Fall camp preview: Linebackers

When it comes to UCLA linebackers, might as well start here:

Anthony Barr announced himself to many national viewers with that hit, even if it was helped by abysmal blocking. It was a microcosm of the UCLA-USC rivalry tilting toward Westwood: Matt Barkley’s college career ended, and Barr made him highlight-reel fodder for a potential Heisman campaign. He’ll likely be a top-ten pick come May, after he’s flooded with various all-conference and All-American honors.

Already a dynamic player, Barr has worked to improve his pass coverage skills and bulked up to an impressive 255 pounds. While he’s easily the team’s best player, his position teammates aren’t shabby either. Continue reading

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UCLA leads Butkus Award watch list

UCLA linebackers Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt all made the 51-man watch list for the Butkus Award. The Bruins tied BYU with three players on the list, the most of any team.

Barr and offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo were also mentioned for the Lombardi Award watch list, though that ballooned to over 100 names. The award is given to a down lineman on either side of the ball, or linebacker who lines up within five yards of the ball.

No UCLA player has ever won either award. The Pac-12′s last Lombardi winner was Arizona State’s Terrell Suggs (2002), and its last Butkus winner was USC’s Chris Claiborne (1998).

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How much NFL talent does UCLA have?

NFL teams drafted four Bruins in April, the highest number for UCLA since 2005. Could the school best that mark next spring?

Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranked the 25 college programs with the most talent for the 2014 draft. The Bruins made the cut, along with four other Pac-12 teams:

No. 22: UCLA — 7 prospects (among draft-eligible players)
No. 21: Washington — 7 Continue reading

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Three Bruins land on national award watch lists

UCLA is holding its own as college football enters watch-list season, putting three players on the national speculation bubble today.

Quarterback Brett Hundley and All-American linebacker Anthony Barr are two of 75 names on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, presented to the best player in the country. Barr was one of only six defensive players mentioned. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was the last Maxwell winner, with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck taking the honor in 2011.

Barr was also named to the 75-man watch list for the Bednarik Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive player. He is joined there by linebacker Eric Kendricks, whose 150 tackles last season led the Pac-12.

Both also made the Lott Trophy watch list in May. Center Jake Brendel was named to the Rimington Award watch list that month.

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Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks named to Lott watchlist

UCLA linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks were both named today to the Lott IMPACT Trophy’s 42-man watch list. The award, founded in 2004, is given annually to a college defensive player for both on-field performance as well as personal character. Eleven Pac-12 players made the latest list, but Cal’s Dante Hughes is the conference’s only winner — though Arizona State’s Pat Tillman and Stanford’s Owen Marecic both received honorary trophies.

Barr ranked second nationally with 13.5 sacks in 2012, and is projected as a top-10 NFL draft pick entering his second season on defense. Kendricks led the Pac-12 with 150 tackles, the most by a Bruin since Jerry Robinson’s school-record 161 in 1978.

The complete watch list is below the jump, with Pac-12 players bolded. Continue reading

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UCLA football post-spring: Defense and special teams

Defensive line

Can UCLA’s defensive front survive the loss of a first-round pick — the team’s first since 2006? Cassius Marsh, pegged as a third-round talent in some early projections, now succeeds new Green Bay Packer Datone Jones as the Bruins’ best defensive end. By most observations, he’s matured since 2011, a year that saw him storm out of spring practice and later suspended two games for an October brawl at Arizona.

“Sometimes, he may stop on that line, but not over it,” said defensive line coach Angus McClure. “I call it a ‘controlled insanity.’ You want to go to that line but you don’t want to go over it. Certainly, he’s learned to manage it.”

The rest of the line, however, is a muddled with injuries. Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Ellis McCarthy both sat out spring while rehabbing from their respective hip and knee surgeries, while nose tackle Brandon Tualiaupupu tore his ACL in mid-April. Continue reading

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UCLA football injury update

The most significant injury so far in spring camp didn’t happen to a player.

While trying to demonstrate a route on Sunday, UCLA wide receivers coach Eric Yarber went down with what appeared to be a torn tendon in his quad. The 49-year-old lay on the ground for a few minutes before carted off.

