UCLA defensive back Tony Dye (6) tackles Houston quarterback Case Keenum… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
UCLA's Tony Dye beams when talking about his new assignment. The move from strong safety to free safety has him in a happy place.
"I love it," Dye said. "I have the whole offense in front of me and I can play the ball. I have been locked up with tight ends my whole life."
Dye's importance to defense goes beyond his position.
"He was kind of born to lead," Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "Guys respect him, not only for who he is, but what he brings to the table as a person."
What Dye brought to the field last season was critical, and a reason that bad a season wasn't a historically bad season.
Dye was the last-man-standing too often. UCLA gave up 200-or-more yards rushing four times and barely managed to keep Kansas State below the 200-line — the Wildcats had 193 yards.
It was Dye who stepped up — literally — to keep it from being worse. He had 15 tackles against Kansas State, one of four times he led the team in tackles. He finished with a team-high 96 tackles for the season, 59 solo.
"It will be a little more fun this year," Dye said. "I'm sure I'll be less beat up after games."
When Rahim Moore passed on his senior season, Dye shifted over to free safety, leaving Dietrich Riley and Dalton Hilliard to compete at strong safety. Dye welcomed the chance to play the center field spot on the defense, having seen Moore intercept 14 passes during his three-year career.
"There were a lot times that I was banging with the tight end and would turn around to see Rahim running the other way with the ball," Dye joked. "I want to get some of those."
UCLA ran about "70-75" plays during a Friday scrimmage at the Rose Bowl that was closed to media and fans.
It was the first chance for freshman quarterback Brett Hundley to play in quasi-game-like conditions.
"Brett looked pretty good in terms of handling the offense and signals," Neuheisel said. "It wasn't mistake-free, but he showed he is going to be a big-time player at some point."
It inched Hundley closer to being in the quarterback equation this season.
"He is going to be that quarterback that has a package of offense," Neuheisel said. "As he plays, the package will expand. … We'll see how much he can grasp."
But Neuheisel said: "First I'm going to make sure he is 100% healthy before I put him out there, and he is certainly close to that."
Hundley had knee surgery last month.
Wide receiver Taylor Embree (strained calf muscle) went through individual drills and is expected to practice Monday, Neuheisel said. … Guard Jeff Baca has made rapid progress in recovering from a broken ankle and may practice this week. Neuheisel said that Baca might be ready to play against San Jose State on Sept. 10.