UCLA opens spring practice Thursday, coming off a 7-6 record last season that included a victory over Temple in the EagleBank Bowl. The Bruins will practice 15 days over the next four weeks, concluding with the spring game at the Rose Bowl on April 24. Times staff writer Chris Foster identifies five areas to watch between now and then.
UCLA's defense lost five senior starters plus its best player, junior tackle Brian Price.
Linebacker Akeem Ayers and safety Rahim Moore have proved their worth, but right now there are at least as many questions as answers.
Defensive end Datone Jones has beefed up to 270 pounds and coaches envision him as a first-rate pass rusher. Cornerback Aaron Hester won a starting spot last spring, then suffered through injuries in the fall. David Carter had some quality moments off the bench last season but is the only experienced tackle returning.
Defensive signals will be called by the middle linebacker, which could be either Steve Sloan or Patrick Larimore.
Sloan, a redshirt junior, is smart and has experience that gives him a leg up. He started nine games in 2008 — but made only 29 tackles that season.
Larimore, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound redshirt sophomore, is the more physical player.
New faces, new places
Tight end Joseph Fauria, a transfer, and wide receiver Josh Smith, who sat out sat out last season, could have an impact on the offense.
Fauria is already ticketed for significant time at tight end. Smith is big and fast with sure hands.
The depth chart doesn't go deep at defensive tackle, so Nate Chandler was moved from tight end. Glenn Love, who played strong safety last season, has been moved to outside linebacker.
It's become a rite of spring, UCLA trying to fix its offensive line.
The Bruins have four of five starters back, but there are concerns. Eddie Williams can practice, but he is still recovering from a fractured left ankle that required surgery. Center Kai Maiava, the rock the line was built around, was academically ineligible for the bowl game.
Tackle Micah Kia, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in August, is still rehabilitating. That will allow Nik Abele, a redshirt freshman, to get a look.
Concerns about depth have already shifted policy. Guard Stanley Hasiak, benched once and suspended twice last season for anger issues, was allowed to return to the team.
For the first time since 2005, the Bruins enter spring with a solid No. 1 quarterback. Kevin Prince is the starter, though Coach Rick Neuheisel expects Richard Brehaut to challenge that status.
To whom Prince will be handing or throwing is less clear.
Tailback Johnathan Franklin must show his problems with fumbling are in the past, and a receiving corps that includes tight end Morrell Presley and wide receivers Randall Carroll, Nelson Rosario and Ricky Marvray needs to perform with consistency.