Four UCLA players highlight Lombardi Award watch list

As preseason watch lists continue to drown each other out, the Lombardi Award is trying a new way to distinguish itself: including as many names as it can find.

If such lists are intended as a guideline for award voters heading into the season, this committee won’t get much help from the bloated 145-man roster — a number that more than doubles the size of many other watch lists.

So the fact that four UCLA players are on the radar for the Lombardi Award — given to the top offensive or defensive lineman, or linebacker — is not overly surprising. Linebacker Myles Jack (who also made the Butkus Award watch list today) and defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes are the Bruin defense’s most valuable players. Each of them will finish the season with at least an all-conference nod.

The one UCLA name on the list that could raise an eyebrow is offensive tackle Caleb Benenoch. While the junior has started 22 games at right tackle, he is not as irreplaceable on the line as center Jake Brendel or left tackle Conor McDermott.

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Jeff Ulbrich reviews first season as UCLA’s defensive coordinator

Jeff Ulbrich talked at length with the media on Friday, hitting everything from what it meant for Eric Kendricks to win the Butkus Award, to Jim Mora’s long-term future at UCLA, to — of course — how he’s evaluated his first season as UCLA’s defensive coordinator.

Despite a starting lineup loaded with future pros, the Bruins have been inconsistent on defense this season, holding Arizona’s explosive offense to seven points only to allow 31 to Stanford four weeks later. It was a year that saw the 37-year-old Ulbrich take significant criticism for not generating enough of a pass rush: UCLA is tied for 85th in the country with 22 sacks, 15 of which came in the final six games.

“Guys that I’ve been around a lot (in my career), their philosophy regarding scheme and calling a game is always put the game in the players’ hands,” Ulbrich said. “Keep it simple. Be great with fundamentals and technique, alignment, assignment. Let them know it and understand it at a high level so they can play fast and physical.

“The problem is that college football’s a little different. You’re seeing so much exotic stuff on offense, that you almost have to balance that with being exotic in your own right at times just to keep them off balance. … I gained a better understanding of that as the season went on.”

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UCLA’s Eric Kendricks win Butkus Award for top college linebacker

Eric Kendricks can now officially call himself the best linebacker in college football, even if Pac-12 coaches don’t think so.

After being left off the All-Pac-12 first team last week, UCLA’s all-time leading tackler received the Butkus Award on Tuesday morning — becoming the first Bruin to ever win in the trophy’s 30-year history.

Even former teammate Anthony Barr, a consensus All-American and ninth overall NFL draft pick, settled for a finalist spot behind Alabama’s C.J. Mosley.

In a statement, the Butkus Award selection committee called this year’s race “as close as any (in) the past decade,” and said it included eight write-in candidates. Continue reading

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Eric Kendricks named Butkus finalist, Pac-12 Player of the Week

Eric Kendricks’ stellar season is garnering more and more recognition. UCLA’s senior linebacker became a Butkus Award finalist on Monday, and also picked up his second Pac-12 Player of the Week honor.

Kendricks is the second Bruin in as many years to be named a finalist for the Butkus Award, given each year to college football’s top linebacker. No UCLA player has ever won the Butkus; All-American linebacker Anthony Barr lost out to Alabama’s C.J. Mosley last season.

This year, Kendricks’ stiffest competition is likely Washington linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, who has 23.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks. Kendricks has the edge in tackles (128 to 63) and interceptions (three to zero), but has just seven tackles for loss and two sacks. Continue reading

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