What to watch for: UCLA spring game
Year two of the Jim Mora era is under way in Westwood, and he's hoping the momentum from a big first season continues with the annual spring game where the coach and UCLA officials are hoping to see 50,000 fans come to the Rose Bowl. That's a big crowd to accompany big expectations for the Bruins in 2013. Here are a few things to watch for when the blue and gold take the field in Pasadena Saturday at 5 p.m. PT on the Pac-12 Networks:
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Off to the races at tailback It seems like only yesterday that Johnathan Franklin was running wild against opponents and helping propel UCLA to a second consecutive South Division title. His departure leaves a big hole in the backfield, and finding his replacement is right at the top of the list for coordinator Noel Mazzone and the rest of the coaching staff. With a tough road schedule, getting a consistent ground game will be key to the offense this season even with Brett Hundley continuing to progress behind center. Jordon James and Damien Thigpen are going to be the first two names on the depth chart, but it could be a running back by committee until someone firmly establishes himself.
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Fresh faces up front Linebacker Anthony Barr very likely will wind up as a preseason All-American, but he'll have a few new players around him on the front seven. UCLA doesn't return a ton of guys from last season (the fewest in the Pac-12, actually), but there's plenty of talent in the roster capable of rising up and replacing guys like end Datone Jones and linebacker Damien Holmes. Ellis McCarthy was highly touted coming out of high school but, when healthy, can be a force on the interior. Lou Spanos has plenty to work with, but finding the right combination should be something to watch for.
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Not a secondary concern There's no need to ask Jim Mora about his secondary. He's well aware that the Bruins need to replace all four starters from last season. He also knows there are plenty of talented defensive backs on their way in the fall that are hungry to start as freshmen, so it's unlikely many spots are truly settled when the sun sets at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. There are a few intriguing guys in the mix, including safety Dietrich Riley. The junior has playing experience, but has dealt with injuries ranging from the serious (neck surgery) to the play-through-it kind (shoulder separation). But who may emerge and leave a good impression on the coaches is anybody's guess.