Myles Jack said he was operating at around “80 percent” during UCLA Pro Day on March 15. The UCLA linebacker had declared for the NFL draft shortly after tearing his meniscus in September. (Thomas Cordova/Staff)
Spring football is done, and over three months still stand between us and the start of UCLA’s third season under Jim Mora — one that comes with national title aspirations and accompanying media glare. This blog has covered the status of each position group moving forward. Last in the series is …
Recently, special teams hasn’t been a major concern for UCLA. Over the last two seasons, the team blocked 12 kicks and punts — an FBS total matched only by Rutgers. Last year, it ranked top-20 in both opponent punt and kick returns; in four of the five years prior, the Bruins ranked outside the top 40 in the former and the top 100 in the latter.
A key difference looms heading into this fall: Jeff Ulbrich is no longer the UCLA special teams coordinator.
Promoted the defensive coordinator, Ulbrich will continue coaching inside linebackers but surrenders lead oversight of the unit that helped extend his own professional career. Outside linebackers will be charged to new assistant Mike Tuiasosopo, who also holds the title of special teams coach. Continue reading
Still without a sack after two games, linebacker Anthony Barr smiled Wednesday when asked if he was frustrated.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I let a couple go last week. They’ll come. I just have to be patient and continue working. I think this week I’ll have a better opportunity.”
Part of reason has been UCLA’s game plan. The Bruins have been more concerned with containing quarterback runs in their first two games rather than. That should change this Saturday against New Mexico State, whose sprint offense has produced 794 passing yards to 306 rushing yards. Continue reading
UCLA backup tailback and kick returner Damien Thigpen tore his ACL against USC, robbing the Bruins of the fastest player of their roster. Thigpen led the team with 17 plays of over 20 yards, and was used all over the field.
The junior had sat out UCLA’s win over Washington State with a sprained knee, but was thought to be fully healthy heading into the game against USC.
“We’ve got to move on,” said head coach Jim Mora. “Someone or a combination of people have to step in.”
The biggest hole he leaves is on special teams. Thigpen took 14 of UCLA’s 30 kick returns this year, amassing 376 yards with a long of 55. Devin Fuller returned four kickoffs for 56 yards on Saturday, while Roosevelt Davis returned one for 21 yards. Competition is still open moving forward, but no one on the roster has Thigpen’s gamebreaker potential.
His absence also opens up backfield touches behind tailback Johnathan Franklin, most of which will likely be absorbed by Jordon James. Thigpen had 50 carries to James’ 52 this year, but was averaging 5.2 yards per carry to James’ 3.8.
Mora has made a point of keeping Franklin fresh for the fourth quarter all season, but UCLA now has only two tailbacks with more than 16 carries on the season.