UCLA defense set for upcoming season but question at QB position remains

This post was updated on August 23 at 1:03 a.m.

Offenses have dominated much of the talk surrounding college football this offseason. And while the read option and air raid may make for nice water-cooler banter, they have had a very real affect on opposing defenses. Just ask UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

“Enormously,” Ulbrich said about how much offenses impact what defenses do. “I’d be a dumbass to kind of just do what we do. That’s the deal with defense – you have to adapt. Offenses can force the defense to adapt in a lot of ways like our offense does to opposing teams, so we have to.”

Ulbrich, who is in his first year as the Bruins’ defensive coordinator, said that he has been happy with his players’ development this fall in learning his defense. While it isn’t a complete overhaul from what the team ran the past two seasons under former coordinator Lou Spanos, Ulbrich has added a few wrinkles in order to combat the potent offenses UCLA will inevitably face. So far, he has come away pleased with the results.

“I feel (the development) is the best we’ve had. We’ve got a group of guys who have been here a couple years now and even the new guys, they just get into the mix,” Ulbrich said. “The culture is different than it once was. Because of that there’s just a little more dedication to extra film and extra field work and just all the little details. The kids are starting to take the reins of this thing which is very cool.”

Two young players in that mix are freshman linebacker Kenny Young and fellow class-of-2014 recruit, defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner. Young may just be the most compelling storyline of camp as the freshman has come on strong en route to earning the starting inside linebacker spot opposite redshirt senior Eric Kendricks. And after coach Jim Mora’s announcement Thursday, Tuioti-Mariner also figures to see plenty of game action in his first year with the Bruins.

Still, the freshmen were not without the expected learning curve. Tuioti-Mariner, who played in a 4-3 defense at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif., said the transition to UCLA’s 3-4 defense was a difficult one.

“I was really trying to focus on being that B-gap player, and just containing my gaps and not always being a contain rusher,” Tuioti-Mariner said. “Coming in to a 3-4 defense, it was really challenging. But once again thanks to the coaches, they were really helpful.”

With camp finally winding down, and the team’s opening game facing Virginia less than 10 days away, the defense can at long last transfer that development on the practice field to game day.

“I wouldn’t be scared, but it’d be 10 emotions into one if that makes sense,” Young said. “It’s my first college football game. I’m excited, a little bit nervous, a little bit anxious, but I just go out there and stay focused and prepare hard because when you prepare hard all the nervousness goes away.”

Brett’s back, but who’s got his?

It may get lost in the Heisman hype, but Brett Hundley isn’t the perfect quarterback. Luckily for him and UCLA, he realizes it. The redshirt junior attended the Manning Passing Academy and worked with such NFL quarterbacks as Tim Tebow and Philip Rivers in the offseason to improve his game. UCLA quarterbacks coach Taylor Mazzone has been quick to notice the extra time Hundley has put in to prepare for his third year at the reins of the Bruins offense.

“His vision, his eyes, he’s definitely seeing more things quicker than he had before,” Mazzone said. “His accuracy is definitely above-average of what I’ve seen with him. He’s definitely taken note on what he needed to improve on and definitely brought it in to camp and definitely circled the things he wanted to get done.”

What still remains unseen, however, is who will be backing up Hundley. Redshirt sophomore quarterbacks Mike Fafaul and Jerry Neuheisel, and redshirt freshman quarterback Asiantii Woulardl have all seen their fair share of reps in camp, and though offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said earlier this week that the team will name a second-string quarterback, the spot is apparently still very much an open competition.

“Right now I think its pretty even, we have two guys who have been here for three years who sorta know our system, with Asaiantii just sorta growing up in the system. But right now, I’m proud with the way they (played at) camp this year,” Taylor Mazzone said.

“(They’re) still getting those opportunities to see what they can do in more third down and red zone (situations), and see how they take care of the football. But it’s getting closer to game day obviously, so we’ll get a better answer closer (to it).”

Read more here: http://dailybruin.com/2014/08/22/ucla-defense-set-for-upcoming-season-but-question-of-qb-positions-remains/
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