“That was scary,” head coach Jim Mora said. “Initially, we went over there and I thought he either dislocated his hip or his knee. My first thought, honestly, was oh no — is he having a heart attack?”

A torn tendon was a relief after that initial scare, and Yarber should be back on the field barking at wideouts before too long.

“He’s got to remember that he’s almost 50,” Mora said. “His body doesn’t work like an 18, 20 year old anymore. I think he learned that rather dramatically today.”

As for the players, linebacker Eric Kendricks was on crutches and a boot after spraining his right ankle on Thursday. Mora termed it as “mild to significant,” and wasn’t sure if the rising junior would return this April. Continue reading

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Fauria left off Phil Steele’s All-Pac-12

Here are the Bruins that made Phil Steele’s All-Pac-12 teams:

OFFENSE
1st: RB Johnathan Franklin, OL Xavier Su’a-Filo
2nd: OL Jeff Baca
3rd: WR Shaquelle Evans
DEFENSE
1st: LB Anthony Barr
2nd: DT Datone Jones, LB Eric Kendricks
SPECIAL TEAMS
1st: P Jeff Locke
3rd: KR Damien Thigpen, PR Steven Manfro (Huh?!)

The most glaring omission is senior Fauria, who was left off despite being one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award — given to the top tight end in the nation. I get that Fauria isn’t a true blocking tight end anymore, but he was tied for second in the conference with 11 touchdown receptions. Arizona State’s Chris Coyle, who got the third team nod, grabbed just five and only had 11 more yards per game (54.9 to 43.2).

On the bright side for UCLA fans, Franklin made first team with Kenjon Barner, beating out Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey. This could bode well for Franklin’s chances at the last remaining NCAA-recognized All-American list: the Football Writers Association of America releases its team later this week, and Steele is on the committee.

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Seven Bruins on All-Pac-12 first and second teams

You can find the full list here, but let’s run through UCLA’s selections. (The awards are voted on by Pac-12 head coaches.)

First team: LB Anthony Barr, OL Xavier Su’a-Filo, P Jeff Locke
Second team: RB Johnathan Franklin, OL Jeff Baca, DL Datone Jones, David Allen on special teams
Honorable mentions: DB Andrew Abbott, OL Jake Brendel, WR Shaq Evans, TE Joseph Fauria, QB Brett Hundley, LB Eric Kendricks, DL Cassius Marsh, RS Damien Thigpen

Franklin didn’t make first team despite becoming UCLA’s new career leading rusher, but that’s what happens when you play in the same conference as Kenjon Barner. The big snub here is sophomore Eric Kendricks, who was only an honorable mention despite leading the Pac-12 with 127 tackles for 10.6 per game. ASU’s second-teamer Brandon Magee was second with 9.5 per game (104 overall), but he did have 6.5 sacks to Kendricks’ two.

Eric isn’t as explosive as his brother Mychal, who won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last year, but has a very solid all-around game. He’ll likely be good in the NFL, even if he doesn’t absolutely wreck guys weekly like Anthony Barr.

UCLA got left out of the big conference awards (listed below), but no real issues with any of these picks. Jim Mora had a very good argument for Coach of the Year, but had the tough luck of reviving a program during in a year Stanford upset Oregon without Andrew Luck. Besides, Mora has the chance for a last laugh on Friday.

Offensive Player of the Year: Marqise Lee, USC
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, Arizona State
Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: Leonard Williams, USC
Coach of the Year: David Shaw, Stanford

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Belated awards roundup

Johnathan Franklin is one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award. Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and Oregon’s Kenjon barner are also up for the nation’s top running back honor. The 174-member selection committee is made up mostly of journalists, along with former players and other representatives. The winner will be revealed on Dec. 6 on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Joseph Fauria wasn’t a finalist for the Mackey Award, which quarterback Brett Hundley was disappointed about. Jeff Locke wasn’t a finalist for the Ray Guy Award either, which is even more of a snub.

Eric Kendricks won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season after logging eight tackles, one TFL, one forced fumble, a blocked punt and a pick against USC. He doesn’t pop as quite much as Anthony Barr when you’re watching the game, but Kendricks is so consistent across the statsheet almost every week.

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