Inexperienced UCLA secondary eager to start season

He’s eager to watch them play.

No matter that the group returns only five games’ worth of combined starting experience, or the idea that most regard the unit as the team’s weakest link. Jim Mora is ready to see his UCLA secondary take on Nevada Saturday night — even if, he joked, he has to peek through his fingers.

“I want them to just be able to play free and not worry,” said the Bruins’ head coach. “Be able to cut it loose and let their skills take over. I think they’ve worked hard enough on the mental part that they know what’s going on, they know the adjustments.

“I don’t want to see them play hesitant.”

After weeks of hitting their own teammates — first in San Bernardino, then back at home in Westwood — the Bruins are itching to finally get on the field against some different uniforms. That may go double for the defensive backfield.

Anthony Jefferson is already a junior, but he feels like his college career is just beginning. Ranked by Rivals.com as a top-30 in-state recruit in 2010, the Los Angeles Cathedral High alum has been sidelined more often than not by various injuries. After playing three games as a true freshman, he broke his foot. He then missed the entire 2011 season with back surgery.

Last year, he played eight games and made five tackles, but never felt 100 percent healthy. This past spring, the former four-star prospect finally started to shine at cornerback. A few months later, the staff moved him to safety, where he’s expected to make his first career start.

“It’s definitely a fresh start,” Jefferson said. “I count this as my first season. I haven’t been able to play a full season yet. This is just as much as a fresh start for me as all of the younger guys. … This is a chance for me to finally play football.”

Ishmael Adams is in a similar situation. After earning some playing time in the nickel formation as a true freshman, the 5-foot-8 cornerback underwent season-ending shoulder surgery after two games. He’s listed as a sophomore, but will eventually get that season waived as a redshirt year.

Still, even those two games helped him shake off some first-timer’s nerves.

“I know how to prepare myself better, be more focused,” Adams said. “Just that quiet before the storm. … I don’t go into these games now with blind eyes.”

Defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin said he likes the talent he has to work with, including cornerback Fabian Moreau and safety Randall Goforth as the other starters. All they need now is in-game experience.

Added Jefferson: “I think we have something special on this backend. A lot of people are doubting us, so I think we have a lot to prove this year.”

QUICK HITS

Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Eli Ankou will miss four weeks, according to the Los Angeles Times. He will undergo minor surgery on his left knee after being carted out of practice on crutches this week. … UCLA opened as 14.5-point favorites over Nevada, but the Vegas line has since swelled past 20. Mora said it doesn’t concern him: “Never have I once looked at the line in my life. The game’s played on the grass.”

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