WESTWOOD—Though the Westwood-based NFL factory that is the UCLA football team is losing a host of key contributors, life must go on for coach Jim Mora and the Bruins.
Championed for spearheading the resurrection of UCLA football, Jim Mora and Brett Hundley have been inexorably linked since Mora’s arrival in Westwood.
However, that link, at least in the football sense, has been severed as Brett Hundley is expected to be on an NFL practice field come spring.
Jim Mora, on the other hand, will remain in Westwood, where he will face a number of pressing issues regarding the leadership core of his talented squad.
Though UCLA will return a vast majority of its 2014 starting lineup, the core three players who are leaving: Hundley, Eric Kendricks, and Owa Odighizuwa, formed key cogs of the team’s leadership machine.
All three arrived in Westwood before Mora himself. However, under Mora, these talents grew and blossomed into blue-chip NFL prospects.
Only a handful of players remain from the Rick Neuheisel era. The 2015 season will provide a true litmus test for the cast of athletes that Mora himself has assembled.
Beyond the vacancy at the quarterback position, leaders on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball must emerge. The current favorites to start at quarterback for the Bruins are Nueheisel’s son, Jerry, and All-American true-freshmen Josh Rosen.
Many consider Neuheisel the early favorite to take over the position. However, a strong spring from “The Rosen One” could put Mora in a position to make his first true quarterback decision of his career.
On defense, players such as Eddy Vanderdoes, Ishmael Adams, and Myles Jack will have to find a way to continue clicking absent Kendricks, a tackling machine formerly responsible for the team’s defensive calls and alignments.
Jack, in particular, will be expected to make a maturity leap in his third collegiate season. A sensation since his first season in UCLA, Jack, considered by many a lock for NFL stardom, must show that he is more than a playmaker.
Now an upperclassman himself, the linebacker, who seized a starting job as a 17-year-old, must develop into the face of a defense. Spring practice will provide coaches the first opportunity to see if the ultra-talented Jack is ready to take that step.
Of course, spring won’t tell us all there is to know about the future of football in Westwood. The dog days of summer, and then, of course, the season itself, will be the true test of the longevity of the product put together by Jim Mora and company.