. Eric is Eric and his brother is his brother. They’re two different entities, and he can’t get caught up in that. We’re going to grind every day to make sure he’s the best Eric Kendricks he can be. That’ll be enough.
Ulbrich laughs and nods, then gets serious. His smile turns into a matter-of-fact, declarative statement.
“That’ll be enough.”
* Not UCLA’s best practice today, but perhaps to be expected this late in spring and with that many players out. While doing a relatively decent job avoiding the long-term injury bug, the Bruins are certainly plagued by pulls and tweaks, and the rhythm and tempo of practice has changed.
* That being said, the defense definitely shined. The front seven was getting good push, and the coverage was almost flawless, with several interceptions, including some great anticipation. As we’ve come to know so well, it’s a bit of a zero-sum game, so if the defense does that well, that must mean the offense did that poorly.
* For the most part, it did. More dropped passes than I can remember in any one practice this spring, running backs getting jammed behind the line, quarterbacks simply off.
* UCLA got a boost today with the return of center Greg Capella (calf). He worked at second-team guard today and said that coaches want him ready for both. Mora said that guys like him are important as swing players.
* The offense and defense got in a rather heated exchange midway through practice and Mora responded even more heated, sending them to the sidelines to run.
“It’s unacceptable. that’s not who we’re going to be, not what we’re going to do. I’ve warned them, I’ve told them, a punch was thrown so we paid the consequences for it. I want this team to play with class and compsure at all times and in order to that way you have to practice that way. I understand that you get tired of pounding on the same guy over and over and over again and they try to get in each other’s mind and in each other’s grill, and incite each other. but part of being a discilpined football team is having the ability to know when to step back away from those situations. We weren’t able to do that today so I think they understand how serious I am about that.”
* Out of that, however, came a very important moment. As the players were running, several were struggling, and the staff was letting them have it. On the last couple gassers, a couple guys were really, really lagging, and Hundley took it upon himself to run with one, helping will him to finish. It was a big, big leadership moment.
* Inside linebacker Isaiah Bowens took a helmet to the right knee midway through practice and Mora said he’d need tests to determine the severity of the injury.
* Shaq Evans (groin), offensive guard Wade Yandall (head), running back Damien Thigpen (hamstring) and offensive tackle Torian White (hip) joined the growing cast of injured Bruins, all missing practice on Thursday.
Sheldon Price on his big moment:
“When he first got here, he said we’re not trying to just win Pac-12, we’re trying to win national championships. Since I’ve been here, that was the first time – the very first time, man – that I heard anyone say anything about national championships. Everybody else just talked Pac-12 championship. Competing in the Pac-12. Look, everybody wants to win a championship, but for him to be like, the Pac-12 isn’t enough, you want to be the best? That was a real game-changer.”
Sheldon Price on UCLA getting tough:
“Since we’ve been looking for it, we’ve accepted it. At times, Coach Mora is like you’re known for being soft. And it’s like, hold on. That’s not me. That’s not who I am. That’s what the program has looked like. But that’s not who we are. Everybody’s taken on that challenge well. It’s all positive. It’s going to be tough, going to be hard, I may not like it. But I – we – need it.”
More from Datone Jones after the jump…
I had to start gathering quotes for my college football magazine preview stuff, and several players had good select quotes to say:
Johnathan Franklin on guys picking up a new offense:
“Guys are definitely picking it up in a good way. We’re moving pretty well. To me it’s just football, if you want to keep your job, you have to adjust to it. Guys are realizing that. Whatever guys have to do learn the offense, they have to do it. We understand coach Mora isn’t playing any games.”
Franklin on turning things around for UCLA:
“It’s vital to me. That’s one of the reasons I came to UCLA, to not come to a program at the top but take it to the top. It’s vital. I think about all the time about all the guys who left 4-8, 6-6, 6-8. I don’t want to be just another guy. I want it to be, Johnathan Franklin did this, he helped be a part of that 2012 team that turned things around.”